It’s a week since we spent an exhausting, but very exciting, time at Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. In addition to meeting existing customers, demoing ChilliConnect to over 50 new developers and publishers and eating as much American food as possible we were able to take a quick look at some of the amazing games and technologies around us on the expo floor. Our booth on the UK stand was right in the heart of the action, situated just behind Sony and surrounded by our competitors Gamesparks/Amazon and Playfab/Microsoft! Just across the hall from us was a fairly unassuming Google stand, but by the end of the week the news on everyone’s lips was Stadia, the new streaming service Google announced during GDC week.
It’s over ten years since Gaikai was founded and even more incredibly, over fifteen since the birth of Onlive, so game streaming technology and services are nothing new. It might therefore seem rather preposterous to think Google are going to revolutionise gaming where many have tried and failed before. Google are however positioned such that their technology and product stack provide advantages that previous streaming solutions haven’t been in a position to capitalise from. In particular the relationship between Google and YouTube could be key to the success of Stadia.
There can’t be many gamers that aren’t excited by the possibility of playing the latest games at 4K / 60 fps without having to shell out over £400 on dedicated hardware . Another advantage I’m personally delighted about is the prospect of never having to download a huge patch almost every time I turn on my console! Despite these advantages a number of questions remain to be answered.
Not so fast…
The gaming press has written a great deal of detailed analysis since the Stadia announcement so I won’t repeat what has already been said, however in summary there are a number of questions that remain unanswered at this stage. Firstly will the technology actually work? Latency issues were evident on the show floor at GDC and in a real world situation where much of the US in particular struggles with broadband speed and capacity it’s likely to be much worse. Google has the cloud infrastructure and talent to solve many of the technological hurdles at the data centre end of the pipe, but that doesn’t solve the other end.
Another concern is the expected subscription business model. How will that work? Can Google provide a fair and equitable split of the monthly subscription fee to both AAA publishers and tiny indies? If we use Spotify as the music industry equivalent it’s clear that whilst this could offer great value to consumers it is also likely to deliver very poor returns to the content creators, and unlike musicians games studios will find it hard to go on tour to make ends meet. Another elephant in the room is whether customers actually want a subscription based approach in the first place. There is a world of difference between games and TV/film. The Netflix comparison isn’t a good one, and besides Netflix looks a long way off from being profitable. We haven’t even mentioned the joypad and until we get hands on will reserve judgement on that vital interface between gamer and game.
So doubts remain about Stadia’s viability long term. Will it end up like Amazon Game Studios with a huge amount of cash thrown at it only for it to fade away into the forgotten annals of gaming history? Only time will tell, so for now let’s focus on the promise of Stadia and what it might achieve if successful.
A new type of game?
Given what we know at present I believe it will be 5-10 years before we can fully appreciate the impact of Stadia. That of course assumes it is ultimately successful in redefining major aspects of our industry, but I do feel that potential to redefine how we play, watch and pay for games exists. If not Google who else?
One of the most interesting aspects to Stadia is that it points to a gaming future that includes audience participation alongside those that are playing the core game. In this context the relationship between Google’s gaming ambitions and their YouTube subsidiary take on a whole new level of importance. This vision of the future is what excites me most about the announcement. For many the ability to play fast action FPS games without perceivable latency and at 120 fps on 4K will be the true test, but in my eyes the bringing together of the previously separate mediums of games and video into a new creative format of mass participation is the gamechanger.
One of the most interesting projects we are aware of that is being developed using ChilliConnect at the moment is a PC/console game built in the Unreal Engine that utilises our Twitch integration. In this game the developers plan not just to allow their userbase to play and watch games, but to actually encourage audience participation via Twitch to interact with the game. It remains to be seen how effective this is in practise, but the early signs are positive. Could these be the first steps into a world where YouTube/Twitch and gaming collide? Perhaps.
Our part in the bigger picture
What’s great for us here at ChilliConnect is that gaming technology stacks are moving steadily away from being client based to the cloud. In addition increased connectivity and social interaction are being integrated into more and more games as a means to improve retention. We can help all types of developers achieve this transition and can’t wait to play our part in this gaming revolution!