Google's new cloud-based gaming platform Stadia has had a rocky launch, and a report from Business Insider on Sunday indicates that game developers, namely independent studios, aren't that interested in the system for two major reasons. If Stadia wants to survive, Google will have to address these huge concerns.
The report narrowed in on two major reasons why some developers aren't on board with supporting Stadia: there aren't enough financial incentives for developers, and companies worry about the platform's longevity when Google has abandoned other projects in the past.
"Usually with that kind of thing, they lead with some kind of offer that would give you an incentive to go with them," an anonymous developer explained before highlighting that "the short of it" was that the incentive from Google "was kind of nonexistent." An anonymous publishing executive also added, "It's that there isn't enough money there ... [the offer is] so low that it wasn't even part of the conversation." Developers, whether major or indie, can't earn a lot of money with the platform like they can on traditional consoles — almost like a musical artist earning pennies from Spotify as opposed to dollars for an album sale.
Stadia's audience also doesn't appear to be established enough yet for developers to take the risk following Google's poor offers.
"There are platforms you want to be on because they have an audience and you want to reach that audience," another developer said. "That's what Steam is, or that's what [Nintendo] Switch is. They have big groups on their platforms, and you want to be with those groups so they can play your games." That kind of user base clearly isn't something Google's fledgling platform has right now, and it's unclear if it ever will.
Even if financial incentives weren't an issue with the Stadia, other developers that spoke to Business Insider seemed wary about how much Google is dedicated to the platform. The company has previously abandoned major projects like Google+ after years of work, so some indie developers are worried that Stadia will be shuttered soon if it fails to take off.
"With Google's history, I don't even know if they're working on Stadia in a year," one anonymous developer said. "That wouldn't be something crazy that Google does. It's within their track record."
The Inverse Analysis
As of right now, it seems that the tides may be turning against Stadia. The platform's unveiling at GDC 2019 promised something that was not just technologically impressive for gamers, but friendly to developers as a platform that was easy to develop games for, one that could signal the end of traditional consoles as we know them. Clearly, that is not the case as Google is still playing catch-up with promised features and supported devices.
Stadia is now in an awkward Catch-22 situation where developers don't want to create games for it as they are afraid the platform might go defunct before long, but that hesitation may ultimately cause Stadia's downfall due to a lack of support. Stadia has a lot of potential as a concept, but Google clearly has a lot of work to put into it if they want to win back developers and encourage heavy-hitters like Rockstar and EA to stick around once their contracts expire.
While this report is worrying, it is worth noting that Stadia's indie support has been fairly strong by comparison.
Gylt was Stadia's flagship exclusive launch title from indie developer Tequila Works. Other indie games like Kine, Spitlings, and the Steamworld series have come to the platform while others like Stacks on Stacks (on Stacks) and Lost Words: Beyond the Page will release in the near future. Still, a very slim number of developers are willing to make the jump to Stadia for the aforementioned reasons.
Quality of these indie titles is also something of a concern. Since it was released on February 25, I have been playing Spitlings from Massive Miniteam and HandyGames. It can be a bit of fun with friends but ultimately feels pretty boring while playing alone. It also doesn't appear to take advantage of Stadia in any interesting way. Google needs engaging, exclusive games both big and small to compete with the likes of PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
If Business Insider's report is any indication, then achieving that vision may not be possible for Stadia. Can Google fix these changes? Or will the cloud-based gaming platform go up in smoke?
Inverse has reached out to Google for comment, but the company has yet to respond.