A recent interview with Microsoft's Chief Marketing Officer for Xbox, Mike Nichols, saw the executive discuss the potential weaknesses of Google's upcoming cloud-based streaming platform, Stadia. Microsoft is currently planning to test Project xCloud in the next few months, while Amazon is also rumored to be pursuing its own cloud-based streaming service—not to mention other less obvious companies, like Walmart, also contemplating getting in on a business model that's room for innovation is quickly becoming crowded.
Nichols wasn't afraid to speak his mind, either. The executive clearly has concerns about how Google will manage the streaming platform's services, and believes that the tech giant's relatively recent jump into the industry will put it behind its competitors even with the might of billions of dollars and the best online infrastructure behind it. Here's what Nichols had to say:
"Emerging competitors like Google have a cloud infrastructure, a community with YouTube, but they don't have the content."
It's an interesting notion, and one that hasn't been tabled often enough in discussing the potential pitfalls of Stadia. The streaming service may have issues with download speeds, bandwidth caps, and rural service already sorted out, but technological infrastructure was never really going to be the problem with Stadia. Google has all the money and tech it could possibly want to make the platform work. The issue will be what kind of games are on offer when the service launches, because it will be difficult to justify the price—whatever that may be, since Google has been reluctant to share that sticking point thus far—without having access to a slew of worthwhile games.
What the company doesn't have is the wide array of connections that others, like Microsoft and Sony, have worked for decades to establish with developers. While Google's games streaming service is appealing, developers still need to sell their games on their platforms of choice to profit, a business model that's unlikely to change just because Stadia offers an alternative stream of revenue. By all accounts, it seems likely that Stadia will offer developers a cut, but not such a significant one that it would make sense to only develop games for Stadia, or to have it be a game's primary platform. If that's the case, studios won't want to weaken the bonds they've formed with companies like Microsoft and Sony, especially if the relationship has been a long and lucrative one for both.
Without exclusive access—or access at all, depending on how Microsoft structures its service and how Sony plans to combat the rise of game streaming as a legitimate platform of play—what will the main selling point of Stadia be? Not owning a console is nice and certainly a cost-saving measure from the beginning, but depending on the service's price and games library, a mid-to-long-term investment of a console and games players really want will likely still win out over paid access to a variety of titles that aren't necessarily the most interesting available. With many estimates of the price of Stadia reaching nearly $200 annually, it would be a tough sell to pay that much and only receive access to a small number of AAA titles.
Naturally, we don't know what Google's partnerships with developers look like just yet. Ubisoft is obviously on board—Assassin's Creed Odyssey helped test the platform late last year, and Ubisoft head Yves Guillemot was at the Stadia unveiling at GDC this year—but how many other major studios will there be? How deep will the library run? There are a lot of questions that need answering from Google when it comes to Stadia, and executives like Nichols are correct in asking them. Platforms like Xbox and PlayStation, not to mention Nintendo's Switch doing its own thing and doing it well, have the benefit of decades of work building fanbases and developer connections. Google's Stadia is ambitious and the list of names attached to it already are impressive, but all of that won't matter if the platform lacks content, especially in a crucial first year of existence that could make or break the service in the eyes of millions of consumers globally.