October 4, 2022
Illustration: Christopher T. Fong//Protocol
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Tuesday, we’re taking stock of the Stadia shutdown and the ripple effects of Google’s plans to close its cloud platform. Also: plenty of new developments in the Activision Blizzard saga, as well as the end of Overwatch 1 as we know it.
When Google announced the closure of its Stadia cloud gaming platform last week, the news was delivered at roughly the same time to employees, partners, and players on Thursday morning. Within hours, it had become clear that Stadia’s shutdown, planned for next January, would involve more than just refunding consumer purchases and quietly bowing out.
Now developers are scrambling to salvage planned projects, migrate players to other platforms, and figure out whether they’re still owed money from Google before the search giant puts Stadia out to pasture for good.
Stadia’s shutdown came as a surprise. Scores of indie game makers, not typically bound by the conservative norms of corporate PR, took to Twitter to explain their frustrations upon learning of the shutdown from news articles and a terse five-paragraph blog post from Stadia chief Phil Harrison.
It wasn’t just indies caught off guard. Google’s Stadia announcement kicked off a wave of uncertain responses from major third-party partners, including Bungie, CD Projekt Red, and Ubisoft. The consensus: We’re looking into it.
It’s not clear why Google axed Stadia now, and why it did so with little to no warning for any of the various parties that invested time, money, and other resources into the platform over the last three years.
It’s perhaps too early to draw broader conclusions about Stadia’s closure, what it could mean for cloud gaming as a whole, and whether the platform’s demise is the nail in the coffin for Google’s gaming ambitions. But Google’s sloppy handling of the announcement and Stadia’s stunning failure is evidence that even the largest, most experienced companies can find themselves lost in the woods when trying to crack such a notoriously difficult set of problems.
Cloud gaming is still available on platforms operated by Microsoft, Nvidia, and — for the time being — Amazon, too. But developing games is costly, difficult, and multidisciplinary work that takes years, and streaming those games over the cloud has yet to be accomplished in a sustainable fashion with an attractive business model. Google found this out the hard way, and let’s hope Stadia’s shutdown provides the road map that helps keep its competitors alive.
— Nick Statt
How can an organization design an ESG strategy that works for people, planet and profit? It's becoming increasingly appreciated among the broader business and NGO community that the planet and people elements of sustainability are mutually dependent, and as such a focus on one at the exclusion of the other will be fruitless. But balancing profit and sustainability progress remains a more thorny debate.
“I’m not proud that I had a hand in furthering these problems. As a matter of fact, I tell my daughters that I make board games like the ones they play at school. Whenever I encourage my daughters to strive to make a positive difference in the world, I question whether I have done the same.” — William Siu, the co-founder of mobile game studio Storm8, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times this past weekend decrying his own creations and the habit-forming design employed by many free-to-play smartphone titles. Siu says he does not let his daughters play his games.“The reason for dissolving the cultural organization is that it no longer represents the ethos it was founded on. People and ideas are meant to be eternal; organizations may well be temporary. I find that the organization was successful overall and most of the mistakes that were made were contingent, determined by the sociocultural conditions we were thrown into.” — Martin Luiga, a founding member of the ZA/UM artist collective that went on to develop indie masterpiece Disco Elysium, published a blog post on Saturday confirming that many of the game’s central creators have been pushed out of the studio.
Saudi Arabia is planning a huge gaming investment blitz. The Saudi-backed Savvy Gaming Group will pump an additional $37.8 billion into game companies on top of the government’s existing investments in Activision, EA, Embracer Group, Take-Two, and Nintendo, among others.
Bruce Willis didn’t sell his deepfake rights after all. Contrary to recent reports, Willis still owns the rights to his likeness: The actor did appear in a deepfake ad for a Russian brand last year.
Sony sets an ambitious goal for PlayStation VR2. Sony expects to sell 2 million units of its VR headset sequel by March 2023, Bloomberg reported Sunday. There’s no pricing or a release date yet, but the report says production started last month.
Sega is getting into blockchain gaming. The Sonic publisher, which has expressed interest in NFTs in the past, announced a new game with Japan-based Double Jump Tokyo that will make use of blockchain tech in some fashion.
Newsy is rebranding as Scripps News next year. The over-the-air and streaming channel, which will make use of Newsy’s team as well as the national news desk of local Scripps stations, will go live Jan. 1.
Microsoft’s next big Activision battleground is the EU. The EU has set a Nov. 8 deadline for its regulatory arm to either approve the deal or also head into a second, more detailed phase, as the U.K. recently did. Sony boss Jim Ryan also visited EU headquarters last month to argue against the deal, VGC reported.
Activision exec will exit. Frances Townsend, the publisher’s chief compliance officer, is stepping down, Bloomberg reported Friday. She came under fire last year for downplaying sexual harassment claims against the company.
YouTube is asking some people to pay for 4K streaming. There’s no word on whether this is part of a test or a new strategy to sign up more paying viewers.
Another games media shuffle. Fandom, the entertainment wiki hosting site, has purchased GameSpot, Giant Bomb, and other properties from Red Ventures, which two years ago acquired them from CNET parent CBS Interactive. It’s been a rough month for the games press.
Around noon EDT yesterday, Blizzard shut down the original Overwatch. If you went to log in to the game, you were met with a “lost connection to game server” message overlaid on the title screen.
Starting today, the next chapter begins in the form of Overwatch 2, which launches as a free-to-play early-access game on all major console platforms and PC.
It’s a risky gamble, yet likely a necessary one as Blizzard tries to drag the franchise into the future and position it for a vastly different gaming landscape than when the original Overwatch arrived more than six years ago.
— Nick Statt
How can an organization design an ESG strategy that works for people, planet and profit? Currently, much of the ‘E’ in ESG is focussed on climate only, and it is essential that companies also focus on biodiversity, recognizing nature-climate linkages in order to optimize mitigation and build resilience. ESG will prepare us for the necessary paradigm shift, driven by increasing external pressures forced upon us as a result of short-term profits.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your day, see you Thursday.