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Opinion News Google's ambitious push into gaming is floundering, and it's due largely to too few games on its Stadia platform— here's why developers have held back

CyberPanda

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After years of development and hype, Google's long-rumored push into video games arrived last November, with the launch of Google Stadia.

Google Stadia isn't a game console, nor is it a game platform, really — it's a digital storefront run by Google where you can buy individual games. It's a hugely ambitious new platform, and it aimed to be the Netflix of gaming.

What makes Stadia so ambitious? Rather than downloading games or playing them off a Blu-ray disc, Stadia streams games to you wherever you are, like Netflix streams movies and TV shows.

It's such a big deal, in fact, that Google CEO Sundar Pichai himself introduced Stadia back in March 2019 at the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. However, four months after Stadia's launch, the service is still extremely light on games: Just 28 titles are available as of this week.



Google says another 120 games are scheduled to hit Stadia this year, including some big upcoming blockbusters like "DOOM Eternal" and "Cyberpunk 2077."

But where are the dozens of indie hits that helped bolster the libraries of Sony's PlayStation 4, Microsoft's Xbox One, and Nintendo's Switch? Where are the games like "Bloodstained," "Shovel Knight," "Dead Cells," and "Untitled Goose Game" — the blockbuster indie games that sell millions of copies and inspire sequels?

These games have become critical to the success of any new game platform, yet, of the 28 games currently available on Stadia, just four fall into the indie category.

"We were approached by the Stadia team," one prominent indie developer told me. "Usually with that kind of thing, they lead with some kind of offer that would give you an incentive to go with them." But the incentive "was kind of non-existent," they said. "That's the short of it."

It's a statement we heard echoed by several prominent indie developers and two publishing executives we spoke with for this piece.

"It's that there isn't enough money there," one of the publishing executives we spoke with said. The offer was apparently "so low that it wasn't even part of the conversation."

The "incentive" isn't solely financial, but it's the main part of the equation.

"When we're looking at these types of deals," another prominent indie developer said, "We're looking at 'Is this enough money where we have the resources to make what we want, or is this an exclusivity deal that gives us security?'" they said.

Each of the people we spoke with, who asked to be granted anonymity due to ongoing employment in the video game industry, echoed this sentiment — and said Google simply wasn't offering enough money, in addition to several other concerns.

"There are platforms you want to be on because they have an audience and you want to reach that audience," one developer said. "That's what Steam is, or that's what [Nintendo] Switch is. They have big groups on their platforms, and you want to be with those groups so they can play your games."

But Stadia doesn't have a large audience to reach — at least not yet — so Google must create that incentive for developers. And the people we spoke with said, outside of money, there wasn't much reason to put their games on Stadia.

"If you could see yourself getting into a long term relationship with Google?" one developer said. "But with Google's history, I don't even know if they're working on Stadia in a year. That wouldn't be something crazy that Google does. It's within their track record."

This concern — that Google might just give up on Stadia at some point and kill the service, as it has done with so many other services over the years — was repeatedly brought up, unprompted, by every person we spoke with for this piece.



Remember Google Plus? How about Daydream, or Buzz, or Inbox? Google is notorious for killing off products and services that don't succeed.


"With Google, it's easy to look at them as, well — it's Google!" one publishing exec said. "If anyone's gonna make it work, it's them. But they've failed a ton in the past and walked away from major services."

When reached for comment, Stadia representative Patrick Seybold said, "The publishers and developers we speak with regularly are very supportive, and want Stadia to succeed. It is also worth pointing out that not every publisher has announced their games for Stadia so far, and more games will continue to be announced in due course."

He also sent over a list of all the major publishers that Google is working with, including major companies like EA, Bethesda, Ubisoft, 2K Games, and Rockstar Games.

But the vast majority of indie hits aren't published by these massive publishers. EA makes and publishes "Madden" and "FIFA." Bethesda makes and publishes "DOOM" and "Elder Scrolls." Ubisoft makes and publishes "Assassin's Creed" and "Ghost Recon."

All of these are so-called "triple-A" blockbusters — the video game equivalent of major film blockbuster series like "Transformers" or "Fast & Furious." Several indies show up on the list of upcoming games, including "Superhot" and several "Steamworld" games, but many others are still missing.

The absence of these games at the launch of Stadia last November, and their continued absence in the ensuing months, speaks to Google's inability to attract developers ahead of launch.

"It wasn't just a financial thing," one developer told me who decided not to publish on Stadia. "At the end of the day, I'm asking the question, 'Why would I do this?' And there was no positive reason to move forward. There wasn't really anything to want us to get in the door other than to be the first on the platform."

 

DigitalScrap

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Google's culture is full of arrogance and a misplaced feeling of superiority. It doesn't surprise me that they are not making adequate efforts to lure developers to Stadia. Without them giving devs a good reason to also be on Stadia, most will just wait and see if it ever hits a critical mass before jumping in.

I'm not saying that Google should go full Epic Games Store, but they have to make it make sense for these devs to put in the work required. And Google as company is far too arrogant to see that IMO.

And let's face it, for Google, this is just an interesting side project. They will scrap it when it doesn't take off and move on.
 
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Yoda

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Google's culture is full of arrogance and a misplaced feeling of superiority. It doesn't surprise me that they are not making adequate efforts to lure developers to Stadia. Without them giving devs a good reason to also be on Stadia, most will just wait and see if it ever hits a critical mass before jumping in.

I'm not saying that Google should go full Epic Games Store, but they have to make it make sense for these devs to put in the work required. And Google as company is far too arrogant to see that IMO.

And let's face it, for Google, this is just an interesting side project. They will scrap it when it doesn't take off and move on.

This can't be stressed enough, it reeks of early Xbox One Microsoft in that they feel entitled to developers supporting their new platform. I don't think it's in Google's DNA to be able to support something like this, as it requires good relationships with consumers and partners (developers). They're notoriously bad at both, for partners, look at how terribly they treat youtube creators. For consumers, well look how terribly they treat anyone who requires customer support (ex: search for some of the horror stories related to their Google Fi customer support).
 

-Arcadia-

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I’m just glad it’s been a clownshow. The last thing we needed in gaming was Google bringing the same crazy political motivations and censorship that show up in their other products, to gaming as a major force.

I’m pretty sure almost everyone considers X-Cloud, or Geforce Now, a much better execution of the idea.
 
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replicant-

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We are talking about the company that coined the phrase "gender neutral" when it comes to the controller colour options. - completely ridiculous.
 
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replicant-

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We are also talking about the company that employed Phil Harrison to lead and launch the project.
You guys are really mean to Phil Harrison.

Phil Harrison aka the timed "executive". He will be gone in a matter of months. Probably his last venture in the industry.
 
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MayauMiao

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Google probably thinks everybody had Google fiber speed network, lives in Silicone Valley, and can expect gamers to happily pay full retail price for old games.

These people are delusional.
 

Pallas

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Google is like a kid with a new puppy or kitten. They get very excited, hype it to heaven and beyond as the best thing and then so quickly realized the responsibility, money, time and patience it has and no longer has the desire to take care of it.
 

Woo-Fu

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I don't think it matters how many games you have if I have to pay for the service and full retail for the games. Voost Kain bankrupted a small island nation to get started with Stadia.
 
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01011001

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I love how most of the timed exclusive games Stadia has are so extremely simple that I bet they could run natively on their damn Chrome Cast Ultra and most smart TVs and would only be a less than 200mb download as well.

so their timed exclusive games are literally wasting data and hardware power by being streamed! THAT MY FRIENDS IS S-TIER STUPID lol

here is a screenshot of one of these games btw.:

 
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DigitalScrap

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Phil Harrison aka the timed "executive". He will be gone in a matter of months. Probably his last venture in the industry.

Maybe he can go in and help the AtariVCS guys finally launch next. Surely he couldn't make that shitshow go any worse than it already has.
 
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MayauMiao

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I love how most of the timed exclusive games Stadia has are so extremely simple that I bet they could run natively on their damn Chrome Cast Ultra and most smart TVs and would only be a less than 200mb download as well.

so their timed exclusive games are literally wasting data and hardware power by being streamed! THAT MY FRIENDS IS S-TIER STUPID lol

here is a screenshot of one of these games btw.:


So a second worth of streaming this game at 4k/60fps consume more data than the actual game.
 

GreyHorace

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I think this video by The Try Guys last year told me everything I needed to know about Google.



You can smell the company's arrogance coming through the screen. "Look at the amount of money we're throwing at developing useless shit!"

With that kind of attitude, I didn't think Stadia had a chance.
 
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DaGwaphics

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You can smell the company's arrogance coming through the screen. "Look at the amount of money we're throwing at developing useless shit!"

With that kind of attitude, I didn't think Stadia had a chance.

Not to defend Stadia, but the world would be a different place if corporations with the means to do so didn't "throw money at useless shit products". Half the advances we take for granted today began as a fever dream.
 

GreyHorace

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Not to defend Stadia, but the world would be a different place if corporations with the means to do so didn't "throw money at useless shit products". Half the advances we take for granted today began as a fever dream.
I agree that many advances we take for granted today began as ideas. But executing those ideas to become reality requires a guiding vision. As much of an asshole he was, Steve Jobs was a visionary. Same with Bill Gates.

I see no guiding vision from Google in that Try Guy 'paid for advert' vid. All of that tech they're developing looks like useless fluff just to show off their wealth. So yeah, I had real doubts Stadia could follow through from the start.