Google Stadia officially shut down on January 18, but the company did its best to make the cloud gaming app’s demise as dignified as possible. It refunded every game purchase and updated the Stadia Controller firmware so you can use it on other platforms.
The question is whether this last-minute image rehabilitation will help Google Play Games for PC, the new gaming app that will allow you to play optimized Android games on your computer. Or is the deck already stacked against Google’s latest gaming efforts before it even leaves beta?
Currently, the Google Play Games app is available in 17 countries including the United States as of November. It has around 60 Android games in its library and requires a Windows 10 or 11 PC with 8GB of RAM, 4 CPU cores and at least 10GB of storage space. Also, you need to go into your computer’s BIOS and enable hardware virtualization to allow Google to recreate an Android virtual environment on your PC.
The advantage of Google Play Games is obvious: you play your favorite mobile games on the go during the day, then come home and enjoy the same games on a much larger screen with more precise keyboard and mouse control, with your saved data intact. It’s a cool concept, and when I tested the beta app for myself, it was clear that Google made an effort to ensure these apps perform well, with a great keyboard layout for apps that were originally designed to be touch-only were.
The question is how many players and developers will buy in.
Of the 60+ Android games on the platform, only Asphalt 9: Legends makes our long list of the best Android games – not counting Genshin Impact, which is “on” Google Play Games, just links to the Windows version. Here we can see a reflection of Stadia’s early days, when its indie-heavy library didn’t have enough impact to garner much public interest.
Without Marvel Snap, Call of Duty: Mobile, Subway Surfers, and all the other “top chart” Android games, Google Play Games will struggle to capture mainstream attention. You may find this an unfair statement as the app is still in beta. But major developers have a solid reason not to play ball with Google, aside from how it screwed up partnered Stadia developers when it unexpectedly shut down the service.
Simply put, many popular mobile apps have either desktop ports or related franchise titles on PC, and Google Play Games could cannibalize sales or downloads if gamers can access free mobile versions on their PCs. For example, Innersloth doesn’t want Among Us Mobile to distract from Among Us on Steam. Apex Legends has slower Legends unlocks than Apex Legends Mobile, so PC players could trade up one for the other. Even Call of Duty: Mobile could steal the attention from Warzone despite their significant differences in graphics and gameplay.
In theory, Google would want to make all of its hundreds of Play Pass games compatible with Google Play Games. In practice, many of our favorites also have console or PC versions, which the mobile port could undercut.
Stadia may not have had the widespread success that Google was hoping for, but a key reason for its success was its simplicity: you simply opened a browser on your phone, PC, or TV, clicked a play button, and got immersed. Google Play Games is just a little more inconvenient, but that makes a difference.
Hardcore PC gamers may scoff, but I guarantee many regular people will encounter the pop-up asking them to hardware virtualize before opening the app, and then just…give up. And for those looking up how to activate it (opens in new tab)then they have to download each game they want to try.
Google Play Games should will appeal to those who are already using the Bluestacks emulation for Android on PC but want a more official version. The problem here is that Bluestacks 5 supports two million Android games since it doesn’t care about the same level of PC optimization that Google is pushing. Going down from a full Android library to just 60 is a huge challenge for these users, although (IMO) Google Play Games is way better!
I’m no expert on how much it costs to run this new app, or exactly how Google intends to monetize it. Will there be a Stadia Pro-like subscription or will Play Pass be required to use it? Or is Google simply hoping that a free GPG app will encourage more PC gamers to buy Android games regularly and steal customers from Steam and Epic Games?
Be that as it may, we know that Google projects tend to get on a short leash. Before Stadia died, Google killed Stadia G&E, its original game development studio, just about 1.5 years after launch – well before it had any reasonable time to release new games and recoup its investment. Google spent obscene amounts of money to get big games like Cyberpunk 2077 and RDR 2 on Stadia, then shut down Stadia when not enough people were buying them.
Google Play Games could be in a similar Catch 22 situation because, barring internal numbers from Google suggesting otherwise, there hasn’t been much fuss about the Google Play Games app since it launched in November. It needs bigger-name Android apps to give gamers more reasons to buy, but Google may need to incentivize those developers to join the platform and adapt their apps for PC – which will create more internal pressure to create one quickly to achieve returns.
We’ll have to wait and see how Google Play Games for PC expands its library over time. Smaller Android developers may see this as an opportunity to expand their audience to include PC gamers without requiring the PC development resources. Whether Google Play Games can last longer than Stadia given the infamous Killed by Google legacy is another question I can only hope gets an affirmative answer.