Google Bets on the Future With Launch of Stadia Game Streaming Service

TVS Google Stadia_Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy Google

"You’re going to see a number of things that Stadia can do that is not possible on other platforms," says Jack Buser, director for games at the tech giant.

Google's long-gestating foray into gaming has finally arrived as the tech giant's game streaming service, Stadia, launched Tuesday morning. 

"Stadia has been built from the ground up to be a cloud platform," Jack Buser, director for games at Google, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "You’re going to see a number of things that Stadia can do that is not possible on other platforms."

Google's gaming offering, which is offered at a $9.99 monthly rate for its Stadia Pro subscription (there is also a $129.99 Premiere Edition available for preorder that includes a controller, Chromecast Ultra and three months of Stadia Pro and a free tier of the Stadia service is due out next year), is centered on the growing industry of game streaming, allowing players to access AAA titles while on-the-go through their smart phone device, tablet or computer, as well as their TV. The key to Stadia's success, says Buser, is Google's built-in infrastructure. "We have one of the largest private networks in the world," he says, boasting that Google's servers can "deliver extremely high fidelity content all over the world." The goal is to deliver a "seamless experience" that presents blockbuster games to Stadia users on whatever device they choose to play on. 

Stadia is launching with 22 games (the addition of 10 extra titles was announced over the weekend after the initial dozen offerings were revealed last week), featuring popular franchises such as Assassin's Creed, Tomb Raider, Red Dead Redemption, Destiny and more. Notably, only one title at launch is exclusive to the Stadia service, indie developer Tequila Works' Gylt, while most of the other games offered have been on the market for months on various other platforms. More games are slated to roll out on Stadia throughout the end of the year and into 2020.

Lewis Ward, research director of gaming VR/AR at tech market research firm IDC, sees Stadia's lineup as its "Achilles heel." While the monthly subscription rate for the service gets players access to 4k streaming at 60 frames per second and discounts on certain titles (Destiny 2 is available for free as a limited-time incentive at launch), the majority of titles for Stadia will cost the same amount as their console counterparts, despite the games having been on the market for some time already.

"They need to ramp up the game catalog ASAP," says Ward. "Google’s planned 'free' base tier (you still have to buy the games outright) is its ace in the hole, as is its ability to promote Stadia through the YouTube Gaming community...and that should seed interest in the Founder’s Edition bundle and Pro service. I think that conversion will be tough, however, since the games catalog will probably stay fairly thin and there’s a lot of other gaming options out there."

For established gaming powers such as Ubisoft and Take-Two Interactive (both of which have a number of games set as launch titles for Google's platform), Stadia represents an opportunity to reach a wider audience. "Google offers an extension of the market of people who can play our games," says Chris Early, senior vp partnerships and revenue at Ubisoft. "They help extend our reach by letting people who maybe don’t own a console or PC join in."

"Our strategy is to be where the consumer is," Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two, adds. "Generally speaking, in the entertainment business, broader distribution is a good thing for consumers and customers. We’re excited by the opportunity and we’ll see how it goes."

Google is betting on streaming, which, depending on who you ask in the industry, is seen as either the future of gaming or the present. Stadia is not the only service to capitalizing on the new tech, as Sony has offered its Sony Now service since 2014 and Microsoft launched an early stage of its Project xCloud cloud-based gaming service across 13 markets earlier this year, with plans for its full launch set for next year. 

For the nascent game streaming industry, "2020 will be about getting these services in good working order and cautiously testing out how gamers respond," Ward says. "I think 2021 and 2022 will begin to see more of a muscular push by several of the large cloud-streamed gaming service providers."

"Streaming is somewhat binary," says Early. "You are either in a place with adequate bandwidth or you’re not." In places like San Francisco and New York, bandwidth is less of an issue than in more remote markets, but Early still says Ubisoft are "believers" in game streaming as a viable future for the industry.

"The groundwork is there," Buser says. "In terms of running games and having an experience that feels as good as or better than best consoles that exist today. The creativity that is coming from the game development community will break the boundaries of what was previously possible. It's just staggering."

While Stadia's current expected lineup is light on exclusive titles (only three games available exclusively on the service have been announced), Early says there is a possibility that future Ubisoft games could be built and launched specifically for the platform. "Our objective is to make the best game and get it in front of as many people as possible," he says. "I think the interesting question is if we’re getting to a place that requires a game to be run in the cloud, does that become Stadia exclusive? While the intent may not be that, because [the game] may be exclusive to services that operate with a cloud base, whether that’s xCloud or Stadia or whatever else, that does become something we'd look at."

While aimed at a more casual audience, fellow tech powerhouse Apple also stepped into gaming earlier this year with the debut of its Apple Arcade subscription service in September. A major difference in the two services was the list of titles available at launch (more than 60) for Apple's offering, all of which were new and exclusive to the platform, with more rolling out each week. 

"I think if [Google] gets to over 100 games by the time the free tier launches next year that will be a big improvement, slow and painful as it is," says Ward. 

Buser, however, is counting on the performance of the new service, and the future of the gaming industry as a whole, to bolster Stadia in the early going. "This is where you’ll see the next big jump in what games can be," he says. "You’ll never download a game or have to download an update. We’re already used to this in movies and TV, we just haven’t seen it in games yet. It’s tough to go back to console."