Amazon Gaming Thrives, Google Stadia Dives

Amazon Games’ latest title, Lost Ark, already has more than 500,000 players on Steam and over a million Twitch viewers before its February 11 launch. It’s a remarkable display of demand for a free-to-play MMO RPG offering early access through pre-order specials. At the same time, Google Stadia appears to be on its last legs, with Google further downgrading the platform's already reduced gaming focus.

How it Started
When Google and Amazon made their plays to break into the video game industry (and its profits) with Stadia and AAA titles from Amazon Game Studios, respectively, people took notice. Neither had much industry experience to speak of, but plenty of money to toss around. Google hit the ground running with Stadia's bold play for the new cloud gaming market, while Amazon Game Studios struggled to deliver finished titles, let alone quality ones. 

How It’s Going
Fast forward to today, and Amazon has bounced back off the strength of New World and now Lost Ark. Both were blockbuster launches that topped player count charts on Steam and have long legs given their live service models. Meanwhile, Stadia was overtaken by Microsoft’s xCloud and Nvidia’s GeForce Now, which offered a la carte subscriptions that Stadia’s lackluster library couldn’t match. Its game development studio was axed in February 2021, and now it’s been demoted within Google’s corporate structure. Not even its best-in-platform performance of Cyberpunk 2077 was enough to save it.

What’s Next?
Amazon's next title appears to be an online co-op game in the same vein, this time from UK devs Glowmade. The question remains, however, did Amazon simply get lucky twice, or have they ironed out the wrinkles that led to the cancellations of five big titles? Amazon does potentially have an ace up its sleeve: The Lord of the Rings video game rights are coming up for auction, and Amazon is a leading contender. It previously tried to develop a LOTR video game, and it’s already spending half a billion dollars on an eight-episode LOTR series.

For Google, the question is no longer if Stadia goes to the big vaporware farm in the sky, but when. It’s squeezing as much value out of it as possible by pivoting to licensing its tech to companies like Peloton, but the death spiral is already here. Gamers know Stadia is struggling and will avoid spending money on it, while Google will support it less as spending slows.

What Did We Learn?
Making videogames and platforms is an unpredictable and expensive business. Score another win for content, with software beating out hardware here. There may not always be demand for another way to play games, but there’s always demand for more games. If there’s a lesson to take away from Google, it’s that at the end of the day, a platform still needs a killer app that differentiates it from the competition.

Source: Google Stadia