Google announced earlier this year that it has a plan to launch a product intended to dominate yet another business: the $140 billion video game industry.

The launch date isn't until November, but Google's video game offering, called Stadia, revolves around a key potential advantage.

Unlike every other video game platform out there, it won't require you to go out and buy a new console to play it. In other words, no matter what device you're reading this article on, you'll probably be able to play top-tier, fully streamed video games on it via Stadia.

It sounds pretty cool -- except for a giant potential problem that skeptics have been harping on for months.

AT&T, Comcast Xfinity, Verizon, and Spectrum

In short, streaming super-high-quality video games would require a massive amount of data. So, even if you're playing on a high-speed broadband internet connection, it could easily mean blowing past your monthly data caps.

Finally, on Friday, Google offered an explanation for how it might overcome this potential Achilles heel.

And it's an answer that's raised a lot of eyebrows.  

Google vice president and general manager Phil Harrison, who leads Stadia, said in an interview reported by GameSpot's Tamoor Hussain that he doesn't think caps will be a problem.

The reason? In part, he's counting on internet service providers to simply raise the caps where they exist, after they see how much their users love streaming games:

The ISPs have a strong history of staying ahead of consumer trend and if you look at the history of data caps ... when music streaming and download became popular, especially in the early days when it was not necessarily legitimate, data caps moved up.

Then with the evolution of TV and film streaming, data caps moved up.

And we expect that will continue to be the case.

Hope is not a strategy

You'd be forgiven for thinking this seems wildly optimistic. I see at least two immediate concerns:

  1. First, it sounds like Google's plan would require multibillion-dollar public companies like AT&T, Comcast Xfinity, Verizon, and Spectrum to provide a higher-level service to consumers, presumably at the same cost. I'm not sure why anyone would think they'd do that. They have their own shareholders to answer to.
  2. Second, even if you thought these big ISPs would respond to customer demand for video game streaming, it sounds like a giant chicken-and-egg problem: Google would have to have enough users for Stadia to justify ISPs' raising their data caps, but it would also have to recruit those users before they actually have the higher caps.

I'm reminded of the adage: "Hope is not a strategy," which suggests that assuming big companies will act against their own interest -- and in favor of Google -- is really the worst part of this whole plan.

150 other ventures

In fairness, Harrison also says he thinks Google manages data compression better than many critics understand.

So perhaps the amount of data required might not be quite so high. But Stadia will include tools to let users know how much data they've used, and the fact Harrison is talking about data caps at all suggests Google does see this as a potential issue.

Maybe it will work. This is Google after all. It's a deep-pocketed company with a lot of leverage and a lot of patience.

Of course, it's also the company that launched and ultimately shuttered Google+, Glass, and at least 150 other ventures over the years. If Google's plan really turns out to be as wildly optimistic as some of this sounds, Stadia could be in for a rough ride -- and a giant missed opportunity.

Published on: Jul 1, 2019
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