Google Stadia hasn’t exactly had the best year, and things aren’t improving with the company facing a bevy of criticism after announcing a pay-for-engagement model in a bid to attract more developers to its fledgling cloud gaming service.
The announcement was part of a Stadia keynote that aired early Thursday morning Australian time. The key reveal was a 70% subscription revenue offer for developers and publishers whose games are on Stadia Pro, Google’s $US10/month gaming subscription offering.
A 70/30 revenue split isn’t new for digital platforms, mind you: Steam and Apple have had similar splits for aeons, although the margins have been tweaked slightly over the years. Google’s doing the same thing too, saying it will only take a 15 percent cut of a developer/publisher’s first $US3 million in revenue for Stadia — although this only applies to games added to the service after October 2021.
What’s copped the most flak, however, has been the pay-for-engagement model. It’s not hard to see why some indie developers aren’t thrilled at the idea, even though Google tried to add some leeway by saying the engagement would be based on how many days they login, rather than total hours played. The revenue cut will also be from the total pool of revenue generated by the whole Stadia Pro platform, too.
“One user playing one Stadia Pro game twice on day one equals one session day; a user that plays a Stadia Pro game once on day one, and once on day two, equals two session days,” Google Stadia’s business development manager Careen Yapp said.
“The people curating these platforms clearly signal that they are more into these types of retention-heavy projects, which in turn likely leads to projects being bloated with unnecessary padding content just to keep you in there,” Johan Toresson, a talent scout for Swedish publisher Raw Fury (Sable, Night Call, Bad North, Dandara, West of Dead, Star Renegades), told Axios.
The real problem that Google’s waded into is a deep-seeded fear that developers, especially smaller studios, have had with subscription services for years. The concern was always that models like Game Pass, Apple Arcade and Google Stadia would monetise games based on time played, or some variant thereof, implicitly encouraging developers to craft or pitch content that kept users occupied for as long as possible.
But for users not interested in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla-style marathons, or developers who want to promote experimental games, narrative adventures designed to be enjoyed in short bursts, or even more tightly curated AAA stories like Resident Evil Village, it’s a concerning sign for what the future Stadia offering will look like. And while some indies are feeling the love, like the New Zealand developers behind the Dino Crisis spiritual successor, Stadia still has a long way to go before its a genuine gaming competitor. (We still don’t know when Stadia will become available in Australia, for instance.)
Expect to hear a bit more noise about Stadia on the internet soon, though. Google announced it would launch an affiliate marketing problem from H1 2022, powered by Stadia’s click-to-play tech, which includes the ability to deep-link to a specific state within a video game.