SAN FRANCISCO/TOKYO – Google LLC set out to disrupt the video game world on Tuesday with a Stadia platform that will let players stream blockbuster titles to any device they wish, while also unveiling a new controller and its very own studio.
The California-based technology giant said its Stadia platform will open to gamers later this year in the United States, Canada, Britain and other parts of Europe.
For now, the Alphabet Inc. unit is focused on working with game-makers to tailor titles for play on Stadia, saying it has already provided the technology to more than 100 game developers.
“We are on the brink of a huge revolution in gaming,” said Jade Raymond, the former Ubisoft and Electronic Arts executive tapped to head Google’s new studio, Stadia Games and Entertainment.
“We are committed to going down a bold path,” she told a presentation at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Sony Corp. and Nintendo Co. shares slid after Google outlined the major push into video games with Stadia.
Nintendo dropped as much as 4.6 percent and Sony declined 4.5 percent Wednesday, the biggest intraday drop for both stocks in six weeks.
The game industry’s business model of creating a hardware platform, such as Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo’s Switch, and then charging publishers for the right to access it has come under pressure in recent years. That’s happened as many casual gamers turn to free-to-play mobile titles.
“There is no doubt this service makes life even more difficult for established platforms,” Amir Anvarzadeh, a market strategist at Asymmetric Advisors Pte., said in a note to clients. “Google will help further fragment the gaming market which is already coming under pressure by big games which have adopted the mobile gaming business model of giving the titles away for free in hope of generating in-game content sales.”
The Japanese companies have responded by creating subscription services and offering content other than games, but Google’s push into the $180 billion industry threatens the long-standing hardware model. The search giant however not only has to provide a smooth lag-free experience, it must also convince publishers to bring their marquee titles.
Sony has already rolled out its own streaming service, PlayStation Now, which was released in 2014. But its streaming technology and limited investment in data centers has held back the service, with some users complaining about lag times. Asumi Maeda, a spokeswoman for Sony Interactive Entertainment, said “the game industry heating up is something that should make players happy.” A Nintendo spokesman declined to comment.
The Stadia tech platform aims to connect people for interactive play on PCs, tablets, smartphones and other devices.
Google also unveiled a new controller that can be used to play cloud-based individual or multiplayer games.
Stadia controllers mirrored those designed for Xbox or PlayStation consoles, with the addition of dedicated buttons for streaming live play via YouTube or asking the Google Assistant virtual aide for help beating a daunting puzzle or challenge.
CEO Sundar Pichai said the initiative is “to build a game platform for everyone.”
“I think we can change the game by bringing together the entirety of the ecosystem,” Pichai told a keynote audience.
Google’s hope is that Stadia could become for games what Netflix or Spotify are to television or music, by making console-quality play widely available.
Yet it remains unclear how much Google can grab of the potentially massive industry.
As it produces its own games, Google will also be courting other studios to move to its cloud-based model.
Google collaborated with French video game titan Ubisoft last year in a limited public test of the technology powering Stadia, and its chief executive was in the front row at the platform’s unveiling.
A coming new version of blockbuster action game “Doom” tailored to play on Stadia was teased at the event by iD studio executive producer Marty Stratton.
“If you are going to prove to the world you can stream games from the cloud, what better game than ‘Doom’,” Stratton said.
Streaming games from the cloud brings the potential to tap into massive amounts of computing power in data centers.
For gamers, that could translate into richer game environments, more creative play options or battle royale matches involving thousands of players.
At the developers conference, Google demonstrated fast, cloud-based play on a variety of devices. But it offered no specific details on how it would monetize the new service or compensate developers.
Money-making options could include selling game subscriptions the way Netflix charges for access to streaming television.
“I think it’s a huge potential transition in the video game industry, not only for the instant access to games but for exploring different business models to games,” Jon Peddie Research analyst Ted Pollak said of Stadia.
“They say it’s the Netflix of gaming; that is actually pretty accurate.”
Ubisoft, known for “Assassin’s Creed” and other titles, said it would be working with Google.
Its co-founder and chief Yves Guillemot predicted streaming would “give billions unprecedented opportunities to play video games in the future.”
An “Assassin’s Creed” title franchise was used to test Google’s “Project Stream” technology for hosting the kind of quick, seamless play powered by in-home consoles as an online service.
The reliability and speed of internet connections is seen as a challenge to cloud gaming, with action play potentially marred by streaming lags or disruptions.
Google said its investments in networks and data centers should help prevent latency in data transmissions.
In places with fast and reliable wireless, internet players will likely access games on the wide variety of devices envisioned by Google, while hardcore players in places where wireless connections aren’t up to the task could opt for consoles, according to Pollak.
“I think it is good news for everyone,” Pollak said when asked what Stadia meant to major console-makers Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.