Google Stadia attempts to lure independents with Makers initiative

While Google has made quick progress in launching its cloud gaming platform, the main criticism is a lack of independent content creators. The launch of its Makers initiative hopes to correct this.

Announced during the virtual Google for Games Developer Summit, Stadia Makers will attempt to lure independent game publishers into the Google universe, adding depth and variety to the currently thin content library. If Google Stadia is to be a sustained success, this initiative will have to get off to a flying start.

“For this expansion of self-publishing, Stadia Makers is partnering with Unity, a team with a long history of building new platforms and gaming services hand-in-hand with the developer community,” the team said in a blog entry.

“Unity has worked with thousands of game developers over the years, and today, powers 50% of all new games with optimized support for Stadia and more than 25 other platforms.”

Since launching the platform in November 2019, 30 games have made their debut, while there are another 120 slated for release over 2020. As it stands, this is a thin library, and while it will certainly appeal to millions of gamers, if the platform is to meet the expectations of Google it will have to increase.

Cloud gaming has the potential to upset the status quo in the gaming industry, as the promise of decreased installation times and removing the need for on-console storage is attractive. By storing content on the cloud, instead of on consoles in the home, greater flexibility and agility is introduced to developers when it comes to updates and development, while new experiences can be introduced as some of the technical limitations of the consoles are released.

This has been the challenge for the gaming industry in the past. It is way too expensive to constantly upgrade the consoles and PCs to ensure the desired game performance. Streaming from powerful servers without the need to download or update is a significant advantage.

However, as Google is leading the world into the unknown, there are no prior experiences or precedents to benefit from; it will have to learn from parallel industries. The increasingly popular streaming segment, and Netflix in particular, could be used as an excellent example to learn from.

Similar to cloud gaming, subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) revolutionised the content world by creating a new dynamic in terms of the distribution of content. It digitised the accessibility of content, turning consumer habits upside-down in the process. And in the SVOD world, Netflix is the reigning champion. There are pretenders to the throne, but Netflix is realistically the only one who could claim the number one spot. But Why?

Firstly, it was first to market. Secondly, the pricing point was excellent. Third, the user experience can be matched by few others. And finally, the depth, breadth and quality of the content is arguably unmatched. In the platform world, content is king.

But what is critically important here is the democratisation of content creation. Netflix lowered the barriers of entry to offer more independent content creators a gateway to the consumer.

Whether it is blockbuster movies, edgy series, nostalgia driven shows, niche documentaries, ‘live’ comedy, hyper-localised entertainment or cult-content, the breadth and depth of the library appeals to everyone and anyone. The discovery function still needs work, which can frustrate consumers, but there is content for any fad, craving or guilty pleasure. Netflix has invested in content, encouraged variety and then doubled down year-on-year.

This approach works. It is expensive and somewhat of a slow burner in terms of profitability, but the Netflix financials are showing that patience pays off. Looking at the latest financial statement, Netflix revenues exceeded $20.1 billion, with net income of $1.8 billion, with 167 million subscribers. These are huge numbers, but there is still significant potential for growth outside the US where Netflix has 106 million customers.

First and foremost, Google can learn three things from Netflix; a sound pricing strategy, an excellent user experience and an extensive content library. These are the three areas Google should be heavily investing in immediately, but then it should also be taking note of the partnership programmes which the streaming companies are benefitting from.

Looking at the Disney+ go-to-market strategy in Europe, the team is heavily reliant on partnerships with connectivity companies to gain access to customers but also lean on the credibility these companies have developed in terms of billing. Google has already partnered with Verizon to gain access to new customers, and it should be looking for more partnerships with telcos around the world. Fortunately for Google, the telcos are very open to discussing relationships with the rowdy Silicon Valley residents.

With convergence, or bundling, strategies becoming much more prominent, the telcos are searching for new partners to add additional layers of value. Data is effectively a commodity nowadays, therefore, to improve loyalty and maintain ARPU, new services have to be built on top of the connectivity foundation in contracts. Content is the most popular today, though gaming could certainly factor into the equation.

It might not sound like the simplest of routes to success, but the prize at the end of the rainbow could certainly be worth it.

According to Global Web Index, currently 16% of gamers use cloud gaming services, though these are most likely to be among the top 25% of earners in their demographic. Markets and Markets, another analyst firm, suggests the worldwide cloud gaming segment could be valued at $306 million in 2019, but this will rapidly increase to $3.1 billion by 2024 thanks to the commercialization of 5G, the rise in a number of gamers, and the upsurge of immersive and competitive gaming on mobile.

The major financial rewards might be a few years down the line, but the COVID-19 pandemic which is forcing so many consumers indoors presents an opportunity. Without pubs, schools or parks to fill the hours, many potential customers will be searching for entertainment. The streaming companies are clearly benefiting today, though an effective engagement campaign could reap benefits for Google and its Stadia platform.

The cloud gaming segment could offer significant rewards for Google, though it will have to learn from Netflix if it would like to realise the full potential. Breadth and depth of content is critical, and to do that the independent content creators, not just the multinational game publishers, will have to be brought on board; scale is everything.

Initial reviews of the Google Stadia cloud gaming system aren’t great

For just £119 you can buy a controller and a three-month subscription to Google’s new games streaming service, but is it worth even that?

We haven’t had a go on it yet, but it’s worth a look at what those who have are saying about it as a thriving cloud gaming industry could have significant telecoms implications. If, as has happened with music and video, people increasingly access games from the cloud rather than local storage then that will be another significant strain on networks, but possibly also an opportunity to upsell premium connectivity.

There’s no reason anyone should buy into Stadia right now,” advises The Verge. “Google has made sure of that, partly by underdelivering at launch and partly with a pricing scheme that sees you paying three times (for hardware, for the service, for games) just to be an early adopter.”

“Many Stadia-exclusive features that were supposed to set the platform apart also aren’t ready in time for launch, despite being discussed publicly since March,” laments Ars Technica. “Maybe one day these features and more will put Stadia at or above par with other game platforms. Right now, across all three hardware use cases, the platform itself feels a bit half-baked.”

“Ultimately, the only real benefit of the system is the absence of that box under the TV,” scoffs the Guardian. If your impeccable sense of interior design values that above game selection, price, offline play or community size, go for it. Otherwise, stick with a home console if AAA games are where your heart lies, or pick up Apple Arcade to see what a revolution looks like when it focuses on the games and not the technology.”

“Until Google finds a way to loop in YouTube and develop truly unique competitive large-scale games, Stadia isn’t worth your time yet,” sighs Cnet. “Yes, the future is possibly wild, and you can see hints of the streaming-only cloud-based playground Stadia wants to become. But we’ll see what it shapes into over the next handful of months and check back in.”

What’s remarkable is how unsurprising this is. Google is terrible at product launches to the extent that they have an almost apologetic feel. This is clearly a very early version of the service that Google is hoping a few compulsive early-adopters will provide unpaid beta-testing for. The main problem with this approach is how to relaunch it when you think it’s finished and might actually be worth bothering with.

Nvidia brings its cloud gaming to Android

2019 was already looking like a promising year for cloud gaming and now Nvidia is bringing its own service, GeForce NOW, to Android, the streaming scrap is heating up.

Specifics on timing have not been released just yet, neither have pricing details, though Nvidia has said its streaming service will be available on Android devices over the coming months. With the service already available on PC and Mac devices, entering the Android world adds the potential of another two billion devices.

“Already in beta to the delight of 1 billion underpowered PCs that aren’t game ready, GeForce NOW will soon extend to one of the most popular screens in the world, Android phones – including flagship devices from LG and Samsung,” the team said on its blog.

“Just like on PC, Mac and Shield TV, when the Android mobile app releases it’ll be in beta. We’ll continue improving and optimizing the experience.”

The move into Android will take Nvidia into direct competition with both Google’s Stadia and Microsoft’s xCloud. There are of course pros and cons for all the available services, though a couple of bonus’ for Nvidia will gauge the interest of some gamers. Firstly, second purchases on titles will not be needed for the cloud gaming service, while the GeForce RTX graphics performance will be introduced soon enough.

Google was the first to plug the potential of cloud gaming back in March, promising users they will be able to access their games at all times, and on virtually any screen. The initial launch will be for £8.99 a month, though the team does plan on launching a ‘freemium’ alternative soon after. As you can imagine, Google is always looking for ways the complex data machine can offer content to users for profit.

It didn’t take long for Microsoft to launch its own alternative following the press Google collected. Hyped as the ‘Netflix of video games’, Microsoft will charge $9.99 to access a range of Xbox One and Xbox 360 titles on any screen. Like Stadia and GeForce NOW, a controller would have to plugged into Android devices.

There are some ridiculous figures which are being banded around concerning the percentage of traffic cloud gaming will account for during the 5G era, it is a segment worth keeping an eye on.

Google fleshes out its Stadia cloud gaming platform

Having teased a new cloud gaming platform earlier this year, Google has finally got around to launching it properly.

Stadia offers games that are 100% hosted in the cloud, which means you don’t need a console, don’t need to install any software and can game on any screen with an adequate internet connection. Right now Google is only launching the premium tier, which offers 4K gaming but requires a £9 per month subscription and a 35 Mbps connection.

A freemium tier will follow in due course that won’t change a subscription fee but will offer reduced performance. It looks like both tiers will charge full-whack for individual games, although the premium one will chuck in a few freebies to sweeten the pot. Among the games announced by Google is a third version of the popular RPG Baldur’s Gate.

To seed the market Google is urging early adopters to by a Founder’s Edition bundle that includes a controller, a Chromecast Ultra dongle and three months subscription to the ‘Pro’ premium tier for £119. Here’s what you get for Pro versus the basic package.

stadia pricing

The main telecoms angle here is bandwidth. Google reckons you still need a 20 Mbps connection even for 1080p gaming, which a lot of people, even in the UK, still struggle to reach. But the real strain on networks will come if people start using stadia via mobile devices. This is unlikely to really take off until you get games developed specifically for mobile, probably with a location and/or AR element to them, but when they do we might finally see a killer consumer app for 5G.