Google's Stadia cloud gaming service is heading in a new, more accessible direction. It just might be the platform's saving grace if Google can convince enough players, developers and third-party companies to come along for the ride.
During Tuesday's Google for Games Developer Summit, ahead of next week's Game Developers Conference, the company announced a series of initiatives designed to make Stadia easier for consumers to access and try, easier for developers to deliver games and free trials, and easier for companies to use Google's technology to build all-new products and services of their own.
The company's consumer offering is staying put for now. But Google, in confirming some details of an Insider report from earlier this year that the company was shifting focus to a white-label enterprise offering, plans to launch “Immersive Stream for Games," a new service companies can use to bring cloud streaming to customers using the underlying Stadia technology.
We saw this in action with AT&T's streamable Batman: Arkham Knight offering last fall, and now Google is going ahead with turning it into a proper enterprise offering. AT&T is planning to bring a second game to customers using Google's technology later this year, as well as expanding access when that second game arrives to mobile in addition to desktop web browsers.
One of the big changes coming to the consumer side of Stadia in the coming weeks will be the ability to browse the Stadia store without having to sign in to either a Stadia or Google account. "Players will be able to find Stadia games through Google Search and explore Stadia’s library of entirely free games or demos to try, the 50+ games in Stadia Pro, publisher sales, or the 100+ games launching on Stadia this year," the company said.
Google is also planning to give publishers the ability to offer what it's calling "click-to-play" trials, which will be timed access to full games on Stadia that people can play without needing an account. Gearbox's Risk of Rain 2 is the first of these timed trial titles, available today on Stadia for one hour without needing to login; the company says any progress will carry over to your account if you do decide to purchase the full product. Google says it's expanding the capability to all of its developer partners later this year.
And to get more games on the platform, Google says it's planning to make it easier for game makers to port products made with Unreal Engine and Unity over to Stadia. "The core features we’re talking about today are benefitting both the development journey and player experience for Immersive Stream for Games customers, including Stadia," said Dov Zimring, the platform's new head of Product. (Zimring replaced former Product chief John Justice, who departed last year for Meta.) "In partnership with Google Cloud, we’re working to build out the underlying cloud gaming technology that powers both Stadia and our customers’ offerings via Immersive Stream for Games."
Update 3/15: Clarified that Google's announcements include the ability to browse the Stadia store without having to login with a Google account or create a Stadia one, while being able to play certain titles without an account will be limited to "click-to-play" games.