Google announced that it would make a first-party game for stadia in March 2019, but within two years that dream was shattered
Tencent technology news on March 1: in March 2019, Google CEO Sundar Pichai appeared on the stage at the game developers conference in San Francisco, telling gamers that he owed them something. He admitted that although he is not a die hard game fan, Google still benefits from games, because games are the starting point for countless Googlers to enter the field of computer science. Games such as chess and go helped train the AI of DeepMind, a subsidiary of Google. Similar to the game simulation, Google’s automatic driving car company Waymo, Google’s parent company, can test the safe transportation system of its autopilot.
Pichai said at the time that Google would launch stadia, a game platform based on cloud infrastructure. Not only that, Google also announced that it will make its own exclusive game for the service. The business of this platform includes not only publishing video games, but also making games. But there is a problem: Google is a technology company, not a content company. Although stadia launched third-party games in November 2019, such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and destiny 2, and will eventually add dozens of games, the stadia game independently developed by Google has never become a reality.
Earlier this month, Google announced that it would shut down its stadia games and entertainment (SG & E) division and fire all 150 senior game developers it had hired, who were supposed to make first-party games for stadia. Many developers who lost their jobs still don’t know why, but people familiar with stadia’s operations believe that after spending tens of millions of dollars on two game studios, Google can’t stand the expensive and complex creative process needed to create high-quality video games, especially considering stadia’s paltry subscription number.
“I even doubt how well the leadership of stadia knows what they’re doing. They make exaggerated promises, but they can’t keep them,” says one current employee of stadia
Initial prospects attract developers to join
Stadia itself is a cloud game platform, and it is one of many cloud game platforms. Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and other technology giants are also using their huge data centers to support cloud games in a similar way. But Google’s failure in the stadia project reflects that technology giants are generally unable to promote the game development process in an optimized environment.
After spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Jeff Bezos’s mission of “winning the game”, Amazon Game Studios has repeatedly encountered embarrassment, even the first party game has been cancelled or even not released. Even the giants that make successful games do so through acquisitions rather than from scratch. For example, Microsoft has snapped up more than a dozen studios, including mojang, who developed my world, and Bethesda, who developed fallout and doom. However, Google has a different idea.
Four current and former employees of stadia said in an interview that Google will never focus on game development, despite a lot of investment and recruitment. The technology company, which is better at providing services, was not set up to nourish the chaotic, multidisciplinary game circus.
In 2018, Google hired Phil Harrison, a former Sony and Microsoft executive, to head its stadia division. A year later, when pitchay introduced Harrison on the stage of the developer conference, he joked: “this is definitely a person who knows the difference between RPG and NPC.” Harrison is an ambitious man who believes that super powerful data centers can support devices around the world to play games at lightning speed, especially those who have traditionally been unable to use game PCs and game consoles. For just $10 a month, players can transfer selected video games to Wi Fi connected phones and tablets, leaving the rest to Google.
On stage, Harrison enthusiastically said that Google had delivered stadia hardware to more than 100 game studios and more than 1000 “creative people.”. He also announced the establishment of SG & E, “dedicated to creating experiences designed specifically for stadia.”. But it was only a few months later that Google actually started hiring most of the game developers.
Three sources working for SG & E said they were attracted by the Department’s commitment to technology, which has been touted as a revolution in game delivery. They believe that Google can provide jobs and life stability that traditional game companies cannot provide. In an industry full of layoffs, project cancellations and “retrenchment” (that is, working 60 or 80 hours a week before the game is released), experienced game developers are looking for a place to live. They want to make wonderful and exquisite games for companies that are not polluted by the labor and cultural problems prevalent in the game industry.
Prior to the game developers conference, Google had hired jade Raymond, founder of Ubisoft, in a high profile. Harrison later recruited many senior developers, designers and producers from Ubisoft and electronic arts. In December 2019, Google acquired Montreal based game studio typhoon studios, which is famous for developing journey to the savage planet and has recruited dozens of employees to SG & E. SG & E has set up two studios in Montreal and Los Angeles, which Raymond will supervise.
In his blog post announcing the establishment of Montreal studio in October 2019, Raymond enthusiastically said that SG & E will “develop exclusive and original content in various game combinations, all of which will be your favorite type”. She wrote that SG & E will not only revolutionize the game platform, it will also revolutionize game development. Raymond announced the establishment of Los Angeles studio in March of the next year and hired Sony veteran Shannon studstar to run the studio.
“Layman” practice leads to frequent mistakes
By then, Google had spent years developing the underlying service of stadia, which was launched on November 19, 2019. Two sources said Google’s first mistake was to separate the development of stadia from the existence of SG & E. Hiring game developers is a big indication of Google’s early priorities, leading to a breakdown of trust between Google’s mountain view technicians and its two game studios, two sources said. “Google is actually an engineering and technology company, and making content doesn’t usually work at Google,” said a source currently working at SG & E
From the beginning, when Google tried to enrich their game team, it encountered one obstacle after another in hiring senior game developers. As we all know, Google’s recruitment process is long and complex, which may take six to nine months. It also took Google some time to expand its recruitment criteria to suit the skills needed for game development, rather than focusing on its traditional areas. The goal is to attract 2000 people to develop games for stadia within five years, two sources said.
However, Google is a highly structured company that relies on highly structured processes. On the other hand, game development is organic. It’s chaotic, and it happens at the same time across multiple disciplines using countless different software. Three sources said that Google has set obstacles to the most basic principles of game making, such as refusing to allow the use of certain game development software (obviously for security concerns).
It will take three to five years for super sophisticated games to match Google’s revolutionary platform, making it impossible for the service to be launched with first-party games, two sources said. Instead, stadia made its debut in several mature games, including final fantasy XV, NBA 2k20 and Wolfenstein: young blood. Both external and internal reactions are tepid.
Someone assessed stadia with a full score of 10 and found that the delay in the streaming service affected “Mortal Kombat 11,” a fighting game that relies on twitch reflexes and lightning input. Even if the fiber is directly connected to the router, it is necessary to access all kinds of devices at the cost of quality. SG & E staff are also concerned that the technology will be released as a beta. One source said it could have done more testing under different conditions and on different devices. Stadia did not disclose subscription numbers, but two sources said they did not meet internal expectations in 2020.
The lack of first-party games at the time of release also missed a major promotion opportunity. Studios associated with Sony or Microsoft often launch expected games at the same time as the next generation of game consoles to have a greater impact. However, four sources said that SG & E’s game development process makes people feel firmly bound and is just an embarrassing accessory to the efforts of core streaming media technology. Developers were told to design prototypes that demonstrate stadia technology, such as Google’s cloud computing capabilities or state share, which allows players to replay or share game clips in video clips and screenshots.
“For a long time, the requirements for games included supporting stadia’s unique mindset,” said one current SG & E employee. So it’s like taking advantage of features designed specifically for stadia. ” They added that the long-term project was also designed to highlight stadia technology. They feel that Google supports game development not to sell games, but to promote stadia.
In the end, SG & E team got the software and personnel needed to make the prototype of stadia game. After all, its salary and benefits were already enviable. Artists, producers, audio experts and programmers are all promised to develop unique games for revolutionary software. Many people don’t think it will face the same pending layoff threat as Damocles sword, which is often seen in traditional game companies. The team is exploring what Google games might look like and how best to use the power of Google’s massive data center. Then, the novel coronavirus pneumonia outbreak broke out.
In April 2020, one month after the Los Angeles studio was set up, Google froze recruitment. “It’s time to significantly slow down the pace of recruitment while maintaining momentum in a few strategic areas where users and businesses rely on Google for continued support,” Pichai said in an internal message. And in these areas, our growth is critical to their success. ” According to four sources, games are not among these “strategic areas.”.
“If companies ask for a freeze on recruitment, they don’t mind damaging our ability to build content,” said one source. Before the studio was fully built and ready to make games, Google stepped on the brakes. We interpret it as Google’s lack of commitment to producing content. ”
Lessons from Amazon
Google is not the first technology giant to encounter these difficulties, and Amazon has taken a similar arc. In 2020, some media investigated the huge challenges besos’s empire faced in making first-party games in Amazon game studio. Like Google, Amazon has hired the best developers, such as Clint Hawking for far cry 2, Ian Vogel for system shock 2, John Smedley for EverQuest and Kim swift for portal Many of them are excited about the stability and relatively high pay of the technology giant.
Amazon aims to get a $1 billion franchise to help promote its cloud technology, proprietary game engine and twitch streaming services, according to several sources. However, this is too arrogant. Amazon wants to “win the game” and has developed several AAA rated games at the same time, although it has not yet made a name for itself in the industry. Mike frazzini, head of Amazon’s game studio, didn’t even have professional experience in games before. High expectations, coupled with Amazon’s idiosyncrasies, such as its obsession with in-house software and its obsession with measuring success with data, have led to repeated failures. Amazon has canceled at least three games.
The cost of AAA game development may be between $100 million and $200 million. Such successes as Blizzard’s “overwatch” have come from repeated failures, such as the company’s abandoned massive multiplayer online role-playing game Titan. Product design of large technology companies may not always be straightforward, but game design is a resource and capital intensive maze. “I think they lack an understanding of the process, and it seems that many executives don’t fully understand how to navigate in a highly innovative, interdisciplinary space,” said one SG & E source
Google games or Microsoft
In the whole process of Google freezing recruitment, game developers feel frustrated in achieving their goals. The prototype was launched without sufficient resources, and the studio developers didn’t do their best. When performance appraisal time comes, Google judges game developers based on benchmarks created for user experience or visual designers, according to three sources. There are no numbers associated with “play,” and there are no process based workflows to inspire creativity. Experienced game developers do their best to lobby for their work culture. Over time, Google seems to have softened. Developers get the tools they need and the proper review process, but not the increase in staff. Frustration is still there.
On January 27, 2021, Harrison sent an email to SG & E employees to share the “budget and investment envelope for high level platforms” of that year. In the battle slogan, Harrison insisted that Google has the best game streaming technology. In addition, he said, SG & E has made great progress in building a diverse and talented team and a strong stadia exclusive game lineup. However, he did not confirm the Department’s budget at that time, saying only that it would be announced soon because it would “inform SG & E strategy and OKR in 2021”, or “goals and key results”, which is the goal framework used by Google.
Just five days later, Harrison called the SG & E staff together and informed them that the Department was about to close. Google stopped trying to develop games before it launched them. Mr. Harrison said Google will help them out, and people with relevant skills may find new jobs in the technology giant.
The source said they were not shocked, but it was a shocking turn shortly after Harrison praised SG & E for its “great progress.”. In public, Harrison stressed SG & E’s focus on helping external game developers and publishers use stadia. “We have decided that we will not invest further in in-house development team SG & E to bring exclusive content, except for the Games planned in the near future,” he wrote in his blog post Raymond is a brilliant visionary who is leaving Google for “greener pastures,” two sources said.
Sources said they felt that Harrison’s entire working process at Google was not transparent enough. They don’t know how stadia attracts gamers and why Google is shutting down first-party game development. In the end, they’re not sure if Google really invested in AAA games, and they don’t know what the price will be. They believe that in the worst case, Harrison misled them. Several SG & E employees are no longer under the illusion of the game business. They continue to stay at Google. Others are doing some self reflection.
“I see that this can only be achieved if Google accepts our step-by-step approach,” said one source. If Google is really interested in having a place in this market, it can initially build a business by enduring losses. ” Google should follow Microsoft’s path and focus on acquiring studios rather than trying to start from scratch, two sources said.
It’s a miracle to make a successful big game anywhere. Big budget games can be beautiful, but does “jumping” feel good? It can incorporate pop factors, but isn’t that too old-fashioned? Does the plot make sense? Are the roles balanced? Most of all, is it interesting? In this bubbling melting pot of game development, there is no simple magic potion that can create a sensation. It requires all kinds of people to turn their personal inspiration into many commodities. It’s crazy, it’s human, and that’s the alchemy that tech giants can’t solve. (Tencent technology reviser / Jinlu)