This GDC was all about Google Stadia. For the uninitiated, it’s simply a world where you don’t need to have a console to play the next big game. Pick up any device, open chrome and start playing. I am no big gamer or watcher, so I won’t dwell into whether this can actually replace Xbox or not or whether supporting 4k at 60fps with surround sound and HDR in a “streaming” format for game is crazy or not but here’s what I think of the announcement from Ad Tech and Product management perspective
App Install- Stadia definitely focuses on running high powered games (PC/Console) on low power devices(mobile/normal PC’s). But if Google can crack streaming for high powered games, then it is fair to assume that streaming will work perfectly for relatively low powered mobile games as well. But if everything is streaming and the streaming works perfectly, then why do you need an App? And if you don’t need an app, there is no need for an App Install. And if there is no App Install, then what happens to businesses whose only job is to drive App Installs? Connect the dots and the moral of the story is the same as many other stories in Ad Tech– AdNetworks are in trouble. As if the onslaught of programmatic and header bidding wasn’t enough, will those adnetworks whose only USP is “smart arbitrage” for themselves and who depend heavily on gaming industry be able to absorb another technological change? Don’t get me wrong. Smart mobile marketing platforms backed by technology prowess are here to stay. But if your only job is “smart arbitrage” and not “smart technology”, then this is one more reason why you should be worried.
I see google instant games and “Try Before Install” as just the precursor to the main streaming salvo. “Try Before Install” will eventually not exist because there may not be any “Install”. Just click on a link and start playing. Yes, this will not happen overnight. App Install will continue to be a big business. But can “App Install” eventually become irrelevant? Why not?
And what happens to the user identifiers in the ad tech world. Since this is just a streaming service using a browser, does cookie become relevant again? Does this mean cross channel (cookie to device id mapping) becomes more critical? Or if everything moves to web, then does it mean that cross channel is really not required? Finally, why stop only at games? If you can successfully stream a game, you can most definitely stream an ecommerce app. But what does streaming an ecommerce app mean? Does it basically mean faster and better mobile web experience which brings me to the second point.
Mweb vs App- There have been enough debate in the industry about user experience in mweb vs app. Riding on the back of AMP(Accelerated Mobile Pages) and PWA (Progressive Web Apps), mweb has been trying to make a comeback. Most notably, Google has been one of the most dominant forces behind the same and it makes perfect sense. Web search is the fodder that feeds the Google empire and the more they can convince a user to search on web rather than searching within a specific app, the better it is for them. I see Stadia as a salvo in the same direction. By creating a seamless streaming experience, if Google can convince users to use web and hence fall in love with web again, maybe they can alter user behavior, experience and expectation. I wouldn’t be surprised if two years from now there is a study which claims people who used Stadia were 3X more likely to use Uber’s progressive web app vs Uber app. This is changing user behavior in such a subtle and powerful way that it’s almost magical
Hardware is Hard- One of the most common proverb in Tech industry is “Hardware is Hard”. I absolutely agree with it but it’s just amazing to see “analysts” reactions, the moment someone tries to enter hardware market. I remember the reactions when Google launched Nexus and Pixel. There were articles with excel calculations proving how this is an unviable business and why google is foolish to enter into this business. Then, there were other articles taking a “strategic view” and stating how this can impact Google’s relationship with OEM’s which has played a critical role in the success of Android. But with Stadia launch, you can already sense that “at least the learning” from those projects would have helped Google massively in designing the whole thing, especially given that they have a Stadia console as well. As TechCrunch puts it, a custom AMD GPU with HBM2 memory and 56 compute units capable of 10.7 TF power (more than Xbox and PS4) is what’s powering the engine. Yes, I don’t understand half of those terms but that’s beyond the point. From a product management perspective, I see the following learnings-
a. Long term vision- Yea, it’s a cliché term but long term product planning can actually work if you have the vision and ability to execute well. Do you see GCE , Nexus and Pixel devices, Chromecast, Google Home, Google Lens and to some extent Stadia as individual projects or is someone actually seeing them as a multiyear product plan where learnings from one “hardware” product go into the other?
b. Implement, Learn, Improve- To be honest, I really doubt someone who was starting GCE had the vision to launch Google Home after few years. Google Home was launched because Echo was a success. However, that’s the key part. Not everyone is blessed with the ability to plan and execute multi-year roadmaps successfully. But almost everyone should be able to look at their product, understand the market and use the learning and strength of one product to make the second product even better. Repeat the cycle and eventually you should have a product which in the worst case is at least significantly better than earlier products and in the best case a game changer for your industry. For startups, you may not have enough time to go through multiple product failure launches so it’s essential to use the same learning at a micro level and incorporate the feedback cycle per project or feature. So the next time one of your launches/project/feature fail, dig deep and see what you can collect from the debris of that failure which can be used to have a positive impact on the next product
Parting shots- Stadia is definitely something that looks promising and exciting. If it works, it will impact Microsoft (Xbox), Amazon (Twitch), Apple(App store ), Netflix (competing for leisure time), AdTech (especially AdNetworks) and many more industries. That’s some serious impact! Of course, as always, the devil is in the details. Whether Stadia is able to overcome the latency problem, how is it going to be priced, do app developers adopt the platform and many more ifs and buts will decide if Stadia is going to be a hit or just another fad.
Exciting times ahead!