You probably missed this piece of news in all the hype about the latest versions of the PlayStation and the Xbox going live over the last week, but Google Stadia passed an important milestone on November 19th. The innovative game streaming service is now one year old. It still doesn’t command the kind of market share that Google would have been hoping for after twelve months of operation, but nor has it been the total disaster that many gaming industry insiders speculated that it might be. Things looked bleak for Stadia six months after its launch, with low subscription numbers and a lack of games, but it’s spent the past half-year turning things around and getting a better foothold within the industry. Google now plans to push it harder in the twelve months ahead.
Part of the reason that the platform hasn’t attracted the kind of numbers that Google planned for has been Apple’s reluctance to make it available on the company’s devices. The whole point of Stadia (from Google’s point of view at least) is that it would be available to anybody who has a device with a screen and a fast internet connection. Apple blocked the road when they tried to upload the app into the company’s App Store. The company has consistently claimed that Stadia breaks App Store rules because it doesn’t allow Apple to verify the content of the games that it connects to, despite appearing to have no such reservations about its Apple Arcade platform. Now, one year into Stadia’s existence, a solution might finally have been found.
When Google originally devised Stadia, they saw it as a way for the public to engage with video games without the need for a console. Providing a customer had the internet and a suitable controller, they could play the latest big-name games via Stadia on their televisions, phones, tablets, and laptops, with no concerns about who made the hardware they used. The idea is similar to that which governs the way online slots websites operate. As you’ll know if you’re a fan of the hobby, you don’t need any special hardware in your home to play online slots. You don’t even need to have a laptop. You can play online slots through your phone if you wish, and these days you can even play them through your smart television. Google must have noticed how much money the online slots industry makes, and decided to get on board. Without Apple granting them access, though, they were missing out on millions of potential customers.
Apple hasn’t changed its App Store policy and, as of the time of writing, isn’t planning to allow Stadia to be listed in the App Store. It might take a court case – a court case of the kind that Epic Games and Spotify are currently engaged in with Apple, for example – before that happens. Instead, Google has found another route to bring the product to fans. They’re going to open up browser access and target the ‘Safari’ browser instead. In a few weeks’ time, Apple users will be able to connect to a web app version of Stadia through Safari – and there doesn’t appear to be anything that Apple can do to stop it from happening. The idea might not be their own, though. Microsoft recently came to the same conclusion about how to get around Apple’s restrictions and announced that its xCloud service would become available through Safari at some point in 2021. Microsoft announced the move before Google did, but it looks like Google will put the solution into practice long before Microsoft gets the chance to do so with its own rival streaming platform.
With Google opening up beta testing of the new service within the next few days, the floodgates may now be open to anybody who wants to find their way past Apple’s gatekeeper policies for its App Store. Shortly after the Google announcement, Nvidia confirmed that it was looking into the same strategy to bring the cloud-based GeForce Now gaming platform to Apple device owners. It’s not out of the question that Epic Games and Spotify might also decide that working through Safari is cheaper and more effective than dragging Apple through the legal system to persuade them to open the doors to the app store. This might be a watershed moment when it comes to Apple’s control over what can and can’t be downloaded or run on its hardware.
Apple has always insisted that its App Store policies are about fairness rather than a desire to create a monopoly. Although the company is yet to respond to these latest announcements, it’s unlikely that anyone within the company will be happy with the idea that rival companies will soon be sidestepping the app store to bring games and entertainment to players via other routes – not least because it theoretically cuts them out of the 15-30% spit they currently take from payments made via the App Store. It might prove to be the case that Apple moves to close this loophole as quickly as possible, although it’s difficult to see how they could do that without opening themselves up to fresh accusations of anti-competitive practices. If they look to cut Stadia off from Safari, they’re likely to find themselves with yet another lawsuit to answer.
The announcement can only be seen as good news for Stadia during a time when they’ve already got plenty of good news to share. Google will soon be announcing a new raft of ‘free to play’ games for the service, which will include “Destiny 2.” Until now, that game has only been available with a $10-per-month subscription. They also hope to add a further 40 games to their library before the end of 2020, although they haven’t given us any titles yet. That seems like an ambitious target with so little of the year left, but we presume that they wouldn’t have gone public with it if they weren’t confident they’d be able to back it up. A new wave of promotional activity is expected to accompany the launch of the long-awaited “Cyberpunk 2077,” starring Keanu Reeves, which is scheduled for release within the coming weeks. 2020 might not have been the year that most people elected to give Stadia a try, but with all these new developments, 2021 might be very different.