March 29, 2019

Google has unveiled “the future of gaming.” Last week, Google announced its new streaming game service, Stadia. Touted as the “game platform for everyone,” Stadia allows you to instantly play games in 4K resolution on a phone, tablet, PC, or TV by clicking on a link on YouTube and connecting a dedicated Stadia controller.

The big thing here is that Stadia offers “instant access to play,” the same way that other streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify give consumers instant access to movies, television, and music. In a break from a history of videogames that’s been tied to a physical device, Stadia’s slogan says it all: “The future of gaming is not a box.”

Stadia represents a huge shift in how we think of gaming cultureBrands shouldn’t sleep on this: Stadia is venturing into new territory by expanding the definition of who counts as part of the “gamer” audience. In the past, you would need a gaming PC or game console to play such titles, but Stadia is an assertive move away from these physical devices.

For many gamers, your identity was defined by your hardware—Nintendo vs. Sega, Microsoft vs. Playstation, PC gaming vs. everyone. Remember the classic Sega campaign “Genesis does what Nintendon’t?” The competition amongst some of these companies has been so fierce, it’s even inspired a nonfiction novel that will become a limited time series, Console Wars, produced by Seth Rogen.

The next wave is on the horizon. As a new type of gamer emerges, it’s more than likely that you’ll have more of them in your audience than you initially thought. In fact, who currently plays videogames may surprise you. Sure, young men make up a big chunk of this category, but about four in 10 women and roughly a quarter of Americans ages 65 and older also say they play videogames at least sometimes, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey.

Google is already one of the largest players in the world of games—but their audience doesn’t necessarily identify as “gamers.” According to a recent report, more than half of American smartphone owners (55 percent) play mobile games to pass the time, yet the majority of them don’t identify as “gamers.” While Stadia may not change how mobile players define themselves, it will widen the net as mobile games did.

Google’s marketing is a tell. Google’s mission statement has always been focused on universal access to information. The Stadia announcement trailer aligns with this branding, emphasizing that the platform will be the “one place for all the ways we play.” In the video, Google ties the lineage of Stadia to the meaning of play itself—something that has been bringing people together since the beginning of time. It sounds lofty, but it situates Stadia in a larger context of human activity. Play is something we’ve always done.

There’s one notable omission: Featuring a diverse cast, the trailer also makes a statement about who Stadia is for—everyone. Also, note who wasn’t included: Pewdiepie, arguably the biggest entertainer on the planet and definitely the most popular personality on YouTube. Instead of featuring YouTube’s hugest (and controversial) star, Stadia opted to spotlight YouTuber MatPat and his enthusiasm for Stadia. With 11 million subscribers, he’s not at the same level of top gaming YouTube stars, but his Game Theorists channel “edutains” people about gaming and is in line with Google’s themes of universality and access. During the announcement, games took more of a backseat as MatPat spent most of his time on stage talking about how the platform fosters more engagement, access, and connection between YouTube streamers and their audience.

Cloud gaming isn’t new. Here are some of the other game streaming services Google is up against: The companies playing the space are massive: PlayStation NowNvidia’s GeForce Now, and Microsoft Project xCloud (also keep an eye on Amazon). Apple also just recently released several new services, including the gaming subscription Apple Arcade that will offer more than 100 exclusive titles commissioned and funded by Apple. However, Stadia is unique in how it removes the barrier of expensive hardware required to play big-budget games and allows people to try them out with little commitment and investment.

Gamers will be divided by taste, not technology. When you compare these divisions to other media, you can see how old school this paradigm seems. Cinephiles don’t define themselves by the type of DVD player they have. Even when it comes to streaming entertainment, people don’t define themselves by Netflix or Hulu but more by taste.

Cloud gaming will likely prove that taste will transcend other demographic factors such as your location, gender, or age when it comes to predicting what type of content players will enjoy. Netflix learned this lesson a few years ago, opting to divide its millions of users into “taste communities” rather than countries. Such clusters make recommendations based on subtle connections between niche categories. For example, if you enjoy both home improvement shows and foreign documentaries, Netflix looks for your “taste doppelgangers”around the globe. Maybe your gaming twin is out there waiting to share their next multiplayer adventure with you.

Your instant access insight: As the gaming audience expands, so will your brand’s. If you’re not doing anything with games currently, you may not think of gamers as part of your audience. But as Stadia and other cloud gaming services take off, there’s no doubt that they will be (if they aren’t already). If you’re in the gaming space, your audience will become more and more diverse, not limited to who you may think of as a “conventional” gamer. There are lots of opportunities for brands inside and outside of gaming—you just have to research and recognize it.

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