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Analysis

Super Bomberman R Online is what Stadia is doing right and wrong

Google revealed a number of games coming to its Stadia streaming platform through the end of the year today. Among those, Super Bomberman R Online, which is due out on Stadia this autumn, stands out as a good fit for the service. This is an updated version of the Bomberman R that is available on Switch and other consoles. You’re still running around a map trying to take out opponents with bombs, but now it includes a new 64-player battle royale mode. But it’s the game’s interconnectivity with YouTube that makes Super Bomberman R Online stand out as the embodiment of Stadia’s strengths and ongoing weaknesses.

The highlight of the presentation included an option to jump into the game by clicking a link while watching a streamer playing on YouTube. A massive benefit of Stadia is that it removes many of the barriers for potential players. But if you’re watching a favorite YouTuber play Bomberman, you can play along with them with a simple click.

This has a lot of potential — especially for a simple, pick-up-and-play battler. Bomberman is an easy-to-understand game that makes sense as something you start up quickly to play with friends. In my story about Stadia’s newly announced Outcasters, I said that this feels like the next generation for the internet’s .io games. These are basic 2D apps that run natively in Chrome or Firefox. But despite their rudimentary visuals, they have a huge number of active players. Stadia’s tech could build on that.

Super Bomberman R Online is still going to have a cost barrier on Stadia

If you ask people why they don’t care about Google Stadia, you’ll get a handful of go-to answers. Some people just don’t like cloud gaming. Stadia also doesn’t have a lot of blockbuster exclusives that gaming enthusiasts can’t find on platforms they already own. The business model is the biggest hurdle for many. You don’t need to buy hardware for Stadia, but you do need to purchase the games. And anyone who is willing to buy games is also someone who may want their own local gaming device as well.

That’s where the promise of a link to join a streamer’s Bomberman match falls apart for Stadia. Clicking a link on a whim doesn’t seem conducive to spending money on a full-priced game. Super Bomberman R is $40 on Steam. Most people are going to click to play the game with YouTube’s SmellyJoe, see the store screen, and bounce right off.

The economics make some sense. You’re not paying for the hardware to run the games, but Google is paying for it. This is why it doesn’t really offer free-to-play games on its platform. But Stadia doesn’t have a real subscription. Stadia Pro members do get a couple of free games each month, but that’s nothing like Xbox Game Pass’s Netflix-style library.

The business model is going to prevent Stadia from turning into the next-gen .io platform. The business model may even spoil the whole operation.