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Stadia is testing a new game trial system tied to achievements

Update: Stadia has confirmed that its achievement-based game trials do also have a time limit.

Google Stadia is A/B testing a new type of game trial under its "Click To Play" system. Starting earlier this week, half of players accessing the game trials for Remedy Entertainment's Control and Rebellion Development's Sniper Elite 4 are being invited to demo the game with unlimited access until they unlock certain achievements. The achievement-based trials are also still locked to timers of varying lengths. Sniper Elite 4's timer for instance, is set to 90 minutes.

That means 50 percent of players are trying out these games under conventional timed game trials, and the other 50 percent have been given access to the new achievement-based trial system. These trials are accessible without a Stadia account. 

According to the Stadia team, players trying out these games are being split 50/50 in order to examine the effects of a different trial length metric. Under this new system, players would be allowed to play the demos for an unlimited amount of time until they access a key achievement.

For instance, in Sniper Elite 4, players can try out the game until they complete the "Beginning of the End" achievement, which comes at the end of the first mission. Rebellion North head of studio Arden Aspinall told Game Developer that unlocking said achievement takes roughly an hour for most players. 

But because the trial isn't time-locked, players who may not be able to complete the first level in that hour will have a more complete experience.

"We want new players to experience the 'observe…plan… execute…' mantra that sits behind the game," Aspinall explained. "You can run and gun if you want to, but the best results tend to come from considering your options and planning your attack accordingly."

For developers concerned about players having unlimited access to the early part of the game, there are two facts to keep in mind. First, if players complete the demo, their progress is tied to their Google account, and they won't just be able to restart and loop through it over and over again (a Google spokesperson has also confirmed that these trials are still time-restricted).

Second, we asked Aspinall what he felt about the idea of a player just accessing the trial to mess around in the early part of the game and never converting to a full purchase. "The cool thing about this trial is that it will enable people who have never played a Sniper Elite game before the opportunity to jump in and see what the game, and the series is all about," he replied. 

"If some of these gamers then convert to full on Sniper Elite players and fans then that is fantastic, but at least we are offering as many people as possible the chance to give get some time with the game."

Google Stadia game trials might take on more elaborate forms

The team at Stadia seems genuinely enthused about what Click To Play trials can do for developers. According to Stadia, its first public test of Click To Play trials in late 2021 found that players are "35 percent more likely" to respond to a trial offer than traditional "Buy" or "Claim" messaging. 

It may be a bit counter-intuitive, but apparently players do want to try before they buy, even if the buying doesn't cost them anything.

A screenshot of the Stadia download screen for Sniper Elite 4.

Stadia senior product manager Karan Arora said that the idea for this new type of trial came from the fact that developers create "meaningful achievements which illustrate what playing their games is all about."

"Giving development teams an effective opportunity to hone in on those impactful, memorable moments with new players is an exciting experiment for us," he said, "especially when it takes zero effort for the developer to switch on."

Arora compared this new trial method to the experience of a new city, saying that the experience is better when you have guidance from friends or tour guides, rather than just exploring on your own in a limited time.

He also added that Stadia wants to try out more types of trial experiments for different game genres. "Imagine trying an RPG and starting at Level 100 instead of Level 1 – or playing a turn-based strategy game with a full kingdom at your bidding instead of starting with just a small village," he said. 

Cool cloud potential

Stadia's experiment here is a neat development for Google's cloud game platform, which debuted with a big splash in 2019 but lost some luster with developers when Google shut down its internal game development studio in 2021.

That just left Google with a cloud streaming platform that had to compete with Xbox Cloud Gaming, NVIDIA GeForce Now, and now PlayStation's PS Now. Xbox and PlayStation benefit from their first exclusive game libraries and relative subscription services, and NVIDIA GeForce Now benefits from the overlap with its GPU business for PCs.

Stadia has been doing some proactive business moves for developers, such as giving them a cut of Stadia Pro revenue and rolling out new Stadia developer tools

It's been a clunky shift for the platform, but if other platforms like Steam, Xbox or PlayStation are inspired to try their own expanded game trial models as a result, Google will be able to boast that it reached this particular finish line first.

Update: A Stadia spokesperson confirmed to Game Developer that the achievement-based trials also include a 60-minute timer, with a 90-minute timer for Sniper Elite 4. We’ve updated our story to reflect this fact where needed.

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