An understandable knee-jerk response to Google’s shutdown of its Stadia game streaming service is: that’s got to be it for cloud gaming, right? We have proven that no one wants it. Now, walk away with your server-side gameplay slow, blurry, and lacking in substance. The market says no.
It’s not the first time this has happened. Cloud gaming service OnLive tried to steal a march on fledgling technology in 2010 – disastrously too soon, it turned out. The service was shut down in 2015 after Sony bought it to, essentially, disassemble it for parts. Stadia, which was launched by one of the richest companies in the world, boasted state-of-the-art engineering and was located at the physical heart of the internet – i.e. Google’s data centers – lasted half as long. This seems to imply a downward trajectory for a technology that many gamers, long attached to local gaming on consoles and PC, are skeptical of.
But this assumption would be a mistake. Cloud gaming still has many obstacles to overcome: technical, logistical, in terms of marketing and public perception. But it also has huge potential benefits in terms of accessibility and ease of use. The truth is that Stadia’s failure is purely and solely due to Google. He chose the wrong strategy at the wrong time and then, despite his unlimited resources, simply gave up.
Even though Stadia’s 2019 launch came nine long years after OnLive’s, and in the wake of other similar services like PlayStation Now and Nvidia’s GeForce Now, back then it was the start of the cloud. gaming – and it still is today. There are several things holding back our readiness for this technology.
The first of these is the quality of data networks (both wired and wireless), which varies wildly by geography, and has a much greater impact on the cloud gaming experience than streaming. one-way multimedia like audio and video. Even where I live in London, a major European capital, 5G mobile telephony and fiber broadband are not universally available. In other markets, the situation is much worse.
Second, cloud gaming requires a greater leap of faith from the gaming public than many marketers seem to realize. Although it has significant benefits, such as the elimination of long downloads, it represents a far greater change for consumers than the switch to streaming in other media. We have had movies and music played in our homes via television and radio for many decades; we are used to separating the content from the delivery system. Non-local gaming has never happened before, and separating the game from the hardware that plays it – accepting the magic to happen somewhere else — is a subtle but powerful mental block. It’s also a real and tangible quality disadvantage, which is a trade-off users have come to terms with for TV and movies, but not so much for gaming – at least, not yet.
So Google tried to catch the wave of cloud gaming when it was still early. It wasn’t necessarily a disastrous choice, and the timing was probably right for a soft launch – Stadia’s technology was already excellent, and Google was ready to change its mind. But, oddly enough, a company known for its careful, iterative approach opted for a major, heavily marketed launch to consumers.
It was a terrible miscalculation. Consumers, unprepared for the very concept of cloud gaming and unsure how it complemented the gaming hardware they already owned, simply shrugged and looked away. Google then compounded this error with a disastrously flawed business model focused on the product: the Stadia controller hardware and the games themselves, which you had to buy at full price (often and absurdly more expensive than on Steam).
Adopting a retail model for an intangible product was never going to work, as customers were rightly asking what exactly they were buying. Nothing, as it turned out; At least Google had the good grace to refund their now worthless purchases. Stadia didn’t sell because it was an unattractive offering.
A softer launch might have allowed Google to figure these things out. It could also have allowed it to correct another massive oversight, namely how it put platform before software. Platform boss Phil Harrison, formerly of PlayStation and Xbox, should have known better. At launch, Harrison talked about the really exciting possibilities of cloud-natively developed games — things those games could do that no game dependent on home computing power could handle — but Google had no software ready to demonstrate it. .
In fact, he had only just begun the task of assembling studios to create exclusive games, which would obviously take years. 20 years ago, Microsoft knew it had to buy Bungie and Halo stand a chance against established platforms when Xbox launched, but Google ignored the glaring precedent. After making this critical misstep, Google proved unwilling to endure and wait for its investment to pay off, and unnecessarily shut down its in-house Stadia development studios just two years after announcing their creation.
To be fair to Google, it entered this market at a great disadvantage: it had no existing games ecosystem to plug Stadia into (except for the barely analogous market of Google Play on Android). It was the ace in the hole for Stadia’s closest (but by no means the only) competitor, Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming.
Microsoft had the luxury of being able to integrate Cloud Gaming into a suite of products and services that included Xbox consoles, games on Windows, and its Game Pass subscription. He also had the wisdom to soft launch the service (it remains in beta) and use it as a way to add value to Game Pass, rather than trying to sell it as its own product. It’s a perfect match; surely it’s a no-brainer that cloud gaming should be sold as a subscription service, and conveniently, Microsoft already had one, and a library of games to match.
In this context, cloud gaming is being touted as a useful and alternative way to enjoy your games, whether it’s playing a perennial favorite like Forza Horizon on an iPad while the TV is in use or to use it to immediately sample a new release before committing to a download. (For Sony, PlayStation Now is now similarly positioned as part of a PlayStation Plus subscription and represents a vital gateway to an entire generation of hard-to-emulate PS3 games.) It’s not a paradigm shift, it’s It’s just another boon – but it creeps into our lives. You get used to it; we learn what it gives us that our consoles can’t, and also how it complements them. We, alongside game developers, determine when it works and when it doesn’t. And when the market is ready, the networks are ready, and the gamers are ready, Xbox Cloud Gaming (among other services, no doubt) will also be ready and waiting with open arms. Google won’t – for the simple reason that it blew it up.