Google Puts Stadia Out of Its Misery | Saudi Arabia’s Plan for Gaming

the gaming tap

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Source: TwitchCon

 The Gaming Tap crew will be attending TwitchCon 2022, which takes place in our own backyard! See the flyer at end of this week's newsletter for details on our after-con event!

Cloud Gaming

Source: Google Stadia

Google Puts Stadia Out of Its Misery Cloud gaming service will shut down January 18, 2023

Google is officially pulling the plug on Stadia, its cloud gaming service that’s been on life support for the better part of a year. If there is a lesson to learn from Stadia's less than three year journey (looking at you, Netflix), it’s that breaking into gaming — even cloud gaming —  is harder than it looks.

Stadia, We Hardly Knew Ya
Despite being among the first to market, Google Stadia never found its legs, not even peaking at a million monthly active users. Belated attempts to repackage Stadia as a white label technology for other companies clearly didn’t pan out either. 

  • November 19, 2019: Official launch
  • February 2021: Google shuts down its only first-party studio
  • February 2022: Stadia is demoted within Google’s corporate structure
The Writing Was on the Wall
While we would like to claim credit for our February prediction that Stadia was destined for “the big vaporware farm in the sky,” Stadia had fundamental problems.
  • Uncompetitive Business Model: Unlike Xbox Game Pass’ a la carte game library, Stadia was premised on users purchasing games individually. This eliminated the main advantages of a cloud gaming service aimed at more casual gamers: affordability and ease of use.
    • GeForce Now has succeeded with more dedicated gamers as a cloud gaming service with individual game purchases
  •  No Killer Feature: There was simply no glaring reasons to pick Stadia and its lackluster game library
    • All the more true after Google gave up on first party titles
How Not to Exit the Market
Google has sadly further bungled Stadia with an inept exit. Many Stadia game partners, from indie devs to the likes of Ubisoft and Bungie, were not informed before the announcement of Stadia’s cancellation. 
  • Developers now have to try and recoup lost revenue from now canceled releases
  • Ubisoft and some developers will try to transfer Stadia games to other platforms
  • Google is promising it will figure out how to refund hardware & game purchases
  • It will not be refunding Stadia Pro subscriptions ($9.99/month)
It’s an unfortunate truth that gamers are used to being treated poorly as customers. But spurned publishing partners could be less cooperate the next time a new player wants to try its hand at cloud gaming or a console.

Lessons (Hopefully) Learned

  • Gaming Requires Commitment: The creative-driven nature of video games means accepting that it takes years, if not longer, to break into the market. No amount of money or on-paper expertise can completely compensate for that.
  • Cloud Gaming Is Still Niche: Whether it’s the need for high-speed internet, inferior gaming performance, or the appeal of simply owning your system and games, consumers are not yet sold on cloud gaming. 
  • Netflix: While the media streaming leader has been eyeing cloud gaming for some time, Stadia’s demise and a challenging economy may put these plans on hold.
  • Cloud Gaming Handhelds: Attempts from the likes of Logitech and Razer to capitalize on cloud gaming with handheld consoles may be in for a rough landing if Stadia’s death is any indication. 

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Savvy Games
Source: Savvy Games Group

Saudi Arabia Lays Out Big Plans for Gaming Country's Savvy Games Group is looking for a publisher to acquire

Savvy Games Group, which is backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), announced plans to invest around $38 billion through 2030 in game development and esports. While such an infusion of capital could be a godsend for many companies, this money should be approached cautiously.

Spreading Around the Money

  • $18.7 billion for Publishers: The largest tranche of money will be for minority stakes in game publishers
    • Saudi Arabia’s PIF already owns several billion dollars worth of shares in Activision-Blizzard, EA, Take-Two, Nintendo, Embracer Group, Nexon, & Capcom
  • $13.3 billion for an Acquisition: The most impactful part of the plan would be the “acquisition and development of a leading game publisher to become a strategic development partner”
  • $533 million for esports: Building off of Savvy Games’ ownership of leading esports conglomerate ESL Faceit, the Kingdom plans to further invest in esports and gaming startups
  • $5.3 billion: The final batch of money will go toward strategic partnerships with established gaming companies
The Upside
The obvious upside here is that Saudi Arabia will be investing oodles of money into the gaming industry. Most of it figures to go to established publishers and developers, rather than indie devs.
  • Who Will be Acquired: It’s hard to say who it will be, but $13.3 billion should be enough for a larger publisher such as Ubisoft or Square Enix, especially in a cooling market
    • Ubisoft may not be a viable acquisition, however, given Tencent recently increased its shares in the French publisher
The Downside
There’s no mincing words here, Savvy Gaming Group is a public relations albatross. The chairman of the board for Savvy Gaming is Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been  implicated in all manner of human rights violations, to put it diplomatically.

There is also a fundamental issue with Saudi Arabian investment in this case. The kingdom isn’t primarily focused on making a profit, it’s about attracting business. For those receiving the money, this won’t matter. But a new big spender with little interest in profit is a recipe for creating an investment bubble and driving up costs for competing companies.

Finally, there is the matter of data collection. Video game companies hoover up massive amounts of user data, given nearly every game today requires a user account. Regulators and gamers may not be keen on seeing that information fall into the hands of country that heavily surveils critics. 

Supply Drop: Games & Players

Upcoming Games (October 7 - 13)

Asterigos: Curse of The Stars - PC, PlayStation, XboxSwitch
The Eternal Cylinder - PC, PlayStation, Xbox
Lego Bricktales - PC, PlayStation, XboxSwitch
Lost Eidolons - PC
No Man’s Sky - Switch
No More Heroes 3 - PC, PlayStation, XboxSwitch
Paradise Marsh - PC,  XboxSwitch
Sunday Gold - PC
Undecember - PC, Mobile
Warpips - PlayStation, XboxSwitch

Editor's Most Anticipated: No Man's Sky - Nintendo Switch Port. When No Man's Sky originally launched in 2016 on PC and Sony's PlayStation 4, it was met with much criticism after player expectations did not align with the delivered product. However, following several major updates and expansions, the procedurally generated space exploration game has seen a drastic upswing in community sentiment, including a well received Microsoft Xbox One port in 2018.

The latest port of No Man's Sky is for the Nintendo Switch, bringing the vast unexplored universe of the game into the hands (literally) of new players when it launches on October 7.

The new port coincides with the 4.0 update of the game, which focuses more on QoL (Quality of Life) updates than additional content. This also includes a new "Relaxed Mode," where players can focus more on exploration than the harsh survival aspects of each world.

Developer/publisher Hello Games noted that there will be some features missing from the Switch version at launch, including some more recent content and multiplayer, with player experience set to guide what content will be focused on next for the handheld console version.

Source: Twitter

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The Tap: News to Go

  • GPU: The first reviews of Intel Arc’s flagship video cards are starting to trickle out ahead of their October 12 launch. The consensus seems to be that they are competitive on price with Nvidia, but outclassed by AMD's products. Inconsistent drivers continue to be a crippling flaw that Intel must solve if it’s going to be taken seriously in the GPU space.
  • Console: PlayStation’s new loyalty program, PlayStation Stars, is now open for registration. The free service offers achievements, digital collectibles (Sony was very clear that they are not NFTs.), and improved customer service.
  • Software: Ubisoft has delayed the November launch of its AAA title Skull and Bones to February. This is at least the fifth delay for what was supposed to be Ubisoft's tentpole release for 2022, as well as its first $70 game.
  • Government: The European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education unanimously passed a resolution proposing a vote on whether the EU should develop a long-term video game strategy. It’s a development with potentially wide strategic and financial ramifications for the industry.
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