The writing’s on the wall for Google Stadia

The writing’s on the wall for Google Stadia

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge After fourteen months, Google has decided it doesn’t want to be a game company anymore. Where once it had its own cloud-based console, controller, and the promise of homegrown triple-A games, it no longer wants to build its own games as of today.

And though a Google spokesperson emphasizes that the company continues to “remain committed to Stadia as a platform,” it’s looking increasingly likely that platform won’t be a service where you sign up with Google to buy and rent cloud games.

Stadia boss Phil Harrison announced that Google was shutting down the company’s game studios in a memo today, and I think the exact wording of that memo is extremely telling. Go read it for yourself . I’ll wait.

Back? Good. Did you see the part about how Stadia is now a platform for Google’s partners? It’s pretty hard to miss: Harrison brings it up no fewer than five times in four paragraphs. In all but the very last paragraph, “partners” — not gamers — come first.

This suggests Google has realized an important truth: Stadia, like so many of Google’s other businesses, is optimally one where you aren’t the customer. The paying customers, if Google can get them, are game publishers themselves, and possibly ISPs that would like to deliver a cable-like bundle of games to go along with their cable-like bundles of shows.

Today, Harrison defines Stadia as a “technology platform for industry partners” — which suggests to me that he’s talking about turning Stadia into a white-label cloud gaming service.

If you’ve been following the cloud gaming space, you know white-labeling isn’t a new idea — this is how cloud gaming platforms worked from the start. The pitch for OG game streaming service Gaikai, years before Sony squashed it into the form of PlayStation Now , was to sell companies like Electronic Arts on hosting racks of dedicated servers that would beam free, instantly accessible demos of their games from the cloud.

(Phil Harrison knows this; he sat on Gaikai’s advisory board. Jack Buser, Stadia’s head of business development, ran Sony’s PlayStation Now.) Related How Sony bought, and squandered, the future of gaming

Nvidia wound up selling so-called “GeForce Grid” servers to do the same thing, some of which wound up being white-labeled by companies like Ubitus to stream Assassin’s Creed games to the Nintendo Switch and Final Fantasy games to iPhones and Chromecasts , among other screens. Several cellular carriers in Asia currently offer white-labeled versions of GeForce Now as well .

There’s nothing inherently wrong with white-labeling. Done properly, it might even unlock one of the most magical things about cloud gaming: the ability to instantly try a game no matter where you are. While companies like Google already claim games are “instantly available,” what they really mean is “after you sign up, log in, and sometimes buy a game.” That’s partly due to the complex web of licensing agreements that game publishers make cloud services sign. But if game publishers […]

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