The countdown has begun, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone. Yet it does. Google confirmed the Stadia cloud gaming service will shut down on January 18, 2023. Enjoy it while you can. The $9.99 per month subscription, which never got to India in the few years of its existence, does raise questions about the relevance of cloud gaming.
The cloud gaming bit is a two-part conundrum. Some companies, including Microsoft and Sony, take a console first approach (the Xbox and PlayStation consoles demand that too). While others, such as what Google did, were focussed on smartphones. There is still a way ahead for the ecosystem. Vi, formerly Vodafone Idea in India, has announced, what it claims, the first ever Mobile Cloud Gaming service in India.
This comes in partnership with Paris based tech company CareGame, with the two working together to build an app for Vi’s India users, which they hope will take advantage of Vi’s upcoming 5G network and the lower latency that’s expected. The solution has been first demonstrated at the India Mobile Congress 2022.
“The online gaming industry is among the fastest growing entertainment segments in India and with the advent of 5G it is expected to grow many folds. Mobile gaming is a key agenda for us to drive engagement with our consumers,” says Avneesh Khosla, chief marketing officer, Vodafone Idea.
The French gaming platform’s line-up of games spans multiple genres, including Dirt Legends, Badland, Evoland 2, and UnWorded to name a few. The latest data by Boston Consulting Group indicates India’s gaming user base is about 300 million, and the market is expected to be worth as much as $5 billion by the year 2025.
In India, spectrum for commercial 5G networks has been acquired by Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vi. There is expectation that Jio and Airtel will also focus efforts on gaming products, for 5G subscribers.
“Smartphone is the first device used by gamers in India. But today mobile games are getting more and more sophisticated, requiring more powerful phones, more storage, longer downloads and update,” says Benjamin Athuil, Co-Founder, and President of CareGame.
He adds that the company’s underlying technology for cloud gaming means no downloads are required to start playing, on smartphones and mobile computing devices.
Lack of focus, or too much competition?
It was in late 2019 when Stadia arrived on the screen, with much promise. The convenience of being able to stream your games on any device, was unheard of at the time. No waiting for downloads, playable on a variety of devices (phones, desktops, laptops and even TVs with Chromecast) and an unlimited play buffet of a collection of games. Google also talked about its own game studio, which was supposed to create exclusive titles for the platform.
But why has Stadia reached the stage where it needs to be shut down? “While Stadia’s approach to streaming games for consumers was built on a strong technology foundation, it hasn’t gained the traction with users that we expected so we’ve made the difficult decision to begin winding down our Stadia streaming service,” Phil Harrison, vice-president and general manager, Stadia, said in a statement.
That’s as close as you’ll get to an admittance from the tech giant, that they got it wrong.
Perhaps the first hint of trouble was clear when Google shut down the game studio set up very much for Stadia, back in February last year. A confident face was portrayed, with the hope that other game developers would build games for Stadia. The question really that needed to be asked – would other game developers really focus energies on a platform when Google itself didn’t want to do the same? It wanted Stadia to become a curation-based platform, rather than spend on building exclusive content.
Google hopes the technology that has been used (and fine-tuned over time) to deliver cloud gaming on Stadia, will be quite useful for the other platforms. “We see clear opportunities to apply this technology across other parts of Google like YouTube, Google Play, and our Augmented Reality (AR) efforts — as well as make it available to our industry partners, which aligns with where we see the future of gaming headed,” says Harrison.
Some of the most popular games on Stadia included Far Cry Primal, Far Cry 6, World War Z: Aftermath, Farming Simulator 22, Humankind, the Paw Patrol franchise, Hitman, and Hot Wheels Unleashed: Game of the year edition.
All Stadia hardware (the controllers etc.) purchases via the Google Store as well as all games and add-on content purchased by subscribers, will be refunded in the coming months.
First of many? Microsoft, Sony and others are doing it differently
Does Google shutting down Stadia mean the end of cloud gaming as we know it? Unlikely.
Microsoft’s efforts with Xbox Cloud Gaming will see more games added, for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers. “We’re excited to share that later this year, it’s our intent to roll out the ability for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members to play, from the cloud, select games they already own or have purchased outside the Xbox Game Pass library,” said Microsoft, over the summer.
While every game may not be uprated for cloud gaming, there is expectation that a large chunk of your library will be. Alongside, Microsoft is expanding availability of Cloud Gaming to more countries, and widening support to add more devices – the Samsung 2022 smart TVs are the latest to join the list with a new Xbox TV app.
It must be Microsoft’s efforts with the Xbox subscription structure which belatedly got Sony to rework the PlayStation Plus subscriptions too. The highest spec Play Station Premium plan includes cloud streaming for original PlayStation, PS2, PSP and PS4 games.
One thing is for sure, Nvidia’s GeForce Now (this plays along well with Xbox and PS too) and the planned Logitech cloud gaming services, will have their say in the matter in the next year or two. This surely isn’t the end of cloud gaming.