Erica Flores

Stadia is about the future of YouTube, not games.

Yesterday, Google announced plans for a new game streaming service called Stadia. In addition to the logo, the controller and a single game – Doom Eternal – The announcement left us with more questions than answers. The main thing on my mind has been the question of why Google needs to be in the gambling business. Isn’t it enough to master web search, ads and browsers, smartphone operating systems, and maps? What part of our lives does Google do? no Do you want to know about? And then I realized that we could look at it from the wrong perspective: what if Stadia is not a case of Google aggressively entering a new business sphere, but rather defensive to protect its existing realm?

YouTube has a practical monopoly on user-generated video online. It is the birthplace of creative communities, the workplace for many, and the landing place for a wide variety of gaming-related videos. Lest we forget, YouTube’s most popular personality, PewDiePie, got his start recording himself playing games. Everything from replays of competitive esports matches to full narrative-driven game sets, game reviews, and curated anthologies of fun in-game moments make their way onto YouTube. That’s the status quo, Google is king. Amazon’s Twitch rules the live streaming scenario, but YouTube is ultimately where the vast majority of gaming-related videos end up.

My opinion is that Google’s Stadia project is motivated, to a greater or lesser extent, by the desire to maintain its dominance as the home of gaming video. As of this moment, Google has more than 200 million registered daily active users who watch game content. That’s 200 million pairs of eyes to present ads to every day. In 2018, YouTube amassed more than 50 billion hours of game content. “Games have always been the backbone of YouTube since the platform was founded,” says YouTube Game Director Ryan Wyatt.

We view YouTube as adjacent to games, Google views games as adjacent to YouTube

From a gamer’s perspective, YouTube is the lever that Google will lean on to spark interest in its nascent game streaming platform, but from Google’s point of view, the new game streaming platform (as ambitious as it is). whatever) is a necessary measure. to keep YouTube where it is today.

Taking a long-term view of things, a significant proportion of games will be heading to the cloud, be it through the efforts of Microsoft, Sony, Amazon, Nvidia, or Valve. And when that transition occurs, it stands to reason to expect some interruption in the way people share their clips in the game and the type of clips they choose to share. Google’s competitors are well positioned to take advantage of this, as Microsoft and Sony have incorporated sharing features into their consoles and it’s easy to imagine that they will remove YouTube from the equation when they each have a cloud gaming platform. At the very least, YouTube’s popular and currently lucrative no-comment gaming sub-genre is likely to morph when just about anyone with a couple of hours to spare can.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Tellingly, when Google wanted to show someone excited about Stadia they pulled out a YouTuber, MatPat. He spent his time on stage talking about how Stadia builds a greater connection and interaction between YouTube creators and their audience, with games as the backdrop, which is exactly how I think Google views the whole project. The game is a conduit or a vehicle, which takes you to YouTube as the important destination. Now, I’m not discounting the obvious motivation of wanting to be at the beginning of an exciting new development in technology and games, but my impression is that YouTube is the top priority for Google.

Stadia controller illustrates Google’s priorities

Yes, it’s nice that Google printed Konami’s code on the bottom of its Stadia controller, but look at the unique buttons the company has put on top: one is for the Google Assistant and the other is for the screenshot. . Those are your Google priorities printed in clear white iconography on a smooth black surface. The capture button is there to make YouTube sharing as easy and frictionless as possible, while the inclusion of the Assistant is there to help gamers stuck on a level find guides or tips on YouTube without ever leaving their game session.

Many of the responses to “why is Google doing this?” They come down to a version of “because Google is one of the few companies that can.” Google already has the cloud infrastructure that few, perhaps none Outside of Amazon, AWS, and Microsoft Azure, they may match. CEO Sundar Pichai summed it up clearly during the Stadia announcement: “Our custom server hardware and data centers can bring more computing to more people on planet Earth than anyone else.” Data centers, server farms, and high-bandwidth fiber-optic connections connect the internet is what builds the entire Google empire. And then Google has the experience of reliably running multi-billion user cloud services, plus the ability to spam everyone with news of its planned gaming revolution.

If you want to be especially cautious about Google’s motivations, you can also imagine a world where most of the video game video suggestions on YouTube start pointing to Stadia, in a mutually reinforcing cycle of sending users between Google services.

I have yet to hear Google offer any argument to convince me that it cares about games, per se. Stadia could be about podcasting, cooking shows, Bob Ross-style oil painting classes (whatever) and its presentation would have been more or less the same. Once again, Google announced a game For your great gaming service announcement. A game and a few dozen ways Stadia ties in with YouTube, Chrome (which will be the only supported browser, at least to begin with), Chromecasts, Chromebooks, Android devices, and the rest of the Google ecosystem. This event, lacking in detail and detail, although it could have been, was Google flexing its strength as a leader in cloud technology and connectivity.

Past hostilities show Google is better at competing than collaborating with other tech giants

The reason I see Stadia as a defensive move for YouTube has to do with the companies that Google is up against. Undoubtedly, Amazon and Microsoft are looking at the same incomprehensible viewing statistics as Google: Twitch hit nearly a billion hours observed in January 2019 alone. And they will consider their future cloud gaming platforms in the two definitions of “streaming game “: how the game is delivered to the user, but also how the user can broadcast their game to the rest of the world. There can never be another YouTube, but that doesn’t mean developments in one of YouTube’s key content sources can’t take away from your business and popularity. An analogy that keeps popping up in my mind is that of Facebook and its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, neither of which threatened Facebook’s basic business model, but both took users out of Facebook’s purview.

Google has been willing to use YouTube as a club against its competitors. First, with Microsoft, Google actively blocked the development of a YouTube app on Windows Phone, helping to sink that platform in an effort to protect its own Android operating system from competition. Then, in a dispute with Amazon, Google withdrew access to YouTube from the Echo Show before allowing it again a little later. In my opinion, bringing together two acts of hostility and two resourceful and ambitious rivals equals likely competition for YouTube with any cloud game offering that Amazon and Microsoft produce.