What’s the future of Stadia without first-party games?

Earlier today, Google made a surprise announcement that it would be ending its efforts to develop first-party games for Stadia. However, is it possible for Google Stadia to succeed without first-party games?

When Google first unveiled Stadia in early 2019, it promoted Stadia Games and Entertainment as its first-party game development division. Although the division helped release exclusive games such as Orcs Must Die! 3 and Outcasters, Stadia does not yet have a first-party title created by Google.

Following today’s announcement, it looks like Google will continue its Stadia efforts without a focus on first-party titles. That being the case, is there still a world in which Stadia can become a relevant gaming platform?

For decades, exclusive games have been a key driver of a video game console’s success. One of the best examples of this is Halo, which became a top reason to buy an Xbox, leading to developer Bungie being briefly acquired by Microsoft. Other franchises like Forza and Gears of War also sold out for Xbox, leading Microsoft to acquire even bigger studios like Bethesda.

Likewise, God of War, Ratchet & Clank, and The Last of Us sold out on PlayStation. And of course, Nintendo is most famous for its massive list of exclusive and wildly successful franchises, including Mario and The Legend of Zelda.

For its part, Google now seems disinterested in developing a first party game for Stadia. In particular, this necessarily means Stadia will no longer have exclusive games. It just means Google won’t be the one developing them, so they can’t be the biggest cheerleader for games that could only exist in the cloud.

Instead, Google will rely on third-party developers to push the envelope and prove – to both gamers and fellow developers – that not only are experiences only possible in the cloud, but those these are worth buying in Stadia. However, these experiences are likely to be nothing like the future we were shown in 2019, where the Google Assistant could help you beat a difficult level or games could be enhanced by AI to deliver more realistic characters. .

Now, Google is turning Stadia into a vehicle for “business partnerships.” but what does that mean exactly? In the announcement, Phil Harrison shares that Google is willing to partner with companies “looking for a gaming solution” based on Stadia technology. This has the ability to range from a service like Ubisoft+, integrating with the various Stadia apps to simply unlock games, to a bespoke experience such as a standalone EA Play app that quietly uses Stadia for its streaming offering. .

Notably, for gamers who are fine with Stadia’s status quo today, where you can just buy the games you want and you’re not mandatory pay for a subscription or buy equipment, it is possible that nothing will change. Ubisoft+ is a great example of this. Stadia players now have the choice of purchasing individual Ubisoft games from the Stadia Store or accessing them through a Ubisoft+ subscription. The final decision will of course rest with the developers and publishers, but after putting in the effort to get a game running on Stadia, it should be fairly easy to offer it for sale as well, not just through a subscription.

What we don’t know yet is whether Stadia will become a generic white-label service, or whether the Stadia experience as we know it today – including apps, store, community, and hardware controller – will continue to exist.

While Google still intends to make Stadia “the console” thrive, the shutdown of Stadia Games and Entertainment effectively relinquishes their ability to incentivize developers to use Stadia-exclusive features. Just three months ago, Stadia Games and Entertainment said it was specifically looking to help publish games to launch in 2023 and beyond, as well as any game that includes Stadia-exclusive features such as State Share or anything that uses the Google ecosystem.

What the future holds for Stadia remains to be seen, but one thing is certain. For Stadia to thrive in the long term, Google needs to be able to capitalize on it, and today’s decision to shut down Stadia Games and Entertainment is a sad step in that direction.

Google may be on its way to democratizing access to games thanks to the achievements of Stadia’s technical infrastructure, but the lack of first-party games means Google won’t be able to shape the heart and future of the platform. or games in general.

Abner Li contributed to this article

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Joseph K. Bennett