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Shadow of Stadia

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By Nelson Schneider - 07/07/19 at 09:32 PM CT

When Google revealed their soon-to-launch Stadia game-streaming platform earlier this year (and pushed a video about it at E3), the world said, “Meh.” With Google’s business model from yesteryear, where users buy individual games exclusively for play on Stadia; combined with smoldering resentment among the tech crowd who has seen Google launch numerous promising projects, only to abandon them within months or a few years; interest in this new type of gaming platform is tempered, as best.

Even worse, in a recent interview, Google Vice President, Phil Harrison, revealed himself to be completely out of touch with reality regarding the state of broadband Internet in Google’s home country, the United States. This is a nation where real, usable broadband is a luxury not available to many, where actual broadband penetration is inaccurately represented on coverage maps ostensibly maintained by the government, where the FCC no longer gives a fig about anything after the death of Net Neutrality, and where arbitrary data caps and usage-based billing (a.k.a., metering) are creeping into the market. These problems, which Google seems unaware of, all combine to make the United States an incredibly hostile region to try launching a bandwidth-hungry, data-gobbling service like Stadia.

However, on the other side of the Atlantic, a small-time startup in France, The Blade Group, has had a product on the market since 2015 that could drink Google’s milkshake before the search-and-data giant can even make a move. This product is a “virtual” gaming PC called Shadow. Much like Google Stadia, Shadow allows gamers to play their games on anything with a screen, so long as they have a god-tier Internet connection (which are common in the European Union). There are a couple of key differences though, and these could make all the difference.

First, Shadow allows gamers to bring their own games and upload them into their virtual Shadow PC that lives in the Cloud. Renting a Shadow gives the player much more control than the “free for low resolution, subscription for high resolution” model Stadia will employ, and, most importantly, allows long-time PC gamers to play their existing PC games from their existing client accounts on the likes of Steam, GOG, and even the Epic Store, without having to rebuy them or worry that they’re just throwing money away on a game license that will go *poof* if/when the streaming service shuts down.

Second, Shadow is literally just a virtual gaming PC in the Cloud. You don’t have to just game on it, but can use it for anything you’d normally use a high-end PC to do. Even better, for a small, flat subscription fee, Shadow subscribers gain access to virtual PC hardware that essentially updates itself. The age-old joke about “downloading more RAM” is essentially true with Shadow, as then The Blade Group upgrades their hardware at the backend, everyone with a Shadow account gains access to the same improved hardware.

Third, Shadow at least claims to respect its users’ privacy, allowing folks to use their Shadow Cloud PC the same way they’d use a physical PC, without fear of datamining, spying, monitoring, or censorship. With Google, users – especially FREE users – know that they’re essentially letting a spy into their home when they use any Google product, thus Shadow becomes even more compelling.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid the Stadia vs. Shadow battle will come down to money and advertising, both things Google excels at compared to a small, French startup. It truly is a modern day parallel to the fable of David and Goliath from the Hebrew Old Testament, only in our modern world, huge corporations like Google imbue themselves with divine right of rule, squashing other corporations and small startups underfoot like so many ants. In order for Shadow – clearly the better of the two options presented here – to win the day, we might need to hold onto the hope that Stadia will K.O. itself.

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