It’s Wednesday, March 16 2022 in Portland, OR and it’s supposed to rain in about 20 minutes. Knowing that still feels a bit magical, even if Dark Sky feels like it’s less reliable and has been subsumed into the Apple mothership.
On the docket for today: for one client a joint working session and then an internal put-strategy-into-practice working session, and finishing off a couple of strategy recommendations for another client this afternoon.
In other words, lots of Zoom and lots of typing for coins. I may even remember to have lunch.
Oh, and remember! Paid subscribers and supporters will get a copy of Things That Caught My Attention, Volume 1, available later this week.
I wrote yesterday that it’s
Amazing to see Stadia morph from “new, unique videogame platform” to “uniquely positioned to be a marketing and advertising platform for Google and white label partners”1
This change had already been telegraphed a bit in October last year when it came out that Google was white-labeling the product to AT&T2 so that you3 could play Batman (a member of the AT&T Family) for free.
And then just this week, the pivot of Google Stadia to a Google Cloud product became complete (see: Ars Technica4, The Verge5 etc) in the launch of Immersive Stream for Games. I saw this as an announcement at the “Google for Games Developer Summit” which I have to admit caught me by surprise because GDC, the Games Developer Summit, is supposed to happen after SXSW this year. So, you know, just Google engaging in a bit of opportunistic SEO, I guess?
Anyway, the disappointing and yet completely unsurprising scorpion-like behavior of Google’s is this: that Google was poised to launch a videogames platform that would’ve been unique, hired a bunch of luminaries in the videogame industry, (Jade Raymond and Phil Harrison, who later went to… Google Cloud) and then proceeded to not really show the potential of Google-sized games.
The first big obvious thing that Stadia did was to demonstrate streaming games technology “at scale”, which is a big deal! With a sufficiently advanced internet connection you too can experience a videogame experience indistinguishable from local play, for most people. But that was just the easy part: taking existing games, running them in datacenters, running whatever compression the bejesus out of them, ensuring quality and latency and all that stuff. But that was existing games. The really interesting part would’ve been “what kind of videogame could you design and run at Google scale”, which would’ve been: well, what kind of open world? How many simultaneous players? What kind of MMO? What kind of simulation? What sort of interaction? Now that would’ve been (sorry) significantly more metaverse-y. But no, Google did a Google, and joined Apple in continuing to studiously be not-interested in videogames as an opportunity which is, I guess, the prerogative of an ad company focussed on disrupting the chat app landscape.
So what’s Stadia now? Well, now it’s perfectly positioned to be a) a white-labeled service for a few giant players like AT&T to offer streaming games, which off the back of my napkin is not that compelling, because it’s in the realm of “hey, you get 12 months free Disney+ or Netflix if you’re a T-Mobile or Verizon or whatever customer” and a mutually beneficial revenue/customer acquisition deal for both parties.
Or b) Stadia (sorry, Immersive Stream for Games) is positioned to be able to offer AAA games as ad-supported, free-to-play games if videogame publishers will allow it, which these days is an increasingly small pool of publishers who will allow it, because Sony and Microsoft are now engaged in a war of attrition to protect their platforms, some of which are hardware/software hybrids (Microsoft) and some of which are 99% hardware (Sony), which means it wouldn’t make sense for them to license their first party games to Google.
I mean, or would it? Certainly AAA games would be more accessible to everyone if you could just click or tap and start playing them, and within about 12 months, most modern TVs will have Stadia (sorry, Immersive Game Stream) clients on them, or Google will have launched them. I’ve already played nVidia’s GEFORCE NOW games on our TV and it was fine!
So sure, Google could cut a deal with the telcos to bundle-in Immersive Stream for Games. Or they could still go the YouTube route and offer hosting for games (and at this point, only to major publishers and indies, I guess) that allows anyone to click, jump in and start playing in exchange for that sweet pre-roll and interstitial ad experience. And it’s not like Google don’t have form in the whole ad marketplace anyway.
It certainly makes sense for Google to reduce the latency in accessing premium AAA games to increase numbers numbers (or whatever, I guess, it’s too early in the morning to cosplay MBA product manager presentation), but it also feels like Google just missed a whole bunch of integration with Stadia having a separate store and not being part of, say, Google Play, which has… play built into its title
Anyway. I would not be surprised if Immersive Stream for Games ends up pushing hard to offer ad-supported Premium Videogame Experiences Direct To Consumer Via Publisher (EA Play, maybe? Ubisoft? Who else is left, really? CD Projekt?) or if, as part of Google Cloud, they’re sidling up to Epic and saying “hey, you could differentiate yourself from Steam even more by offering streaming games”.
But anyway. Disappointing: all that time and money and, like v buckenham said:
it’s kind of funny to me that Google put all this time and reputation into developing a video game platform, then refused to acknowledge that the only way to launch a new videogame platform is to give studios a lot of money to port their games onto it 6
Which obviously compares to Apple, who did pump a bunch of money into studios (comparatively, but peanuts compared to Apple TV+) and then… Apple Arcade is… not really a thing? Are any of you using anything from Apple Arcade?
Anyway, Google Immersive Game Stream, née Stadia, I look forward to you also becoming a chat app.
A reminder - later this (only two days left!), subscribers and supporters will be getting a link to Things That Caught My Attention, Volume 1, collecting the best bits of the first 50 episodes. (You’ll still get the link if you subscribe after this week, don’t worry).
Today: figuring out the Kindle .mobi version. The epub version definitely works with Apple Books, but if you’re a Kindle user who’s not me, perhaps reply and drop me a line and I can send you something to test?
As always, you can subscribe at a pay-what-you-want level.
Okay, that’s it! 20 minutes today, and I’m learning that if I want to do something longer form, then I kind of want to write for more than 15 minutes. Or if I want something shorter, then I need to write for more than 15 minutes and then edit it down.
I love getting notes from readers, even (especially!) when it’s just “hi”, and always make time to reply. How have you been? Best,
AT&T is white-labeling Google Stadia to give you free Batman game streaming, The Verge, October 21, 2021 ↩
“You” as in the sense of “wireless customers of AT&T” ↩
Stadia’s pivot to a Google Cloud product is official, Ars Technical, March 15, 2022 ↩
Google Stadia is subtly reinventing itself to attract new games and gamers, The Verge, March 15, 2022 ↩