E3 Predictions 2019: Google

by Sage Ashford

It’s that time of the year again, as we’re roughly three weeks out from E3, the biggest gaming event of the year. Jam-packed with both reveals and new looks at highly-anticipated games, it’s difficult not to be curious about what exactly is appearing there.  With that said, over the next week, our “E3 Predictions” series will delve into a number of games we expect to be there, drawing from information we’ve seen elsewhere to make as many educated guesses about that week’s big days (Sunday through Tuesday) as possible.

We begin our predictions series with a look at Google and their Stadia project. Now let’s be clear: there’s no promise Google will be present during E3, or even during E3 week. (Which for gamers is functionally the same thing.) Literally everyone else has already made their plans for June 10th-15th plain, so perhaps Google is seeking to set themselves apart from tradition, and are aiming to appear in July, or even August.  But Google also has the power that comes with being a tech giant, in that they could announce a conference literally the week of, a day before their actual conference, and still get everyone they’re looking for.

In any case, for this particular E3 Prediction article, it’s more of a thought experiment more than it is a series of predictions. Nothing has leaked from Google’s camp, so it’s impossible for anyone to claim they know what’s coming. Instead, here I’d like to talk about what Stadia needs to BE a success.

Putting aside latency issues (a problem Google MUST solve), digital gaming has three big issues: the inability to “own” titles and play them after a server goes down, the high prices arbitrarily set by developers compared to physical media, the inability to lend digital games to friends. Now since I’ve still got files on my Gmail account dating back to 2003, server issues shouldn’t be as big a deal as they might be from other companies.  The other two problems won’t be as cleanly fixed, however.  It’s hard to see pricing issues being fixed at all, while the lending games thing will likely involve the Xbox One-esque, “shutting off access” until a friend’s done playing the title, something that’s sure to upset quite a few individuals but go over better than it did in 2013. Whatever they decide to do however, these are all issues Google must trouble-solve if they are to succeed.

Aside from all that, what they need the most is obvious: games. How serious Google is taken by gaming fans comes down to how serious they take themselves. Players need a reason to leave their PS4s and Xbox Ones, and showing existing games coming to existing systems? Won’t get the job done on its own.

If Google’s serious, they’ll need a 1st party that rivals Sony’s best from this generation, tapping into some of the widest audiences. In total fantasy, best case scenario situations, they need a game every quarter for the first year and a half.  Not because more games = better, but because more games = more people they can market to. If you don’t like the first major game, perhaps you’ll like one of the others they have coming.  Some of the games they probably want to look into…

– Their own multi-player shooter. The wave now is battle royale so they can lean into that, but it wouldn’t hurt to offer more classic modes like Capture the Zones, Team Deathmatch, and more.  It can be variations on these themes and modes a la Splatoon, but games like Call of Duty speak to too many people to ignore.

– Their own fighting game. When compared to other major genres, fighting games don’t exactly do gangbusters, but multi-player gamers (and specifically fighting game fans) are some of the most loyal and consistent gamers out there.  They buy new characters, new costumes, and they play hundreds, sometimes thousands of hours if the game is technically sound. You wanna boast about engagement metrics? You need these guys.

– A AAA open-world game. This will be both the easiest and the hardest thing to pull off. Single-player gamers are always craving that next hit–they beat a game and need something new within a few weeks. Latency issues won’t be as tough to deal with in this genre compared to multi-player titles, and this generation these have been some of the best selling games that generate the most excitement.

– A linear, cinematic TPS or FPS. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a shooter, but gamers love their set pieces. A smart director could find a way to finally give us that cinematic “non-violent” some game developers have been after for years, but it would need to have another form of engaging gameplay and a narrative that isn’t preachy or playing at being complex while possessing the depth of a 80s Saturday Morning Cartoon show.

– A DC or Marvel exclusive. For the modern era, superheroes have become much like the Westerns our parents and grandparents used to watch. We’re two decades deep into the cape boom and people are still invested–snag a major exclusive deal to develop a Captain America or Wonder Woman game, and boom. People will gripe about a game like this being exclusive, but they’ll still come to see what the fuss is about.

Granted, if they’re looking for people to switch from their current consoles to making the Stadia their main home, original games isn’t the only thing they need.  They’ll still need to perform their due diligence as a console developer, ensuring the major 3rd party titles are available for their system: Rocket League, GTA, Fortnite, PUBG, and so on.

Reading all that, suddenly a very valid question comes to mind: is this really what Google wants?  People can try to say none of this is necessary, but anything less than this and they’ll be a DISTANT fourth option. And “this” is a huge ask, requiring millions upon millions of dollars as an investment.

It seems extreme, but here’s the cold, hard truth: Google is on the back foot, working in an industry where the youngest console publisher has nearly 20 years of experience servicing their audience. And all of them leveled up this generation: Sony has garnered a reputation for creating critically acclaimed, best-selling video games featuring a mix of new and old IP. Nintendo, with the creation of the Switch, has been able to combine their portable and console development studios and allow them all to work on a single system. And Microsoft recently acquired six new studios and is rumored to be buying more, bolstering their overall first party studios to over a dozen. This is an industry that’s fast becoming closed off to other tech giants, and simply being “Google” may not be enough.

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