Google Stadia is subtly reinventing itself to attract new games and players

Google’s Stadia cloud gaming service failed to land, and it’s been a tough ride ever since. But today at the Google for Games Developer Summit, it looks like Stadia could be heading in a promising direction, one that gives gamers and game developers a reason to pay attention. And the magic word is “free”. Free demos, free trials, free for developers, and hopefully without the friction that made Stadia such a difficult investment to start.

I want to start with something I wrote last February, when I explained how Google drastically reduced its Stadia ambitions from what had effectively “become a game company” to “offer a white label service to publishers games” instead. I wrote:

There is nothing inherently wrong with white labeling.

Done right, it might even unlock one of the most magical things about cloud gaming: the ability to instantly try out a game, wherever you are. While companies like Google already claim that games are “available instantly”, what they really mean is “after you sign up, log in and sometimes purchase a game”. This is partly due to the complex network of licensing agreements that game publishers have cloud services sign. But if game publishers were responsible for their own games, they might feel differently. They might give you Gaikai-esque instant access game demos again, the ones where you could tap a YouTube ad for a game and in fact start playing, without any friction.

Everything Google announces today points Stadia in that general direction.

This year, Google:

  • Let any Stadia game developer offer an instantly accessible free trial of their game that will no longer require you to log into a Stadia account to play – just a few clicks from YouTube, Google search ad, social media, etc. .
  • Let people browse the Stadia store for those free trials, totally free games, and games to buy without even needing to sign in to a Google account, let alone Stadia
  • Let developers port their Unreal Engine and Unity games to Stadia more easily, with tools like DXVK to automatically translate DirectX APIs – “so developers don’t have to modify their game rendering engine at all,” writes Justin Rende, representative of Stadia.
  • Let white label partners like AT&T sign up to use Google’s technology to offer their own free demos and paid games, a B2B offering now called “Immersive Stream for Games”

Google suggests trying out a game is just as easy now – easier if you click a direct link instead of browsing.
GIF by Google

The pitch, in short, goes something like this: For developers, it’s free and easy to bring your games to Google’s cloud platform and instantly put them in front of anyone. For gamers, Stadia is now a place to browse the games you’d like to try before you buy, completely risk-free – and if you like what you’re playing, you can keep playing it for as long as you want, wherever you want. you are. like, for a simple payment at the end of your free trial.

There is one thing, however, that you shouldn’t necessarily expect, even if Google is going to talk about it today: the company is not create your own emulator to bring Windows games to Stadia. I got a preview of the presentation, and it’s more of a suggestion and tutorial on how to use binary translation techniques than anything else. “This is not a reveal of a finished product or feature available to Stadia developers,” the company writes.

Some developers are already working with the new porting tools from Google.

Without it, the big question is how much friction remains. I certainly don’t have any experience porting games between platforms so I can’t comment there, but even the free trial experience for gamers isn’t enough the instant dream since you will still need to be logged into a Google account for now. But Stadia spokesperson Justin Rende also said the company “continues to experiment with the goal of removing friction where we can,” and not having to verify a Google Account when diving into Stadia would be a big step up from Google’s first free trials in October. The fewer clicks, the better.

And it’s hard to break free.

I guess it’s not this hard to find for free Games these days – the Epic Games Store is giving them away every Friday, and free titles like fortnite and Genshin Impact dominate the world. But finding a free cloud gaming PC to play on, when all you have is a weak phone, tablet or laptop, is quite another thing. I would have killed for that when I was a kid.

If your internet connection is ready, you can already play Crayta, Destiny 2, Hitman, PUBG, Super Bomberman R onlineand a handful of big game demos like Rainbow Six: Extraction and Resident Evil Village for free on Stadia. Today it will bring a free timed trial of Chance of rain 2 as well, and Google says AT&T will soon announce another game beyond free Batman: Arkham Knight sessions he offered last October.

I’ll be eager to see if Google’s changes prompt companies to bring a whole lot more free stuff to Stadia – and how it all might tie into its once-secret vision to become the biggest games platform in the world.

If you’re interested, you can watch the Google for Games Summit here.