In 1998 my family had a big Macintosh with an eggshell-white monitor case and tower a tad shorter than my 3-year-old person. It could play “Myth: The Fallen Lords,” the 1997 release from Bungie, the developer who went on to make “Halo: Combat Evolved” in 2001 for Microsoft’s then-new Xbox console.
The CD-case came with a game booklet, a thin staple-bound paperback about as wide and tall as a composition book, which contained a small section titled “Thanks!” for purchasing the game, a section of installation support information, a short three-page fiction written by an in-game character, a how-to-play guide, credits (including a special thanks for a one “Frank Zappa”) and a few blank pages for a player to record notes of their playing.
The CD-ROM did not always take to the tower’s CD player for some reason. When that happened we’d turn to AskJeeves.com for an answer as to why this mechanical error happened, sometime before Google pushed the humble butler out of the national spotlight with its own search engine.
Google is one of the most powerful companies in the world at the moment. In 21 years of existence they have brought to us not only a search engine—-and a new verb for the act of using that search engine, “to Google”—-but a smartphone, a word processor (used to compose this very article), a world mapping system, an online password security system, a language translation system, an e-mail service, some glasses and more, all to various degrees of success in the marketplace. The e-mail service certainly is successful; all of us at Guilford must use it as the College’s basic means of contact.
With such a record of success, why shouldn’t Google and its parent company, Alphabet, Inc., assume they could take over the video game industry?
Google announced its new gaming platform, Stadia, in March of 2019 with the promise to allow a customer to play video games on the device of their choice via streaming, which would save the gamer’s device from using up space to hold that game. All a customer needs is an internet speed of 10Mbps, a Stadia account, games stocked in their personal Stadia library and devices compatible with Stadia. It would be a technological achievement with the capability of changing the landscape (and powerscape) of gaming.
The November 2019 Stadia launch kept its promise; streaming video games from one device to the other like we do with Netflix is now possible. Stadia also had plans to develop their own games, exclusive to the platform, with one game development studio in Los Angeles and Montreal.
The idea of being able to play my video games on whatever device I want is attractive on the outset. But I don’t care about that, really, and it turns out that no one else really cares, either.
Don’t get me wrong, Stadia is an innovation in accessibility. If I bought in, I could play “Red Dead Redemption 2” on my phone—assuming I had the time to tackle that massive glut of content. I’m already working through “World of Warcraft,”offered by Blizzard, “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice,” which I purchased from Steam, “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” on an Xbox One console and “Moonlighter,” which I got for free during an Epic Games giveaway. Between the family Xbox and my personal laptop, I can handle them all.
Alas for Google, Stadia launched into a crowded market, with plenty of hardware and software and video game storefronts already existing. Microsoft has Xbox consoles to play games and the Microsoft Store to purchase games to play. Sony has the PlayStation consoles to play and the PlayStation Store to purchase games. Online storefronts such as Steam, GOG, Epic and BattleNet allow a shopper to purchase from a catalog of tens of thousands of video games, chief among them being the games developed by the companies running each respective storefront. All six of these companies are tied to video game development studios that have been producing their games for over 20 years.
Stadia’s attempt to serve as a competing storefront and game-development studio had an unrealistic expectation that in under 24 months of existence they could do what each of these six businesses did in two decades, based on the name power of Google alone. The reception has been a resounding ‘meh’ on the quality of Stadia as a product. To quote Erik Kain’s Nov. 26, 2019 review of the service for Forbes: “My experience, so far, has been neither great nor terrible.”
Without much customer interest in the product, the Stadia game development studios needed an audience for their games. Google/Alphabet figured that their resources would better be used towards other fields, and on Monday, Feb. 1, they announced the shuttering of their Montreal and Los Angeles game development studios.
As a video gamer, I do wonder what sort of video games could have been produced if Stadia kept their studios open, but I’m already spoiled for choice with the companies I’ve already bought into. I don’t want to go out on a limb for a “neither great nor terrible” service, no matter how neat the streaming aspect is. I’ll just wait patiently to play video games once I’m back home on my computer, and save my phone battery for the e-mails Guilford sends me each day.