Given that Google have a long history of shutting down their own products, platforms, and sites (I mourn Google Reader to this day), it’s mighty hard for me to trust their upcoming cloud gaming platform, Google Stadia. I’ve been sceptical of cloud gaming, not just because I already have a gaming PC, and the idea of paying Google in particular for a game that’s only useful as long as they’re interested in keeping the platform going is… no thank you. I’m doubly discouraged after seeing Google’s Stadia product director, Andrey Doronichev, recently make a real half-arsed attempt to deflect concerns about a hypothetical shutdown.
To be clear up front, Google Stadia’s whole “play games over video streamed from data centers” thing is not really meant for people who have gaming PCs. As our Katharine explained in her Stadia primer, “If you’re a regular reader of RPS, then Stadia is probably not going to be for you – and that’s okay!” Even if not, I’d be wary of buying Stadia games unless they were a fair sight cheaper. I just do not trust they’d be mine for long.
Asked in a Q&A session on Reddit last Thursday what would happen to people’s purchased games if Google discontinued Stadia, Doronichev gave a pretty poor and patronising response. I’ll wham you the whole thing because plllllrf oh no scary clouds.
“We get this a lot. I hear you. Moving to the cloud is scary. I felt the same way when music was transitioning from files to streaming. I still have all my old CDs in the garage… although it’s hard to find a CD player these days :)
“The same happened to Movies and Photos and my Docs and other files… And it’s great! Games are no different. Eventually all of our games will be safely in the cloud too and we’ll feel great about it. We’ve been investing a ton in tech, infrastructure and partnerships over the past few years. Nothing in life is certain, but we’re committed to making Stadia a success.
“The games you buy on Stadia are yours to play. From day one we’ll support Takeout, so that you can download your game metadata, including saves if you want to.
“Of course, it’s ok to doubt my words. There’s nothing I can say now to make you believe if you don’t. But what we can do is to launch the service and continue investing in it for years to come. Exactly how we’ve been doing with Gmail, Docs, Music, Movies and Photos. That’s exactly what we’re committed to.”
Moving to the cloud doesn’t scare me, but trusting Google makes me wary. I’d also point out that one reason I use Google’s Gmail, Docs, and Photos is because I know I could transfer my data to rival products or my own PC if Google planned to shut them down. Downloading save files for a game I’ve bought but can no longer play isn’t nearly the same.
This is a problem facing all digital stores which use DRM, to be clear. Steam, Origin, Epic, and all the rest haven’t laid out clear plans for what would happen to our games if they shut down. If Steam died tomorrow, some games I already have downloaded will remain playable while others won’t, and the rest…? We do not know. But I do trust that Valve are committed to running a games store for as long as they can.
As much as Google are trying to take over our entire digital lives, each of their products is but a small part their plan. They’re quite willing to shut down and abandon products if they don’t work out, because they have loads of others to rely on, they can afford to, and they may well try launching another similar product later anyway.
The Google Graveyard currently lists 171 apps, services, and lumps of hardware as killed by Google. I do think Google might be more committed to a platform where we actually pay money for products than they are platforms where we pay by seeing adverts and letting them mine our data for unknowable purposes. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stadia join the Google Graveyard in a few years.