Google isn’t ruling out the possibility of working on a partnership with Steam for the Google Stadia game streaming service, and that could be huge news for both Stadia itself and for PC gamers as well. If such a partnership were to exist just from accessing the Stadia Base subscription then it would be akin to Google giving every Steam user a new cloud-based gaming PC to play their existing libraries on for free.
A few days ago Google’s director of product for Stadia, Andrey Doronichev, took to Reddit for a quick AMA session. We’ve already covered some of the key points he raises, such as the reiteration that “Stadia Pro is not ‘Netflix for Games’ like some people have mentioned.” But for me the most interesting question was about whether there is a chance of Steam partnerships on the platform.
Essentially that’s a question over whether Steam and Google would work together to offer access to your existing Steam games library via Google’s Stadia infrastructure, and if it came to pass could be a real boon for both.
“Great question!” Doronichev responds. “My PR guy will kill me… we’re always evaluating our options to make Stadia a better place for the gamers :)”
If it was a winking emote we’d be maybe more excited about the potential of talks actually being on the cards, but the straight smiley probably just indicates that it’s not something Google is ruling out. Emote analysis, it’s a dark art.
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Still, it’s an interesting thing to ponder, and something that Nvidia has added into its own streaming platform, GeForce Now. If you have a game in your Steam library then you can be pretty confident of being able to play it via Nvidia’s cloud hardware, unless it’s an oldie that is. No Peggle’s in the cloud for us.
But the difference here, aside from GeForce Now seemingly being in permanent beta, is that Nvidia added in Steam support when it switched off its own game purchasing business model. Google is still going to want to sell games to Stadia users itself, and is aiming for first-party exclusives, or at least games with Stadia-exclusive features. Quite how that would chime with pairing your platform with one of the biggest game distribution systems in the world is tough to say.
Google could potentially restrict any potential Steam partnership only to gamers subscribing to the Stadia Pro package, which might mitigate any conflict as Google would still be getting its cash on a monthly basis.
And if Steam was integrated into the free Base sub then it might not see a penny as gamers would then be able to use Google’s relatively high-powered cloud hardware gratis and just play the games they’ve already purchased via Steam.
So, what’s in it for Google? Well, penetration for one. If every Steam gamer signs up to Google Stadia, even if it is just the Base sub, having that massive instant install base will be something it can market and market too. And if they’re already on the platform playing their Steam games, maybe they’ll just stay on the platform and buy the odd Stadia game too.
Google’s playing the long game on Stadia, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it took a perceived short-term financial hit, by essentially giving something away for free, in order to maximise the number of people on its Stadia books. The Pro sub would be the more conservative route to take, but Stadia could take a gamble on Steam inflating its install base.
Google is also talking about mod support on Stadia too. Doronichev answers the question about potential support in Stadia by saying: “In November, no. We’d like to in the future. We’re working with developers now to find the best way to do this.”
A quick link up with Steam, however, and boom, instant Workshop mod support. That’s not the full support that most gamers would want, but considering the difficulty delivering mods on a closed cloud platform, that’s maybe not a bad compromise.