Serious Sam’s Baffling Stadia Exclusivity

Google keeps the iconic shooter franchise off consoles into 2021

Serious Sam Collection Stadia screenshot taken by the author.

We’re just a few weeks away from the release of Serious Sam 4, the latest installment in the long-running hardcore PC action shooter franchise. But if you’re a console player hoping to test the game out on your current machine or one of this fall’s new consoles…you’re out of luck until some unspecified date next year.

You see Croteam, the makers of Serious Sam, signed a multi-game exclusivity deal with Google’s Stadia platform this past spring. Serious Sam 4 will not launch on any consoles this month, and will not come out in the lucrative launch window on this November’s new platforms, instead debuting on Steam and Google’s underused and oft-derided streaming platform.

This same deal also brought the Serious Sam Collection to Stadia, which is actually a finished version of Serious Sam Fusion, a beta experiment first launched on Steam that was abandoned over a year ago. Collection bundles all the content from the HD remakes of the first two Serious Sam games alongside Serious Sam 3 into one big awkward uber-game.

Once again, Collection won’t launch on other “consoles” until some unspecified date in the future. That’s a shame, because Stadia is a much worse way to play these games than the PC originals. Serious Sam Fusion included numerous graphics settings and experimental tweaks, all of which are disabled and hidden in the Stadia release.

Serious Sam is also a very fast and twitchy game, requiring precise timing and control for maximum play. It’s one of the most intense and hardcore action franchises ever made and it never slows down. Stadia’s latency performance has improved dramatically since launch, and it’s a testament to the state of the service that the Sam games function at all. But it never manages to feel quite as crisp and fun as playing on your own PC.

At least Stadia Pro subscribers were able to snap up the Collection as a freebie at its launch a few months ago, but otherwise Stadia users derive no obvious benefit out of this deal. The Sam games, while always gorgeous, are also so well optimized that they also don’t necessarily need the beefy hardware back-end that Stadia provides. I have no doubt that the new game will run well on mid-range PC’s and even the current base level consoles whenever it finally launches on those machines.

Signing this deal means Croteam is missing out on a huge opportunity this fall. The launch lineups of the two upcoming consoles are sparse, and both Serious Sam 4 and Collection would have been perfect “second games” for people to play when the launch hype wears off and they’re antsy for new content. I think Collection would also be perfectly at home on Switch.

Instead of gaining great benefit from the marketing and hype surrounding these new machines, not to mention Nvidia’s upcoming 3000 series GPU launch, the Serious Sam franchise will instead spend the next several months under-performing on Stadia. Google hasn’t done enough to secure a large library for their fledgling platform, and their marketing budget for the service is essentially zero right now, outside of a small dedicated group on Reddit who will tell you it’s the best “console” they’ve ever used.

I do think Stadia has a lot of potential. I think that Serious Sam is an interesting demo of both the benefits and the pitfalls of the service. But this iconic twitch-based action franchise deserves to launch platforms that can actually provide a fast lag-free experience, and on platforms that will actually market their games. Hopefully, Serious Sam 4 will do well enough on Steam that Croteam can afford a big push when the game finally comes to consoles next year.

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