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February 2, 2021

👕 Good morning! Fashion "tips" coming at you, below...

Stadia shakeup looks bad
Google Stadia controller on PC with games

Google’s fledging game streaming service, Stadia, was announced in early 2019, and launched in November that year, as a platform promising to bring revolution to games, with instant loads, no PC or console required, the ability to be played on a phone, from a browser, or even just on your TV with a Chromecast.

Now Stadia is changing direction, to focus on its service as a pure platform, rather than trying to be a game developer/mover/shaker. 

This is not unexpected. 

  • Stadia hasn’t exactly changed gaming in the way Google may have hoped. 
  • Google’s ambitions are not small, so new projects that do okay, but not great, are often at risk of being shuttered. 
  • Many found Google’s Stadia announcements to be more fizz than delivery. While many problems, like lousy internet in America, aren’t Google’s fault per se, some Stadia problems were directly related to big G.
  • It had a pretty crummy launch too: limited features, limited games, and not a lot of reasons to play. It did better more recently but it’s been clumsy.

The main one is that Google had struggled with developer buy-in. A March 1st report in 2020 exposed one of the problems Google faces after shutting down more than 200 products:

  • “We spoke with game developers and publishers who said there are two main reasons their games aren’t on Stadia,” said a report in Business Insider
  • “Google didn’t offer them enough money, and they don’t trust the mercurial company to stick with gaming in the long term.”

Now Google is pivoting Stadia in what you can call the start of a long goodbye or a new dawn where things may actually work out. 

Here’s what’s happening:

  • Via a blog.google announcement, Google Stadia’s Phil Harrison said the endeavour is closing its two first-party Stadia game studios and shifting towards being a platform provider only. 
  • Stadia head and original producer of the Assassin’s Creed series, Jade Raymond, is leaving, because there are no games to create anymore. (No word on Shannon Studstill, a former Sony Santa Monica game development leader who was poached by Google.)
  • Google’s head of Stadia operations, Phil Harrison, who has been both a Sony PlayStation and Xbox console executive, said in a blog post that Stadia will switch to focusing on partnerships, rather than first-party.
  • “We see an important opportunity to work with partners seeking a gaming solution all built on Stadia’s advanced technical infrastructure and platform tools,” Harrison wrote in a blog post today. “We believe this is the best path to building Stadia into a long-term, sustainable business that helps grow the industry.”
  • Also: “Creating best-in-class games from the ground up takes many years and significant investment, and the cost is going up exponentially.” Wow. Genuinely an embarrassing, strange, and weird admission. Surely Google had some idea about what it costs? Did some due diligence?
  • We didn’t even get a single Stadia first-party game: the division has helped publish exclusive games, such as Orcs Must Die! 3, but there are no Google-made titles. There was nothing to exploit cloud gaming and blow our minds. Two years of work sounds like a lot, but to set up a new studio and make major games, that’s nothing. Again, surely Google would’ve realized this going into the game.
  • A reported 150 developers are out of a job, so it’s not some casual shuffling of the decks, and a ton of people lured to join Google find the rug pulled from under them.
  • Related: The most relevance Stadia has had in some time was around the Cyberpunk 2077 mess — the game actually worked pretty well on the platform, because it was the less-buggy PC version being run (Kotaku). No install, no big frame drops, far less bugs, just a little latency. But you had to pay AAA game pricing to play it on Stadia, although Google did offer a promotion around it.
  • Meanwhile, Microsoft’s xCloud/Game Pass Ultimate bundle is much more comprehensive and much closer to a Netflix for games experience.

Thoughts:

  • First, if people previously had hesitations about buying games that are locked to Stadia’s platform, now they’ll be completely averse, making this a self-defeating cycle. (Or, be like me, who paid up for Stadia and a few games, at launch, and have some regrets.)
  • Second, making games is hard! Really hard! 
  • I’ve been reading Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Jason Schreier (Goodreads), detailing the flops and fortunes of games including Diablo III, Destiny, Stardew Valley, The Witcher 3, and more. 
  • It’s fascinating; most stories about these games explain ups and downs of development, and the terrible period between general game design flows and final delivery, where a game finally takes shape in the crunch period, where developers work as close to 24/7 as possible to fix, refine, finesse, and desperately patch the game until the shipping date, then continue working on day zero patches. It’s called crunch and we heard a lot about it around Cyberpunk 2077’s delays.
  • And, sometimes, bad games are still released, that can only be fixed through incredible perseverance, like Diablo III.
  • And, to be blunt, Google has rarely shown perseverance outside its ads business. It moves on, fast.
amazon luna game streaming service
Amazon

While we’re here, what’s fun is that Amazon has been failing at games too, but for much longer. 

One of the articles of the year thus far, co-authored by Jason Schreier (who wrote the mentioned book) and Priya Anand on Bloomberg, explains Amazon’s struggles: “Amazon can make just about anything—except a good video game”.

  • It’s a brutal read. Here’s the opening passage: “Mike Frazzini had never made a video game when he helped start Amazon Game Studios. Eight years later, he has released two duds, withdrew both from stores after a torrent of negative reactions and canceled many more.”
  • In short, Amazon builds everything with Amazon culture, including games. The reporting suggests new ventured started within Amazon are usually helmed by Amazon lifers who’ve proven themselves in other departments. That usually works really well. 
  • But making games is not logical or practical. So far, Amazon’s games just haven’t happened. At least, though, conditions are great for the developers.
  • In Kotaku’s reporting on Stadia, there’s this similarly brutal quote from a source: “Google was a terrible place to make games. Imagine Amazon, but under-resourced.”
  • To round this out, Amazon has also produced a Stadia copy: Amazon Luna, currently in beta, but with more of the Netflix-for-gaming approach, with access to a catalog of games, expected to grow.

Writing, wall, etc:

  • Can Stadia survive and prove the Google-doubters wrong? 
  • Or will it fade out, with some Stadia tech surviving in a rebrand, and be called something like YouTube Cloud Games, within a year or two?
Roundup

📸 Samsung patents weird rotating pop-up camera system for selfie lovers (Android Authority).

📁 Also: Samsung cuts the Galaxy Z Flip 5G’s price by $250! It’s still $1,200 though (Android Authority).

🚗 Ford cars will run Android Auto to power infotainment systems, starting in 2023 (Android Authority).

👉 Google Pixel 5a: Five things we want to see (Android Authority).

🍎 There’s a new iOS 14.5 beta release, and part of the coming feature set is easier unlocking when wearing a mask, if you have an Apple Watch. Also easy: fingerprint readers. Other stuff: 5G in dual-SIM mode in iPhone 12, support for PS5 and Xbox Series X controllers, and a Podcast app redesign (MacRumors).

⌚ Also, a commentary: “What the Apple Watch really needs is a battery that lasts longer than a day.” Not entirely sure this is a fresh new insight, but it’s still a discussion being had. Faster charging might help, too (CNET).

👟 Nike has unveiled its first “hands-free” shoe that looks …comfy? (The Verge).

👋 Elon Musk says he’s leaving Twitter ‘for a while’ (Twitter).

😼 We’re getting a Wakanda spinoff series from Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, on Disney Plus (Ars Technica).

🌌 Former NASA engineers are designing an orbital space hotel with artificial gravity about that of the moon. (Interesting Engineering).

🚀 SpaceX announced it will fly its first all-civilian mission, raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Just donate to fly! (Ars Technica).

🚀 Also, SpaceX’s second high-altitude Starship test flight could happen today (Engadget).

🔴 February’s a big month for Mars: three missions arrive this month, including NASA’s Perseverance (Wired).

🤔 “You are the head of a notorious Disorganised Crime Family. What crimes are you committing?” (Moneying laundry, Trafficking jam, robbing banks on the brink of bankruptcy.) (r/askreddit).

Chart Tuesday

Here are fashion trends across the US, as according to Google:

country fashion trends
Tristan Rayner / Android Authority
  • Obviously, there’s a warmer climate/colder climate divide going on, and I guess a rain climate split for parts of the Pacific Northwest.
  • But more fun is some of the outliers. Like, flannel is absolutely everything in Vermont.
  • And I enjoy how much Wyoming is completely out on cheetah print.
  • Also I love these two comments on the post: “The Cheetah print really surprised me. As someone who lived in Jersey for 4 years it seemed way more prevalent than this chart indicates,” followed by: “Maybe people in Jersey don’t need to google it. They just have an innate sense of where to get cheetah print, it’s in their blood.”
  • More over on r/dataisbeautiful.

All the best,

Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor

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