Because Google’s cloud gaming platform is most often played with a gamepad, and most often on a laptop, desktop, or television, it simply seemed like a convenience that it originally created a touch gamepad feature a while back. Now, with the potential of Stadia launching a full-on touchscreen gameplay feature, I couldn’t help but ask myself what purpose it could possibly serve. Think about it – most games it hosts are currently not even built around touch-only input and most games that are released for Stadia probably won’t be as they are primarily console ports and AAA titles.
Laying the groundwork
Would Google really invest all of that time into developing a technology for cute, casual games that would benefit from touchscreen gameplay? It is Google, so it’s possible as its employees are known for their famous 20% time side projects becoming full-blown features and core services, but probably not. No, though it may be completely speculative and off the wall, I think there could be a larger plan here.
If you recall, a game called Reigns was released for Stadia in December of this past year, and my immediate realization was – “what is a mobile game doing on Stadia?” While not exclusively a mobile title, as it’s also appeared on other platforms like Steam and such – all non-touch native operating systems, it’s best known to me as a game I first discovered and fell in love with on my Pixel phone. That’s right, Reigns is a long-time resident on the Google Play Store – moreover, it’s a part of Google’s own Play Pass subscription!
The game’s move over to Stadia was a rather odd choice, but likely not unexpected. Its publisher is Digital Devolver – a popular indie in its space that’s also uploaded several other games to the platform over the past year – Serious Sam 4/Collection, Carrion, Enter the Gungeon, the latest – Pikuniku – Hotline Miami 1 and 2. So, while I could just be way off the mark here, let’s not forget that a fully touchscreen capable method of playing Stadia games may actually be in the works.
What touchscreen gameplay could be used for
So, with all of that said, let’s speculate a bit on some of the reasons why Google would even want to create support for touchscreen gameplay in the first place. If it’s not already obvious, the best use case for this would be Android Games. With the inclusion of Reigns on the platform – a prominent Android game, it’s not inconceivable to think that more games like it that are best suited for touch gameplay could join it. Think about it – there are already several games on the Stadia store that could be tested with this feature – Monopoly, Pikuniku, Football Manager 2020, Uno – fill in the blank – any game that doesn’t require twitch responses from the player like tactical decision-making games and casual titles. It’s obvious that games that already have been built for touch controls would be better suited for this, but I believe we could see new games take advantage of it as well.
Not only that but just because many titles are not yet prepped to use touchscreen gameplay, doesn’t mean that new titles won’t be ported to Stadia from mobile. The most obvious use case for this would be Google Play Pass. Imagine this for a second – Google states that they will attempt to cloud stream a few of the titles offered with your Play Pass subscription, and in order to play them, you must sign up. I don’t think you’d be relegated to streaming the game at first or at all – I believe they would offer an option to download it to your device as well. Then, I could see them leaning into this model for games on Android as time goes on. I don’t feel that cloud streaming is at a place where it can become the standard, and probably won’t for many years, but I do believe that the company could begin playing with the idea.
The current state of Google Play games
If you think about the state of games on Android and even on Chromebooks, they feel limited. They truly are in a weird place. Where Stadia is far more capable of delivering high-quality gaming on any device, Android games are packaged, downloaded locally, and built for the limitations of the devices. In a world where all of the other media we consume is digital and streamed – music, movies, tv shows, books, even – games are the only media that’s still largely run locally and Stadia was built to solve that problem. I don’t think it’s impractical to think Google is considering how it can use this technology to solve the problem of Android games – the oddball out the Google Play Store.
If they can pull this off, or even if they have a desire to, they could move on from solutions like ARCVM-R via app virtualization – something that was recently brought to Chromebooks with Android 11, and the recently discovered Gaming Mode. Actually, I think that these solutions could be provided in parallel with Stadia streaming of Android games – especially for areas with weaker internet access. Besides, it’s not like Google is ever just working on a single solution per problem, right?
The Future of the Play Store and the “Chrome Phone”
Let me propose a wild idea – I believe that Google could one day completely kill off its ‘Play’ branding. In fact, I think that it may also completely kill off its Play Store. Google Play Games are the only thing holding them back from doing so. If you think about the state of the aforementioned media types – music (Youtube TV), movies and tv (Google TV), books (Google Play Books), extensions, themes, and web apps (Chrome Web Store), they’re all completely virtualized. As I previously said, games are the only thing that are not. It’s not like the company will kill off Play games entirely though – they’re super valuable to millions and have taken on a life of their own.
Though a controversial stance, I do think though that the future of games is digital. If Google can work toward a digital-only or digital-focused solution for its fun, casual mobile games, then two things could happen – one, we could be moving closer to the idea of a “Chrome Phone”, and two, Google could completely kill off the Play Store in favor of its Google Store. Imagine all of your books, movies, tv shows, games, extensions, themes, and web apps all being housed in the same place as where you buy Google’s hardware devices. Not only do I think it’s a fantastic idea – I think it makes a whole lot more sense.
For new Chromebook and Android phone owners, it would be a lot easier to remember “Google Store” than it is “Google Play”, even though Play has been around for years. Housing everything in one place would benefit the company’s new user onboarding and even its marketing strategy. Apple built its App Store into its main website years ago, so I can definitely see this being the end game. This way, whether you have an Android phone, a “Chrome Phone”, a Chromebook, or any other operating system, you could visit one singular, well-named store for all of your needs.
Wrapping up, we already see the death of the Play Store branding in full force – Google Play Music is no more, Google Play Movies and TV is now just Google TV, and productivity apps on the store are beginning to be completely replaced by web applications. Mobile games are the outlier, and though they’re still awesome and useful, Stadia is the hot, new, place to play.
The addition of full-on touchscreen gameplay capability potentially being added to the Stadia app could be a subtle hint at what the future holds for Android games, or it could simply be a ridiculous tease created in a Googler’s spare time. Either way, I thought it would be fun to speculate on the possibilities. Maybe I’m years ahead of myself on this, but I do think it’s viable – what do you think?