What drives hardware if the same software is available everywhere?

Business Insider recently published an article in which they interviewed a number of game developers for the Google Stadia. They went without their names attached to their words, and perhaps better for that. Without a criticism they’re offering about Stadia and its misgivings, the very same I went on about, wouldn’t reflect too well in their business relations. The main contest is incentives from Google, the benefits that the developer and publisher would gain for putting their title on Stadia. Or rather, the lack of them. Usually the audience would be an incentive on itself, the ones the Big Three currently hold, and Switch as the one with relatively unique and mixed amounts of users, while Stadia effectively has none to contest with. Google can’t compete with the amount of users they have compared to any other gaming platform out there, and they probably know just as well.

There is no reason for any outsider to put their meat on Google’s platter. They’ve done the exact same error so many other companies have before them when it comes to running a gaming platform, console or otherwise; you need to do the initial legwork yourself. To use Nintendo as an example, consumers purchase Nintendo’s consoles not because of gimmicks or whatnot, but because of the software Nintendo themselves are providing. That already offers a default installed consumers base, which can be easily expanded if new and proper software is presented on their platform. Without saying this also means the consoles with the most sales always had the most software on the system. Shovelware is rather important for the ecosystem to balance things out, but it can only balance if there are enough games on a platform. Otherwise it’ll just gather handful of games and they’re all junk. Not even shovelware, but just collection of ports and few exclusive titles worth jack shit. Atari Jaguar or CDi should be an example in of themselves enough.

If Google can’t offer that initial batch of games that would incentivise the customers to pick up their handy dandy controller, what are they using? Software sells hardware, and Google doesn’t have anything that would wake a customer interest. It’s as if they were expecting to come into the play on the backs of other developers and publishers without putting much of their own in there themselves. The few exclusive titles Stadia has seen have been less than stellar, and the whole of idea not having the baggage of prior culture of video games was absurd to begin with. Whether or not Google wants it to, Stadia is relying on pre-existing software that’s heavily ported from other platforms, and that brings the culture of those games and platforms with it. Not that there is a huge dividing lines between different consoles, though PC mindset is very much a different thing. Stadia, however, is very far from PC as a platform. Then again, so is Steam in its nature as a digital console, so maybe modern PC user’s mindset is far too eager to appease closed environments rather than open to controlling their system by themselves.

While other platforms can offer stability, especially the Big Three, Google can’t. You’d think that if Google is putting all this show, razzle and dazzle up to grab customers’ attention, surely they have a long-term plan for Stadia and see it through at least for the next six years. That probably isn’t the case. Google has a tendency to nix products and services that don’t succeed as well as expected, and Stadia is no different to them in terms of business. If it doesn’t rake in the expected revenue, it’ll be written off and they’ll move on. They don’t have the history of putting their best efforts to make a product or a service like Stadia succeed. Stadia, as it stands now, would need a soft-relaunch in terms of service and what products it has. This is similar how Nintendo had to relaunch the Nintendo DS through software and how to market the device. Rather than sell it as a portable N64, a pocket version of a system that was never a success to begin with and has a lousy software library, Nintendo turned the boat around and started to deliver its library closer as a portable Super Nintendo. From there the NDS went to success. Inversely, the Wii was marketed and sold very much like the NES was, but the moment they abandoned that mindset, which was directly reflected in the software library and how Nintendo moved to develop both the 3DS and the Wii U, its sales dropped. Still outsold the other Big Three consoles, but what also failed to carry over the new install base they had from both NDS and Wii.

Google is against all this and they haven’t really done anything to deal with it. Whatever fame Google has at the moment, it isn’t helping them with their gaming department. If all the reports of their customer service practically failing on the first day, some being completely in the dark Stadia was even a thing to begin with, and Day One delivers were multiple weeks late, it could almost be assumed Google was self-aware how things would end up going and had already given up internally. This wouldn’t be a surprise in itself, as at times corporations do put out big projects that might not go anywhere. Often it’s a project that’s been languishing in development hell for years on end and time has already passed it, like with CED, and other times a project is perceived as groundbreaking or making disturbing ways in the industry, but the technology turns out to be half-baked and barely functional. As much as VR has made its strives, in recent years, it has a thirty years history of numerous failed attempts and products. Well, VR will be a true hit when the headset becomes cordless and light enough to shove into basic goggles without the massive plastic housing.

Whether or not Google was unprepared or didn’t have their realities in check with Stadia is academic at best now. Stadia has been around few months now and the wakes it was supposed to make have been rather anemic. Still, let’s wait the first two quarters until we can say whether or not the direction Google has chosen is worth it, but if developers and publishers are willing to coin in and effectively show their distrust not only towards the system itself, but also towards the parent company, something very much askew. Google, as it stands now, really has nothing to compete with in Stadia, and whatever promises and statements they made about fast play anywhere you want without any baggage has turned out to be less fulfilling. If this really was Google trying to offer a way to play games to those who didn’t want to play games because of they hobby has its smears, they bet on the wrong horse.

A Stadiaster

That title isn’t even punny. Yeah I know I’m bad at making jokes and people tend to take me all seriously whenever I make one on the blog, which is why I stopped doing them long time ago (or did I?) I didn’t follow Stadia’s launch per se, but news and people going on about the whole shebang just crept through the grapevines. I couldn’t help but feel slightly sorry for people who got Stadia, but this should also teach people that corporate speech is never to be trusted. While Stadia hasn’t been a complete disaster, it’s damn close to it.

From what I’ve been told, the lag is present in almost every game to a stupidly extreme degree. Button presses are recognised whole seconds after the fact, and some games simply stutter and play slow like you’re in Nino Island Ruins in Mega Man Legends 2, just without the watery ripple effect. The instructions for Stadia recommends cutting everything off in your Internet usage while playing Stadia, including streaming music. It’s also recommended to connect it directly to the router rather than through computer or any other device’s WiFi. There are some additional helps people have found out, but it’s all really to make sure the Stadia has all the bandwidth. Not just some, but all it can have. When I called out Google’s bullshit that it’d do 60FPS 4K in a perfect manner and said nobody really has the speeds or connections to get games running in that quality, I knew people would be bewildered when their games would run terribly. Never trust corporate word, it’s meant to promote and sell, not to be truthful.

That should be few nails in the coffin for Stadia, but that’s just the game side of things. People haven’t got their codes, some have been missing their devices and Google’s own support isn’t even in the know about Stadia. Sure, Google’s a big million dollar company and not everything part of it can be made aware what sort of things the other is doing, but support should really be informed that this kind of product is coming and these are your instructions. This should show that Stadia’s launch very much a rushed thing, that Google barely had any time to put together proper documentations internally and did not prepare what was to come. I bet your ass they know well enough how badly everything would go, but hype will carry anything through. Now that they’re getting real-world test data from existing users, they can start tweaking stuff properly. While not standard, it isn’t unusual for a company to use early adopters as testbeds and beta testers. The “real” launch of Stadia will probably be sometime next year after they’ve further tweaked and fixed stuff, and when that supposed Freemium model of some sort gets launched.

Of course, when you fail at what you intended to do, you can always throw in identity politics and claim some brownie points through that. In an interview with CNN Business, Google VP and head of Stadia Phil Harrison claimed that Stadia is targeting women with Stadia controller. Here’s the archive link for it. If I’m being honest, this is load of bullshit. Stadia controller looks like a generic Chinese knock-off controller you can sometimes see being sold on eBay or other places, it looks like a blander version of the Xbox 360 controller. Controllers in multiple colours has been a thing since at least Commode 64 days, where you could find joysticks and other devices in different colours. Most often something neutral or targeting the pre-existing user group was offered, because those sell. The design director Isabelle Olsson claims that the wasabi colour they went with has universal appeal. There are vast amounts of colours that have universal appeal. Anything pale that’s close to white of course would have universal appeal, as it doesn’t make a strong statement for a direction or another. It’s like vanilla; it goes well with everything and nobody really fights against the taste. CNN Business claiming that it’s slightly easier for small hands to grip than similar products put out by rivals is nothing short of bullshit. All modern controllers that use the handle-grip design have to be designed to fit standard hand dimensions. The overall shape has to be different due to the patents and copyrights, but in recent memory there is only one controller that was intentionally designed to fit larger dimensions than the global standard, Xbox’s The Duke. Claiming that they’re targeting women with these design choices is laughable. It’s nice to say this, when in reality your product is aiming to become a success with general audiences and not just part of it.

Of course, Harrison also mentioned how they don’t have the baggage of pre-existing gamer culture, a thing that’s absolutely false. Whatever they actually mean by gamer culture is well up to debate (long-time readers know that “gamer culture” and its history stems well back to 1800’s and back at least), but you can’t escape the market pressure and demands if you intend to enter a market and succeed there. Stadia may not have history attached to it, but that’s just normal. No new product has a history attached to it, but at the same time, all the pre-existing games that were attached to Stadia bring their history and culture to the platform. Of course, this means Stadia can be the best of the best for a time being, before its core consumer base sets in, but at right now Stadia has more infamy to it than any other platform. Harrison and the rest of the staff that decided on the whole women-centric and sex-neutral marketing have undermined their supposed attempt by bringing in old games that are very well marred in this culture they don’t want to carry. It is extremely haughty to claim you’re targeting an audience that isn’t being catered to, when the world is full of options and readily-catering products. That’s PR for you, throwing out ideas of what you’re doing for the sake of making that sliver more sales. I guess that’s the angle Google has to take with Stadia on the outside to make them stand out from the competition, when their model of service isn’t meeting up with the wants and demands of the audience, targeted or not.

Games as products

With Google coming out with their version of cloud gaming with Stadia, they really went all-out with selling multiple concepts as something completely new despite in reality most of them being already existing. For example, they were selling a Share button as something new, despite the PS4 controller already having it. The function and connection might be unique to Google and how it’s tied to Youtube and such, yet at the core it is all about the whole sharing pictures or video with whatever social media or video site you use. Another example of course is the whole concept of gaming on demand itself. Vortex has offered this sort of service for some time now without any separate consoles or devices needed. OnLive officially launched with a tiny receiver console back  in 2010, and closed its doors when Sony acquired its patents in 2015. Sony did the same thing for Gaikai 2014, and PlayStation Now is supposedly a thing. NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW and NVIDIA GRID are both offering cloud gaming to users. Microsoft already told us last year about Project xCloud that it’d be some sort of cloud gaming service. Even EA has its fingers in the model as well with upcoming Project Atlas. France has Shadow by Blade SAS Group, which spread into 19 US states and at least intended to spread further. LOUDPLAY is another gaming on demand model that was showcasing 5G in partnership with Rostelecom and Huawei, and mostly seemed to stay in Eastern Europe.

The only true difference with Stadia and all previous models is that Google has more money to throw at it, probably a better infrastructure to make streaming games a better experience. However, what Google and all these other companies want to sell you is the idea of games as a model of service rather than product. They’re of course mixing the language a bit here, as a product is whatever you sell to the consumer. A product can be goods or a service. Nevertheless, all that money thrown at the infrastructure will probably mean it’ll be the best kind of gaming on demand to date, that’s their ticket to make themselves stand out. Even with this they still need games for people to play, games that they can’t play anywhere else. Well good thing Google announced their own game studio, as it seems to struggle to get other companies on-board. All we know that it’ll have an Assassin’s Creed game and the upcoming Doom Eternal, both of which you can play on other platforms as well. You don’t sell a service without content. What Google is doing is selling you a really nice looking string and nail for you painting, promising that there’s gonna be a really well made frame and picture later on.

As much as the recent debacle of Epic Game Store doing stuff to get exclusives to their platform, exclusives still are lifeline for different platforms. While many think that if you need PC to play a game, then it is a PC game. Of course this isn’t the case, Epic Games Store is as much a digital console as Steam is. Real PC gaming wouldn’t need to be tied to either one of them to any extent. Nevertheless, while there has been a kind of cold war between GOG and Steam, Epic has made it heat up. There are numerous people who don’t use Epic because their game library and friends are on Steam, and they don’t want to begin using a new service. This is brand loyalty at its core though, as if there was no limitations with PC gaming any and all services would already see people logging in. If PC Gamer is to be believed, about 40% of Epic Game Store’s users don’t have a Steam account.

The PC gaming market is a market space of its own, separate from the console space. The differences are not only in methods and software, but in business models and devices as well. GOG, DLSite, Steam and Epic are all in this one space battling each other, with the likes of Vortex doing something different, but I doubt many have even heard of Vortex. Stadia’s entering this space with bold new steps and they’ve got nothing to show for. Technology will take you only so far. Even in console space the device with the least power of the major players has seen the most sales, and often the largest library. While some will argue against this with saying the Mega Drive was weaker than the SNES, they always forget the X32 and Sega CD exist. Then you get to a debate whether or not you only count base consoles only or if add-ons are applicable. For the sake of argument, and reality, all the updates and upgrades should be taken into account for the most whole picture possible.

Nevertheless, what will decide the success of any of the platforms, be it in console or computer space, is the games. Your service will be worth jackshit nothing if it doesn’t have anything to offer. Hyping Stadia because you could be playing games anywhere with Chrome and Google devices? At this point in time, you only have two options. Certainly there will be more in the future, but without a doubt most options will be the same as on other platforms. Stadia, in order to succeed over its competitors in computer space, requires to offer content you can’t find anywhere else.

That’s the rub though. Not the games or the like, but that it requires Chrome or a Google device. Google exclaimed to high how this product is for everyone, putting down all consoles and their games, but not all people use Chrome. Chrome may have the largest market share at 65%, but that’s excluding all the people who still use IE, people who mainly use FireFox or its forks like me, Edge, Safari or Opera. There’s also Brave Browser, which you really should check out if you’re into data safety. Their bold claim for this product to be for everyone rings hollow, as with cloud gaming all the cards and choices are in Google’s hands. I guess people are willing to give complete and total power over the goods and services they buy nowadays to the provider, and have effectively very little in return. You can expect for exclusive games to appear on Stadia in the future, and after their license has expired in a way or another, they’ll vanish altogether, never to be played any more. Digital-only will always meet that fate, and we’ve already lost more than enough games  to this.