Wednesday, April 14, 2021

How Google’s grand plan to do away with Stadia games

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Eventually, the teams at Stadia Games and Entertainment got the software and people they needed to gain momentum in prototyping Stadia games. The allure of a Google-sized paycheck and crunch-fueled hamster wheel exit ramp was enough to attract a critical mass of developers to Stadia Games and Entertainment. Artists, producers, audio experts, programmers had been hired with the promise of creating unique games for revolutionary software – and, many believed, without the threat of layoffs hanging like the sword of Damocles, like this. is also often the case in traditional game companies. The teams were exploring what Google games could look like, how to make the most of the power of Google’s massive data centers, and to present cloud gaming. Then Covid-19 struck.

In April 2020, a month after the Los Angeles studio’s announcement, Google implemented a hiring freeze. “Now is the time to significantly slow the pace of recruiting,” Pichai said in an internal post, “while maintaining momentum in a small number of strategic areas where users and businesses rely on Google for continued support, and where our growth is essential. to their success. Gambling, according to four sources, was not one of these “strategic areas”.

“If the company agreed to put us on a hiring freeze, it was also okay with hurting our ability to create content,” says a source. “The studio was not yet fully formed and ready to produce games. It put the brakes on and that was a statement. We interpreted it as a lack of commitment on the part of Google to create content. “

Google is not the first tech giant to face these challenges. Amazon has followed a similar arc. In 2020, WIRED investigation the enormous challenges that Jeff Bezos’ empire faced in producing exclusive games in his Amazon Game Studios. Like Google, Amazon hired the best of the best: trusted developers like Far cry 2Clint Hocking, System shock 2is Ian Vogel, EverQuestis John Smedley, and PortalKim Swift, many of whom were excited about the stability and relatively higher paychecks associated with the tech giant. According to multiple sources, Amazon’s goal was to build a billion-dollar franchise that would help promote the company’s cloud technology, the proprietary game engine, and the Twitch streaming service.

The approach, according to the sources, was hubristic. Amazon wanted to “win at the games” by developing multiple AAA games simultaneously despite its non-existent track record in the industry. Mike Frazzini, director of Amazon Game Studios, has no previous professional gaming experience. High expectations combined with the idiosyncrasies of Amazon – an obsession with internal software, for example, and a fixation on measuring success with data – has led to failure after failure. Amazon has canceled at least three of its games: Project Nova, Break away, and Crucible, the last of which was canceled just five months after its release.

AAA game development can cost between 100 and 200 million dollars. Achievements like those of Blizzard Overwatch come from the ashes of chess, like the company’s scrapped massively multiplayer online role-playing game Titan. Product design at big tech companies isn’t always straightforward, but game design is a resource and money hungry maze.

“I think it’s a lack of understanding of the process,” says a source who works at Stadia. “It seemed like there were senior executives who didn’t fully understand how to navigate a highly creative and interdisciplinary space.”

Throughout Google’s hiring freeze, game developers have felt unable to meet their goals. Prototypes were being developed without full resources; the studios were not operating at full capacity. When the time for performance review came, according to three sources, Google judged game developers against benchmarks created for UX or visual designers. There is no number associated with “fun to play” or a process-based workflow for generating creativity. Veteran game developers lobbied for their work culture as much as they could. Over time, Google seemed to soften up. Developers got the tools they needed, the right review processes. But not the workforce. The frustration persisted.

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