Failure, innovation, management, Software

RIP Google Stadia

– An opportunity squandered.

RIP Stadia

Google Stadia wasn’t a perfect cloud gaming experience (missing a lot of game titles, multiplayer often impossible to find other players, etc) by any account, but it was more than good enough to enjoy casual gaming without having to buy and manage the PC hardware and software. 

Stadia is however the best effort to make casual AAA-title gaming without a PC or console an enjoyable and frictionless experience to date.

But only two years old, Google has already decided to kill it January 2023.

I guess this is what happens when previously disruptive startups become public corporations: Out the window goes the long-game and everything shifts to short term gains. No vision, no leadership, no will of taking risks beyond the scope of fulfilling career-based KPIs.

Update: I guess I hit close to home… (see below, twitter linked)

As a friendly free word of advice in advance — If you’re intending to disrupt an existing market, don’t apply a two year horizon for it to be even remotely successful. (Or if you only have two years, make sure it has enough funding and priority to actually be able to achieve rapid Horizon 3 scaling.)

The sad-funny part is that even Microsoft is more innovative than Google at this point.

Cloud gaming is obviously the future (lower barrier to consume, hardware homogeneity and stability for game developers, no-cost upgrade cycles for consumers, lower environmental impact for everybody, near-zero cost distribution, etc.). I mean, considering the computing power needed for the Metaverse(s) / AR-Verse(s), it is inevitable — you’re not going to render that locally on your iPhone or on your Quest headset any day soon now.

Now, Stadia isn’t the first and probably won’t be the last to drop out of the cloud gaming race.

NVIDIA (GeForce Now) already copped out by castrating themselves by publisher demands (games you previously bought suddenly disappearing because the publishers’ knee-jerk reactions). IMO, if NVIDIA was serious about cloud gaming, they would have litigated publishers to a settle that would set precedence and benefited consumers — but I deem from their no-contest fold that they are not really in the cloud gaming race at all.

Like Apple’s AppStore, I don’t think you’ll win cloud gaming without winning the devs. And by that, I don’t mean the existing publishers. (No, by all means screw those gatekeepers over for good — They represent most things bad with gaming today.) You cannot and will not win them over as they have every incentive in the world to fight for their status quo. You need the games. The games with mainstream appeal. Games that will bring the gamers. The games with epic experiences. Games like those coming out of the studios of Naughty Dog, Crystal Dynamics, or Rockstar.

You also need the multiplayer games to be multiplayer-playable — which cannot be said about a lot of games played in the cloud (not cross-platform compatible, no critical user mass of cloud-only version yet), which renders them unplayable (e.g. Red Dead Redemption 2 Online is completely unplayable on Stadia as there are no other players being matched to your game).

I’m not getting my hopes up for Amazon Luna (everything Amazon touches turns out mediocre at best) and it’s not even available in Europe (yet?).

I think Steam would be in a good position as they are already in the sales and distribution game, have a large customer base — but it feels like Valve got lost after the Half Life 2 release party and is still trying to find their way home.

Sony bought Gaikai in 2012 (I tried it sometime 2011 and I was very impressed by how I was able to play Crysis 2 on my non-gaming MacMini 2009 with it. It was one of those very rare “DANG! This-is-the-future-right-here” moments.) and has since pretty much squandered the potential as they are too entrenched (witch is a nicer way of saying Sony management have a track record of having their heads too far up their behinds) in their existing Nespresso lock-in business model. I’m not expecting miracles.

Which surprisingly makes me believe Microsoft with its XBOX Live (no Mac app yet — to no one’s surprise) is currently in the best position. It’s a distributor and publisher with its own game dev studios — and it seems (for now) that they are playing for the long game. I’m not sure if they will be willing or able to thoroughly disrupt their hardware / software lock-in model any day soon (hey, throw us a Mac app bone), though. Probably a positioning play for now that affords future optionality.

I’m not getting my hopes up for Ubi/EA/EPIC/etc siloed cloud subscription services. A siloed market represents added inconvenience and added costs (subsidise the publisher for what you don’t want, pay for several silos to get what you want) for the consumers. Besides, some of them got cultural baggage and some have a problematic developer / publisher paradox.

And what about those rent-a-windows-box-in-the-cloud services? Have you ever tried one of these? Don’t get me started. It’s still all of the hassles of actually owning and managing a Windows gaming PC — but with higher latency and frame drops. The pain. The horror.

Personally, I would like to see Apple get over their Pippin complex and just get on with it and own the market. It’s the only media type that is missing from their offerings, IMO. But I’m not getting my hopes up. Knowing Apple, they will probably join the fray if and when the time is right — which is to say probably not any day real soon now. (Come on Apple, you need another “hobby”! Maybe hot on the heels of the Apple AR Glasses?)

OTOH — As another corporate venture gets it chain yanked, it’s leaving the opportunity on the table for the startup with the grander vision and deeper (accessible) pockets and more freedom to operate.

What do you think?

(This article was originally published on LinkedIn 2020.09.30)

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