Stadia’s rumored move to a Google Cloud service is real! At Tuesday’s Google for Games Developer Summit, Google announced that the technology underlying Stadia will be available for sale as a Google Cloud service called Immersive Stream for Games. That’s nowhere near as catchy as the “Google Stream” name that’s been rumored, but Google Cloud services aren’t consumer-centric anyway.
The company confirmed that AT&T was one of the first to test Immersive Stream for games when it launched last year Batman: Arkham Knight as a free streaming game for AT&T mobile subscribers (AT&T owns Batman through DC Comics). Although you’re distributing the game to mobile subscribers, you really shouldn’t be playing Batman via your cellular connection – it only works on PCs, not on smartphones.
During the keynote, AT&T said it would soon enable playback on a smartphone for the Stadia-powered game. “This technology, coupled with the AT&T network, gives us the ability to ship games directly to customers,” said Jay Cary, AT&T’s vice president of 5G product & innovation, during the keynote. “We’re getting ready to launch our next title on the immersive streaming platform soon.” ISPs like AT&T have an incentive to push cloud gaming because it consumes a lot of data and users rely on ISPs for quality access. AT&T no longer zeroes in on its own services, so this Stadia game is an easy way to skyrocket your cellphone bill or quickly exhaust your unthrottled data allotment. Cary mentioned that “thousands” of AT&T customers have tried the Stadia-powered game so far.
Batman gives us a preview of what Immersive Stream for gaming looks like. There’s no consumer-level integration with the Stadia service, and no Google branding at all. To find out that Stadia is running Immersive Stream, you have to spy on which web servers it connects to. Just as it’s not obvious that large parts of Apple’s iCloud are powered by Google Cloud, no one will know that your game is powered by Stadia. Google has a registration form for all interested developers.
Stadia’s move to cloud gaming was definitely not part of the original plan. Stadia is a failing service that has dramatically undercut Google’s sales estimates, and many of Google’s promises made when Stadia was unveiled three years ago have not been fulfilled. Offering Stadia as a Google Cloud service to other companies is definitely a “plan B” and a kind of soft shutdown for the consumer service. The Business Insider report, which broke the news of Stadia’s Google Cloud transition, said that the consumer platform is being “deprioritised” and that only “about 20 percent” of the Stadia team’s focus remains on “Stadia,” the consumer platform .
Hooking up Stadia’s cart to Google Cloud brings its own problems. Google’s cloud division is a distant third behind Microsoft and Amazon, with Canalys making up the market with 7 percent Google Cloud, 19 percent Microsoft Azure, and 32 percent AWS. Google Cloud isn’t a profitable service, though 45 percent year-over-year revenue growth sees it hit $20 billion in revenue this year. It’s losing about $700 million every quarter.
On the last conference call in February, Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat said that Google is charting a “longer-term path to profitability for Google Cloud,” and we’re starting to see a little of that “profitability roadmap.” The first step was to fire about 100 members of the support staff (Google apparently did this in the worst possible way, letting some staff know through media reports that they had been fired). The second step is to increase prices, with some storage options up 50 percent in October.
In other Stadia news from the keynote, Google is tearing down some of the barriers it’s put up around Stadia in hopes more people will try. You’ll soon be able to browse the store without creating a Stadia account, which might attract some window shopping. Stadia previously had free trials of games, but now developers can get time-limited demos to people easier than ever.
Danger of rain 2 is the first game to support this with a one hour free trial live now if you have a (free) Stadia account. According to Google, account-free access will be rolling out “in the coming weeks,” and once that happens you can theoretically send someone a link to this demo and with about a click they’ll be playing Stadia. Fast, hassle-free trials feel like a real benefit to cloud gaming, and it’s a wonder it took Google so long to embrace them.