Earlier today, Google made the surprise announcement that they would be ending their efforts to develop first-party games for Stadia. However, is it possible for Google Stadia to succeed without first-party games?

When Google first unveiled Stadia back in early 2019, it promoted Stadia Games and Entertainment as its first-party game development division. Though the division has helped publish some exclusive games such as Orcs Must Die! 3 and Outcasters, Stadia has yet to have a first-party, Google-made title.

Following today’s announcement, it seems Google will continue its efforts on Stadia without putting emphasis on first-party titles. That being the case, is there still a world in which Stadia can become a relevant gaming platform?

For decades, exclusive games have been one of the main drivers behind the success of a video game console. One of the best examples of this is Halo, which became one of the greatest reasons to purchase an Xbox, leading to the developer, Bungie, being briefly acquired by Microsoft. Other franchises like Forza and Gears of War have also sold for Xbox, leading to Microsoft acquiring even larger studios like Bethesda.

Similarly, God of War, Ratchet & Clank, and The Last of Us have sold for PlayStation. And of course, Nintendo is the most famous for its massive roster of exclusive and wildly successful franchises, including Mario and The Legend of Zelda.

For its part, Google seems to now be disinterested in developing a first-party game for Stadia. Notably, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Stadia will not have any more exclusive games. It simply means that Google won’t be the ones to develop them, therefore they can’t be the biggest cheerleader for games that could only exist in the cloud.

Instead, Google will be relying on third-party developers to push the envelope and prove — both to gamers and other developers — that not only there are experiences only possible in the cloud, but that these are worth buying into Stadia. However, these experiences will likely look nothing like the future we were shown in 2019, where the Google Assistant could help you beat a hard level or games could be enhanced by AI to offer more life-like characters.

Now, Google is segueing Stadia into a vehicle for “business partnerships.” But what exactly does that mean? In the announcement, Phil Harrison shares that Google is willing to partner with companies “seeking a gaming solution” built on Stadia’s tech. This has the possibility to range from a service like Ubisoft+, integrating with the various Stadia apps to simply unlock games, to a bespoke experience such as a standalone EA Play app that quietly uses Stadia for their streaming offering.

Notably, for gamers who are okay with the status quo of Stadia today, where you can simply buy the games you want and you aren’t required to pay a subscription or buy hardware, it’s possible nothing may change. Ubisoft+ serves as a prime example. Stadia players today have the choice to buy individual Ubisoft games from the Stadia Store or to get access through an Ubisoft+ subscription. The final decision will of course be given to developers and publishers, but after putting the necessary effort into getting a game to run on Stadia, it should be easy enough to also offer it for sale, not just through a subscription.

What we don’t yet know is whether Stadia will become a generic, white-label service, or if the Stadia experience as we know it today — including the apps, store, community, and controller hardware — will continue to exist.

If Google still intends for Stadia “the console” to thrive, shutting down Stadia Games and Entertainment effectively surrenders their ability to leverage developers into using Stadia exclusive features. Just three months ago, Stadia Games and Entertainment shared that they were specifically seeking to help publish games to launch in 2023 and beyond, as well as any game that would include Stadia-exclusive features such as State Share or anything that uses the Google ecosystem.

What the future holds for Stadia remains to be seen, but one thing is certain. For Stadia to thrive in the long-term, Google needs to be able to make a profit from it, and today’s decision to shut down Stadia Games and Entertainment is unfortunately a step in that direction.

Google might be on the road to democratizing access to games with Stadia’s technical infrastructure accomplishments, but the lack of first-party games means Google will not get to shape the heart and future of the platform or gaming, in general.

Abner Li contributed to this article

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