Stadia Disaster

In the past I have complained about Proton potentially having negative side-effects for Linux gaming in general but at this point I have to say that Proton doesn't hold a candle to the obvious dangers of Stadia.

What's Stadia?

Stadia is Google's cloud gaming platform. What it does is it provides a server that customers can connect to, which will remotely run games and stream the gameplay back to the customer using a live video feed, while the customer's system will send control inputs back to the server.

This has some obvious benefits. Because the entire game is running remotely, the client system can basically be whatever device that can connect to the Internet and play back an online video stream fast enough. As long as the client system can meet these requirements (and the connection is stable and fast enough to carry the video stream), you will get the same gameplay experience regardless of the client system's specs. The games you have on Stadia will also be accessible on any device that meets those requirements, so you can switch between machines and not have to worry about transferring files such as game data and saves over to them.

For the Linux crowd there is also the additional benefit that since all you really need to play games on Stadia is a good Internet connection and a web browser, you can play all Stadia offerings from the comfort of your Linux system.

So, if you don't think too deeply into it, Stadia seems like a very convenient thing indeed. But we are going to think deeper into it, because things don't look so pleasant beyond the friendly exterior.

The cost of convenience

Stadia, by it's design, is an ultimate form of DRM and it will always remain so. Because the games are streamed in video format from servers that are well beyond your control, you will always be required to remain online to access the games you bought.

Stadia similarly needs to always be online for you to access your games. If Stadia happens to crash for whatever reason, you are entirely locked from your games library and all you can do is wait and hope the Google engineers can get the systems back online soon.

Stadia also introduces additional limitations. Because you don't have any control over the servers beyond the inputs the game can access, modding games is entirely out of the question. If you want to modify your games in any way, you better seek employment at the game studios that made those games because that's about the only way you might be able to make your changes available via Stadia.

The complete separation between you and the game data also entirely prevents any attempts at inspecting the game data in order to try and preserve games. Many games, such as The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and Command & Conquer: Red Alert live on in their respective open source engine implementations and as long as someone is interested enough, those engine implementations can transcend CPU architectures, rendering APIs and operating systems. But they require access to the data, which Stadia does not provide.

In addition to it being nearly completely impossible to preserve even the game data of Stadia games, it's also very likely that a game might just entirely disappear from Stadia, never to be seen or heard from ever again.

Since all the games will be stored on Google's servers, it is entirely up to Google to decide what they want and don't want to store. Every byte of data stored costs money and although Google has storage capacity in abundance, to me it doesn't sound impossible that Google might delete games from companies that are no longer in business or titles that have comparatively little demand.

There is also the very real possibility that Stadia itself might just vanish along with your entire games library. Google in general is infamous for creating services and killing them off after a while. There is nothing but words as an assurance that this won't happen with Stadia. Similar complaints can of course be levied against platforms like Steam as well, but a notable difference is that it's at least possible to try and archive your Steam games should Steam get killed, since you have access to that game data in at least some form. With Stadia, not so much.

If we are to consider games art and culture, I don't think we should so readily accept that they can exist one day and totally disappear the next. Games have the potential to not merely entertain, but also share ideas and demonstrate concepts, just like any other medium of art. And just like we wouldn't want Orwell's 1984 or Douglass Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to disappear, we shouldn't just let our electronic culture to vanish into the sands of time at the whims of corporations like Google.

Google's growing control

In addition to the concerns specific to Stadia, I also have other general concerns regarding Google. Google has maneuvered itself into a position where it wields an incredible amount of power and as of late it seems like they are becoming more and more willing to throw their weight around to force others to do as they please.

At this very moment, Google wields a massive power over nearly all people who are connected to the Internet. They operate the most widely used search engine, which acts as a central point through which we use the web. Google can essentially decide what information people can find on the web. This power has also meant that Google can effectively dictate in what way content on the web can be distributed.

An example of this power use in practice is Google's AMP initiative which, according to them, is meant to make the web snappier by enforcing certain standards, which Google has defined. Essentially, Google is demanding web pages be made in a certain way and non-compliance will downgrade your site's rating on the search rankings.

At the same time Google also wields a near monopoly on web browsers themselves, which puts them in further control over how web sites function. They are already using this majority role to design their services in ways that cripple rivaling browsers. For example they block minority browsers from accessing Google accounts with security excuses and degrade performance of websites on them to further entrench their position as a browser monopoly.

Furthermore, Google controls the email for a vast amount of people, they form one half of the duo-poly in mobile phones and they are actively pushing their Chromebooks as a general-purpose computing and entertainment device, which benefit greatly from Google's control over the Internet, seeing as they are basically just laptops that boot straight into Chrome.

So, I find that giving control of gaming over to Google in addition to all the power they already wield seems extremely dubious to me. Even ignoring all of my previous complaints about Stadia, it would at the very least require Stadia becoming its own separate entity from Google for me to even consider using it.

Conclusions

So, I think it's pretty obvious that I consider Stadia a threat. In my opinion, the quicker Stadia dies the better and I'm hoping that Valve steps up to it and creates a competitive streaming platform that allows you to at least sort of own your games and also gain the streaming conveniences. And although Steam is by no means perfect and their DRM-lite features aren't great, it's still way better than the total lack of control you have over your Stadia library.

I would go as far as to say that a Microsoft monopoly on gaming is less destructive than a Stadia monopoly on gaming if for no other reason than the fact that at least Microsoft doesn't seem to seek to entirely remove executable binaries from your computer, even if they might try to limit what binaries those are by the way of their old Windows RT and now Windows 10 S platforms.

So, to those who are listening, please keep your eyes open for the trifle that might come from you adopting Stadia. And even if you don't personally care about the disappearance of cultural artifacts and your personal control over your entertainment and computing platforms, at least try to be mindful that by using Stadia you are effectively selling out those of us who are interested in those things.

Sometimes the price of convenience is just too damn high.