Inside Google’s Plan to Salvage Its Stadia Gaming Service by Hugh Langley for Business Insider (subscription required); Apple News+ link
When Google announced last year that it was shutting down its internal gaming studios, it was seen as a blow to the company’s big bet on video games. Google, whose Stadia cloud service was barely more than a year old, said it would instead focus on publishing games from existing developers on the platform and explore other ways to bring Stadia’s technology to partners.
Since then, the company has shifted the focus of its Stadia division largely to securing white-label deals with partners that include Peloton, Capcom, and Bungie, according to people familiar with the plans.
Google is trying to salvage the underlying technology, which is capable of broadcasting high-definition games over the cloud with low latency, shopping the technology to partners under a new name: Google Stream.
Yours truly, last year:
Google’s own studio didn’t even last two years.
Google hired former Head of Sony Santa Monica, Shannon Studstill, not even one year ago.
This is, unfortunately, not surprising. The clock is ticking for Stadia on the whole. Real glad I got a controller and Chromecast for free late last year. When Google is practically handing out hardware, you know the end is near.
None of these rumors are surprising in the least. The technology powering Stadia is good. I was impressed when I got a Stadia set-up in late 2020 for free.
On a wired connection, they all felt rock solid. It’s no secret that I have been skeptical of game streaming’s ability to perform soundly. Color me impressed.
In a precision platformer like Celeste I didn’t notice any perceptible latency when using a wired connection. Over Wi-Fi on my iPhone, Celeste just off enough that I’d have to adapt to its off kilter timing…
Stadia is better than I thought. Game streaming impresses me just as much as it did when I played Just Cause 3 on my Vita for guide work while at my girlfriend’s (now wife) house. The technology is cool, convenient, and additive. It’s nowhere near replacing dedicated hardware for myself, but I am curious to see where it goes from here.
In all honesty, the Stadia controller has sat in a drawer since then. All the games I play are on other platforms and it’s one less subscription for me.
Google is trying to extract as much value from it as it can. Internally, some employees have floated the idea of using Google’s technology for nongaming purposes, such as 3D modeling and other high-intensity tasks that could be performed over the cloud.
Shopping the tech around outside of gaming is the right move to salvage any value out of Stadia’s corpse. Google spent who knows how much money building the technology behind Stadia. While they may kill off the gaming subscription and service someday, it does not mean that the servers and programming that make it all possible have to be shut down. Streaming is going to become table stakes for game companies, just like it has become for music, TV and film. Each company will have their own subscription and library—heck, EA, Ubisoft, Microsoft, Amazon, Sony, and Netflix already do! It makes sense for Google to shop their own system around.
Last year, Google entered conversations with Peloton to be a back-end provider for games running on the fitness company’s bikes, three people familiar with the situation said. Peloton unveiled the first of those games, titled “Lanebreak,” in summer and ran a closed demo late last year that was supported by Google’s technology.
This is an interesting example outside of traditional gaming. Peloton can diversify their workout offerings and their own subscription service with these games. The quality of gameplay isn’t the point. The workout mechanics are the essentials. I don’t own a Peloton device, but I assume they have to connect to the Internet anyway for their workout courses. Having this library of games be streamed to the bike or treadmill makes sense. The hardware doesn’t need to process anymore than a video feed and “controller” feedback. This could allow hardware play these games without requiring new bikes.
Google last year also pitched its technology to Bungie, the developer behind the “Destiny” franchise, which was exploring a streaming platform of its own, according to three people familiar with the discussions. Under the proposal, Bungie would own the content and control the front-end experience, but Google would power the technology that beamed the games to users’ screens.
Talks between Google and Bungie made “considerable” headway, according to a person familiar with the plans. Sony, which owns PlayStation, announced this week that it would acquire Bungie for $3.6 billion. While Bungie said it would continue to support Stadia, insiders did not know if the merger would affect plans between Google and Bungie…
Sounds like Sony came in with a much better offer. The rumors surrounding Sony’s own Game Pass-like competitor named “Spartacus” seem inevitable. Remember, streaming and subscriptions are becoming table stakes.
Sony already has their own game streaming service though with PS Now. They bought the cloud gaming service Gaikai for $380 million back in 2012. And Sony knows gaming far better than Google does. I’d wager the Google deal is dead.
After Google closed Stadia’s internal game studios, known as Stadia Games & Entertainment, insiders said the directive was to build out what was internally dubbed a “content flywheel” — a steady flow of independent titles and content from existing publishing deals that would be much more affordable than securing AAA blockbusters, two former employees familiar with the conversations said.
“The key thing was that they would not be spending the millions on the big titles,” one said. “And exclusives would be out of the question.”
Sounds like executives said “Minimize the bleeding.”
Google also struggled to hold on to users. Harrison and other executives set a goal to reach 1 million monthly active users by the end of 2020, which they missed by about 25%, according to a person familiar with the conversations. “Retention was a real problem,” this person said.
Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Game Pass just announced 25 million subscribers since the service’s launch in 2017.
Despite Google’s ability to throw its financial weight around, Stadia (the service) continues to be on a clock. Stadia (the technology) does not need to be on the same timer. The idea that Stadia could be the heartbeat behind other more appealing game streaming platforms doesn’t seem likely. Most other major players in the industry have the streaming tech, the subscription service, and the know-how to thrive with consumers. It feels like there’s little room left on the grid of the game streaming tech arms race. Outside of traditional gaming, there is plenty more room and that’s where it sounds like Google is headed.