Interview: Stadia's Catherine Hsiao on State Share and the future of the platform

Product manager Catherine Hsiao opens up on Google's roadmap for gaming.

Thanks to COVID-19, the world is currently obsessed with video games. Yet the roller coaster ride that has been Google's streaming game project, Stadia, has continued its ups and downs throughout the last year.

While it's faced many, many critics, Google has, to its credit, started to deliver the features its customers have wanted since the platform's ambitious announcement at GDC 2019. Thanks to features like iOS availability, LG building the platform into its new TVs, and State Share, Input has even gone so far as to call it "fantastic." But with the news that Google is shutting down its original game studios to focus on partnering with other companies looking to use Stadia's tech, one has to wonder: Is it all too little, too late?

Before that news dropped today, we got to question Stadia spokesperson and project manager Catherine Hsiao about Stadia's latest flagship feature, State Share, which allows gamers to share a simple link to a save state captured in-game footage, and the future of the platform.

Ryan: Is there a reason the team prioritized State Share over other features?

Hsiao: There are loads of different factors that determine when a feature is published on any platform, but the important thing to understand is that we’ve been working on State Share even before it was officially revealed within our vision for Stadia at GDC 2019. In that time, we’ve done the research and engineering to create an open framework for developers to choose how to use State Share for their specific game, in a way that creates new gameplay loops. We’re already seeing that now with its launch within the Hitman trilogy, and we’re excited to see how developers in 2021 and beyond continue to adapt.

Ryan: Does Google see State Share as a way to bait new players into giving Stadia a try?

Hsiao: The appeal of State Share is pretty invigorating when you think about it - transforming the act of simply viewing an in-game screenshot or video clip into a portal to play that experience for yourself. The fact that it’s all instantly playable on Stadia with the click of a link really important, too — can you imagine having to wait a few hours to download and install Hitman 3 just to play a fun game state that you saw on Twitter?

We’ve already seen players within the Stadia community share game states on Reddit and challenge each other across the entire Hitman trilogy. The best part is that anyone can try State Share for themselves just by signing up for Stadia and starting their free month trial of Stadia Pro and claiming Hitman 1. Then it’s as easy as clicking on a link — for example, this state sends players to the Sapienza mission in Hitman 1, armed with shuriken throwing stars and remote explosives.

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Ryan: How difficult is State Share for developers to support? Can it be made available to older titles?

Hsiao: Since its inception, we’ve spent a lot of time ensuring that all of the developers we work with have the answers they need to support State Share, as well as other platform features. That way, it’s as easy a process as possible for them and they can focus on their games.

Yes, State Share support can definitely be added to older titles. A case in point would be IO Interactive, who added State Share support into Hitman 1 and Hitman 2 in addition to Hitman 3 when the feature launched on Jan. 20, 2021.

Ryan: State Share reminds me a lot of Save States from emulators. Emulation offers lots of quality-of-life features like these. Will Stadia games ever get fast forward or rewind or are those too processing-intensive?

Hsiao: That’s an interesting connection. While that certainly sounds like an amazing feature for players using emulators, it’s not something that matches up with how State Share is designed to work. While I can’t speak on future platform features, we always love hearing from our community of players on how they see Stadia changing the way they play!

Ryan: Do you think State Share enables developers to develop a different kind of game that implements those ideas into gameplay or its story that would not be otherwise possible?

Hsiao: Yes, State Share is an opportunity for developers to create whole new gameplay loops for players within their games. As we’ve already seen with how the Hitman trilogy uses State Share, players can share game states with advanced weapons and equipment already unlocked, letting others try for themselves even if they haven’t unlocked those items.

In the future, we might see developers using State Share to generate game states that teleport players right to the exact moment when the capture was saved. Or, players might start a new game with some of the original player's accomplishments represented in-game. It’s really up to developers to determine how to design their own implementation of State Share and create the most interesting gameplay for players.

State Share is an opportunity for developers to create whole new gameplay loops for players within their games.”

Ryan: Was there a conscious choice to make State Shares into standard links rather than a self-contained network within Stadia?

Hsiao: Like I mentioned above, the idea of transforming the act of sharing a simple screenshot or video clip from a game into an opportunity for players to try that specific experience for themselves is really unique and thought-provoking. So in that sense, State Share made a lot of sense to fold game states into our existing Capture system on Stadia, accessible from the Stadia homepage. The ability to share game states with a simple link really does make it easy for anyone to share it across YouTube, Discord, Reddit, or any other site.

Ryan: Roughly what percentage of upcoming games support State Share?

Hsiao: We don’t have any details to share at this time, but we’re looking forward to showcasing State Share in more Stadia games in 2021 and beyond. Stay tuned!

Ryan: What is the next upcoming feature in the pipeline for Stadia?

Hsiao: We don’t have any more details to share at this time, but we’re excited to see the Stadia community of players continue to experiment with Stadia features like State Share, Crowd Play, Crowd Choice, and Stream Connect!

Ryan: What is your favorite Stadia title and why?

Hsiao: It’d be easy to say Hitman 3 right now, wouldn’t it? If I had to pick a different game, I’d have to say Risk of Rain 2. The rogue-like design is really interesting and each run it feels like you have the power to mold and create your own superhero by picking specific items that change your play style. I’m working on getting all of the Artifacts now, like the Artifact of Command which lets you choose your items and makes for some incredibly fun (if not overpowered) runs.