The original report is a paywalled Business Insider piece:
Some salient quotes:
…the company has shifted the focus of its Stadia division largely to securing white-label deals with partners that include Peloton, Capcom, and Bungie, according to people familiar with the plans.
The white-label Stadia service would work a lot like the way Google Cloud Platform works—companies that don’t want to run their own cloud gaming service could just use Google’s back end and distribute the game however they want. Like with Batman, presumably there are no branding requirements necessary and no need to plug into the Stadia store or the rest of the Stadia ecosystem.
Google is trying to salvage the underlying technology, which is capable of broadcasting high-definition games over the cloud with low latency, shopping the technology to partners under a new name: Google Stream. (Stadia was known in development as “Project Stream.”)
The Stadia consumer platform, meanwhile, has been deprioritized within Google, insiders said, with a reduced interest in negotiating blockbuster third-party titles. The focus of leadership is now on securing business deals for Stream, people involved in those conversations said.
What I find intriguing about this, is what it might do in terms of xCloud competition.
I have to imagine that part of Xbox’s long-term plans for xCloud include providing streaming as an option for publishers when they list their games on the Xbox store, and not just as part of Game Pass. So for an extra fee, be it an increase to the percentage Xbox currently takes or a specific $ fee, publishers can utilize the xCloud back-end to allow their games to be streamed.
But if this white-label service takes off, publishers might instead opt to build Google’s streaming tech right into their game, thereby bypassing xCloud, while still allowing it to be streamed.
Perhaps Xbox would prevent something like this by having restrictive terms of service for their store, but it’s just one of several potential scenarios.
Either way, competition is a good thing so it’ll be interesting to see where it leads.
I would hope that Microsoft isn’t going to charge publishers for the ability to have their games streamed. That is a fee that should either be passed to the consumer (in the form of a cloud gaming sub) or should be eaten by Microsoft.
Running the streaming back-end certainly isn’t free, so it’s a cost that will have to be borne by someone. In the case of a streaming subscription it’s obviously the consumer that pays it.
But in the case of purchased titles, I think most people would be unwilling to pay a premium for the ability to stream a game. I could be wrong, but for the sake of argument let’s say not. That would then have to be picked up by either Microsoft or the publisher. I could see maybe Microsoft choosing to do it as a differentiator. If people know that if they buy a game on the Xbox store, it comes with the ability to stream it, then they may be more likely to buy it from there than on a competing platform. But if we’re talking about a future where all titles bought anywhere are streamable (a ways off, granted) then I can’t see Microsoft being magnanimous and just eating that cost.
Again, unless there’s competition. And with this Stadia white-label service, that’s just what we might have.
One thing’s for certain, we live in very interesting times for gaming.
We don’t really know what the model is going to look like for streaming games you own, and there isn’t really a great comparison (GeForce Now charges, but they also don’t run the store and skim 30% off every transaction).
I think the key thing is that game streaming is ultimately a benefit that Microsoft is providing to its customers, publishers should not have to pay extra for that.
That is all within the Xbox ecosystem of course. If we’re talking outside of the ecosystem then yeah there would definitely be fees for that. I think we’re pretty far off from every publisher offering their own streaming clients and everything though, and it’d be a not so great user experience.
Exactly. That’s the point. I don’t think it can be debated that it’s not one of the directions gaming is going in, but what can be debated is what shape streaming in the future will take. And this move by Google is an extra piece of the puzzle for when you think about or discuss the future of streaming.
Well, that depends entirely on who decides to provide streaming. If Microsoft decides to provide streaming on purchased titles, they can either decide that all titles will have it, in which case I agree, they should eat the cost and consider it a competitive advantage. Or, they can decide to offer it as an optional add-on either at the check-out level for the consumer, or at the listing level for the publisher. Meaning, either the consumer chooses to pay an extra fee to make their game to be streamable, or the publisher chooses to pay an extra fee to automatically make all copies of that game be streamable.
But theoretically, a publisher might decide that it would be in their best interest to make all their titles streamable.
For example, let’s say Ubisoft decided that they want to offer streaming on their games. One way to do so would be to approach platform holders like Microsoft and negotiate with them a way of doing this. Another, would be to use their Ubisoft Connect service in conjunction with Google’s service. Where regardless of where you buy the game, as long as you login via Ubisoft Connect from within the game and register it there, you can then download the Ubisoft Connect app to your phone or computer and use it to stream the game that in the back-end is being streamed by Google.
This is obviously all speculation. Again, that’s the point. I wasn’t trying to claim I know what will happen. It’s just that prior to this news of Google’s service, there was to my knowledge no 3rd party service providing competition in the space.
It’s kind of like how Azure and AWS provide cloud services to various businesses. This is basically an extension of that sort of thing.
No argument here. And we may not even end up in a situation of every publisher offering their own client. Google’s service is the first one that seems to make that somewhat of a possibility though.
Will be interesting to see. If we look at other digital marketplaces (for movies or music for example), publishers still elect to go through an intermediary instead of going direct to consumer even for purchases.
The obvious difference is that a movies and music have standard formats, whereas you can’t make one build of a game and dump it on every service.
All good points. And I think similarly to movie streaming, only giants like Ubisoft would potentially go their own way à la Disney with Disney Plus. While I think it’s Microsoft’s hope that everyone else will come to them and their Netflx-like service offering.
Wouldn’t games need to be developed on Google’s hardware platform first in order to be available for streaming? Because unlike GeForce now or Amazon Luna this isn’t just a PC version being streamed as fast as I know; it has to be developed and optimized for Google’s hardware, which is similar to a PC but still. I know for stuff like Destiny 2 the game already exists there so it makes it much easier, but for newer games, having an Xbox version already in the pipeline anyway, wouldn’t that make xcloud more enticing?
Also, when I posted this thread I had only read the Ars Technica piece in full, but I just finished the Business Insider piece as well, and this quote amused me and might be of interest to those who frequent an Xbox site like this one:
Meanwhile, Google was operating in an increasingly challenging industry. When Microsoft announced in 2020 that it would acquire the “Elder Scrolls” studio Bethesda, it “scared the crap out of Google executives,” a former employee close to those conversations said. After Stadia shuttered its in-house games division, insiders said any appetite among Google executives to own any studios completely went away. It also had trouble luring studios to develop for the platform; some gaming execs previously told Insider that Google would offer rates “so low that it wasn’t even part of the conversation.”
I don’t know how Stadia works from a technology standpoint, if it’s something that has to be developed from the ground-up, or if it’s something that can be ported from the PC version with relative ease. I suspect the latter, if only because Batman: Arkham Knight isn’t officially a Stadia title. As-in, you can’t play it using the Stadia service, only via AT&T’s white label version of Stadia. But who knows, maybe they put in some heavy lifting to get it working that way.
It runs under Debian Linux and uses Vulkan for their Graphics API. If games target DirectX 11 or 12 on the PC, which nearly all developed games do now, then there is non-trivial efforts required to get things working for Stadia.
What a publisher has to do to get on xCloud: make an Xbox game (done anyway) and use xCloud
What a publisher has to do to get on Stadia: port their game to Linux
The second is way harder than the first and most publishers already have an Xbox port. And if not you can develop an Xbox port and sell it in the store to millions of customers. Who do you sell a Linux port to, the five gamers who run a Debian system?
I’ve always thought that had Sony not signed with Microsoft to use Azure, Playstation using Stadia to deliver a cloud based Playstation service would have been a big blow at Xcloud. A whole list of Playstation classic games, available to play without downloading, on Google servers. And while you can argue that Playstation Now already fulfils this promise, I would suggest that Stadia needs that boost to attract custom to their platform. To be clear though, in this case Stadia needs Playstation more than Playstation needs Stadia.
We don’t know if Playstation or PS Now is on Azure. Sony and Microsoft only publicly announced their beginning of a cooperation. They never clarified what it really meant in the end or which of Sonys services migrated to Azure.