Google has said that its upcoming Stadia cloud gaming service will ensure that in the rare ‘unforeseen circumstances’ of a title publisher pulling support for a game on Stadia, Google will continue to make it available to those who purchased the license to stream it.
In case you are not aware, Stadia is a cloud gaming service from Google that is slated to be launched in November and will stream the gaming software directly from a remote server, saving you from having to buy a consolidated gamebox.
Once you purchase the game, you own the right to play it. In the future, it is possible that some games may no longer be available for new purchases, but existing players will still be able to play the game, says an FAQ page from Stadia.
It sounds like a rather specific scenario, but it is certainly not a farfetched one. Stadia, and cloud gaming at large, is an unproven distribution model with unproven economics. It is not yet clear how smart it is for publishers to put games onto Stadia, versus making those games available through one of the many subscription download models now popping up or just sticking with standard physical sales of discs and digital downloads.
There could be a situation in which a publisher decides to experiment with Stadia and later on decide cloud gaming is not worth it, or, in a more likely event, a competing cloud gaming provider, like Microsoft, could outbid Google for streaming exclusivity on a title that ultimately ends up forcing it off Stadia after its release.
Because Google is offering both standard version and a subscription model, called Stadia Pro, that bundles free games alongside direct full game purchases, that would mean customers might lose access to a product they have legitimately paid for and own in the event of a publisher fallout. To assuage all those fears, Google is effectively saying it will not let something like that happen.
However, the phrase ‘unforeseen circumstances’ in the Stadia FAQ could mean anything and cloud gaming’s distribution model leaves open the possibility that true ownership of a streamed software license becomes even more of a diluted concept, just as terms of service and user license agreements have diluted the concept of owning and having control of both digital and physical goods.
We will have to wait until the November launch of Stadia to know clearly what unforeseen circumstances will force Google’s hand in this regard.