A problem beyond its own reach
Since its reveal one year ago at the GDC through its launch and first months, Google’s Stadia has been surrounded by both Excitement and skepticism. It was a revolutionary and quite ambitious entry point for Google into the Gaming World. However, it seems the biggest challenge for Stadia is beyond itself.
Google’s plans for Stadia were to establish it as a ‘non-hardware attached platform’. The first true Cloud Gaming platform. In which players would actually play in the cloud (A Google Server) from any supported device. It sounds great on paper! And it has the potential of leaving behind the hardware-related problems of gaming. (While also bringing new Cloud-related problems, but let’s leave that for later).
During this year period since we first knew about Stadia up until now, there has been a lot of talk about potential problems regarding the service. Namely, Latency, the ownership problem, multiplayer, input LAG and so on.
All this talking around the problems Stadia may face left me wondering what I thought would be Stadia’s biggest challenge. At first, the Ownership problem came to my mind. The question of whether Google or the users/players owned the license for the games.
First challenge: The Ownership Problem.
This problem is inherited from the idea of a Platform as a Service. Let’s use another platform as an example: PC. If you buy a Game’s License in Steam. For instance, it’s yours to use. Steam handles the transaction and downloads for you but the game is yours to play whenever and in whichever PC you want to play it. Steam in this example is just a Store in which you buy your license, but the license is yours. That is to say that Steam cannot take that game from you.
On the other hand, we can turn to Netflix to understand what happens if you do not own the license. Netflix is an entertainment service for watching movies and Shows. In Netflix’s case, they own the license for the movies and shows users watch on their service. Meanwhile, users get access to their service for a monthly fee. However, in this case, if Netflix loses the license for a Movie or Show (Due to legal conflicts or simply because the license expired) all the users would automatically lose access to it as well.
You can see then how important it’s to know who owns the license to the games. For instance, if Google owns the licenses you may end up not being able to play or finish the games you wanted. Perhaps you acquired the service to play one particular game or series anywhere with any of your devices but you end up not being able to.
However, users of the service can rest assured as Google confirmed the games brought on Stadia are licensed to the players. Therefore they are theirs to play with whenever and wherever they want. Still, this brought another problem, one that I could relate to.
Stadia Biggest Challenge: Trust
Google claimed the games would be owned by the players and that’s great! However, the remaining questions are: “Will it comply? For how long?” and some variants of it. In the end, the question is just one: “Can we Trust Google?”.
THE PLAYERS TRUST
Why? Because Google has made a name for itself on giving up on non-so-profitable projects. As a former Google+ user, I can relate to the feeling of mistrust. “How long will Google support this platform?”. “What will happen to my games if it fails?”. “What about all the time and money I would have spent on it?”
These questions are enough to make a user doubt. Especially if as a user you already have something functional that you consider trustworthy. So, my conclusion at the time was that Stadia’s biggest problem would be to earn the Gamer’s trust. As it turns out, I was WRONG.
THE PUBLISHER’S TRUST
Regarding trust, there’s one major challenge for Stadia besides earning the players Trust. That is to earn the game publishers’ and developers’ trust. And recent reports suggest that is not the case right now.
Publishers and developers can see the very same things from Google as all of us have seen. They aren’t sure if they can trust them in maintaining the platform in the long run. Even more, they are not sure if they can trust Gamers will trust the platform.
Under those circumstances, it might be difficult to decide between supporting the platform/service or using the resources somewhere else. That is because it turns out Game Development is a very expensive and time-consuming task.
Therefore, publishers have to consider where to put their resources. Will they invest time and money into developing or porting games for this new and interesting platform with no significant user base? Or would they rather focus their resources on well-established platforms with millions of users waiting for new games?
Some big publishers have enough resources to take chances and even doing both cases. But smaller publishers and indie developers can’t afford to take the chances. Just a few wrong moves could mean their defeat.
Subtracting the risks and benefits while factoring the trust issues we can clearly see how this might be Stadia’s biggest problem. One that could finish them before even warming up. That’s because no gaming platform can survive the lack of games and players. Lack of players causes a lack of games which ends up causing more lack of players and so on. That is how platforms die.
However, this is not to say that Stadia will fail. It has, as we previously said, a revolutionary concept and a lot of potential. In the end, the fate of Stadia lies on Google’s hands. It all depends on Google earning the trust of both publishers and players.
Though, even if Stadia manages to overcome its’ biggest challenge there will be more to come. Namely, service reliability, service availability, LAG, input LAG and so on. But, even if these technical problems aren’t there, it would be irrelevant if the biggest and most important problem is not dealt with first. On the other hand, if the technical problems remain while not dealing with the Trust Challenge the future of Stadia would look quite dim.