Google Stadia’s free demos could prove the value of game streaming

It’s a start

Sure, offering three free game demos for a week each isn’t exactly going to set the gaming world on fire. But the move is Google’s first step toward a business model that really highlights what makes game streaming unique and valuable. The ability to sample a wide variety of games instantly in a Web browser (or a mobile/Chromecast app) without the need to wait or even think about paying could be the killer feature that proves Stadia’s value.

There are plenty of ways Google could experiment and expand on this streaming demo idea. Stadia could offer a 15-minute trial of every game in its catalog right now, for instance, or let anyone with a Google account choose a single one-hour demo every month to juice try-before-you-buy sales. Or maybe Stadia could go the YouTube/Twitch video route, offering a few minutes of free streaming gameplay in exchange for watching a short ad.

Google could let Stadia Pro subscribers share time-limited demos with their friends, turning those users into free marketers for the service. Stadia players could also offer invites to free multiplayer sessions in games they already own, à la Steam’s Remote Play Together feature. Similarly, Stadia streamers who use Google’s YouTube Gaming Live could get a handful of Stadia trial codes to hand out in the chat, offering instant access to interested viewers.

Even beyond free options, there’s a lot of room for Stadia business models that go beyond just selling a game for full price. Stadia could offer convenient, cheap rentals for games, much like iTunes does for movies (and much like Redbox used to do for disc-based games). Or maybe Stadia users could pay a few dollars for an hour of undifferentiated Stadia gameplay time to be used across any game in the catalog.

Not all of these ideas would necessarily make sense from a business (or customer) perspective, and Google would have to carefully monitor the conversion rates to see if they’re actually leading to more profits. Google’s publishing partners would also have to be on board with any revenue-sharing plans that stemmed from these kinds of deals.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. The added convenience and instant access of game streaming offers the potential to upend the way we think about trying and buying games. Here’s hoping Google realizes that idea with more inventive distribution experiments going forward.

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