Google looks to be changing direction with Stadia, we suggest that it provides an industry-focused service, not a consumer platform
Google announced last night that it was closing its internal development studios and that all staff, around 150 including numerous top talents, would be looking for work – we wish them all well.
The move could be read as the beginning of the end for Google’s cloud gaming dream, launched at GDC not even two years ago. But I think instead that it’s simply the end of its initial hubris and that something far more successful, and far more useful for the industry as a whole, could come out of it.
For starters, no one wanted Stadia in its current form. While there is interest in cloud gaming for sure, aping the feel of a traditional games console simply didn’t make sense. An expensive Founders Pack, heavy branding and flashy ads, and exclusive development studios, were never what the industry needed from cloud gaming.
(Although as an aside, while many are talking up the blow of losing exclusive development, 150 people is only a fraction of what is needed to make even a single triple-A game. The teams were there to explore ideas and break new ground, never to make content to outgun PlayStation and Xbox.)
What the industry wanted from a cloud gaming platform was a way to sell games to those who do not own, or do not want to own, a games console or gaming-capable PC. In the core market of the US and Europe those people were always few and far between (As Take 2’s Strauss Zelnick told Protocol), after all, consoles aren’t that big or that expensive. But with 5G coming it could increase engagement in those markets, and open up huge new markets to ‘console-style’ gaming via mobile devices.
Google does very well out of not producing content and not competing (directly at least) with content producers. It sits in the background, running stores and platforms that sell and supply apps, mobile games, movies, books, video content, and through search it provides access to just about everything else imaginable. It doesn’t make movies or mobile games, it doesn’t write news or create YouTube content.
At the very least that is what Stadia needs to become, something more Google-like. A store for others to sell and host their content on, without the idea that consumers are buying into some kind of Google-powered pseudo console ecosystem. Maybe it should even be renamed Play Cloud Games or something similarly bland (notably Xbox has debranded its cloud effort from xCloud to simply Xbox Cloud Gaming)
And maybe it should go one step further still. As one industry veteran summarised it to me yesterday, what Google needs to do is to ‘white label’ its service. To provide a cloud gaming service that major publishers can run, at a reasonable cost, as part of their own digital publishing efforts. A turnkey solution that any publisher, or any size, can integrate into their own sales and marketing.
After all, while Microsoft is in pole position now with its cloud gaming solution, it comes as part and parcel, and on the same traditional terms and costs (to the publisher), as if the consumer was playing on an Xbox console. Surely there needs to be a technical solution, a cloud gaming player, that is there purely to serve the industry as a whole, not just it’s own subscription-based ambitions.
Google, along Amazon, could be that solution. After all consumers don’t care if their Fortnite game is running on AWS, Azure or Google Cloud, and with the biggest games becoming their own platforms, why should a Call of Duty player, an Assassin’s Creed player or a Fall Guys player care where their cloud-instanced game is running from, let the publisher make its own deal, and let’s have cloud gaming as a service, not a platform.