The video game industry fluctuates all the time — The Nintendo Wii was an enormous hit, selling more than 100 million units in its lifetime. Its successor, the Wii U, barely pushed past 20 million.
Which is all to say no one can predict how successful a new game console would be, much less the future of the landscape as a whole. But this week, Google unveiled what could very well be the future of gaming with Stadia, a cloud gaming platform that hopes to turn the industry on its head by disrupting the current principles of game publishing and distribution.
Stadia is best described as "Netflix for games," because that's exactly what it is. Instead of buying physical media or digital versions of games then storing them on one's local drive, they're played remotely. The service stands to radically change the way people play, sell, and even make games. Google has left out a lot of details, particularly its business model and the number of games that'll be available on launch, yet Stadia remains nevertheless promising — a glimpse into a future where gaming, as Stadia chief Phil Harrison puts it, is "device agnostic."
Google Has No Need For Consoles
In an interview with The Verge, Harrison, a veteran executive in the gaming world who's worked at both Microsoft and Sony, shared Google's vision for Stadia, and why the search company is the one that will disrupt the industry in terms of making cloud gaming a reality.
As it's primarily a streaming service, Google says Stadia doesn't need its own console to work, in the same way Netflix doesn't need its own set-top box since it can work on any device as long as that device is able to stream video. As such, Google says it won't be making its own hardware anytime soon. In fact, Harrison thinks this might be one of the biggest industry shifts Stadia could trigger.
"For the last 40 years or however long we've had packaged media and games in the 1970s up to yesterday, games were device-centric," he said. "They were packaged on a disc, or a cartridge, or a tape, or a download, or they were written specifically to take advantage of or up to the limitations of a particular device."
Being able to play games anytime and anywhere is one of the selling points of Nintendo's hybrid Switch console, a concept Stadia takes to an entirely new context. Whereas the Switch offers portability, Stadia offers broad accessibility. Players wouldn't have to buy any special hardware, and Harrison thinks "that's the whole point."
A Gaming Revolution
Streaming games over the cloud and not being required to buy a console to do it — are these enough to disrupt the entire gaming industry? It's hard to say. At the moment, there are too many elements to Stadia that require clarification. But the underlying promise of cloud gaming, if Google executes it smoothly, at the very least would make the gaming industry question current practices of creation, distribution, and ultimately, way of playing.