Google has updated the FAQ page for its upcoming Stadia cloud gaming service and it includes one notable tidbit of new information. The company says that, in the rare event a game publisher pulls Stadia support for a title, Stadia will continue to make the game available to those who’ve purchased the license to stream it, per 9to5Google.
“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,” the Stadia FAQ page reads. “Outside of unforeseen circumstances, Stadia will aim to keep any previously purchased title available for gameplay.”
It sounds like a rather specific scenario, but it’s certainly not a farfetched one. Stadia, and cloud gaming at large, is an unproven distribution model with unproven economics. It’s not yet clear how smart it is for publishers to put games onto Stadia, versus making those games available through any one of the numerous 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 decides cloud gaming isn’t something it’s interested in exploring. Or, in the 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 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’ve legitimately paid for and own in the event of a publisher fallout. Stadia is a cloud gaming service that streams the software from a remote server, so it’s reasonable to think access is tied to a publisher’s relationship with Google, rather than the more traditional reassurance of a disc or a digitally downloaded copy. And in some cases, like with PC game Star Origins: Control earlier this year and Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake back in 2017, games have been pulled from digital storefronts, usually over licensing and copyright issues. Do you really own a game if its streamed from a Google server?
To assuage all those fears, Google is effectively saying it won’t let something like that happen. Of course, Google is giving itself some wiggle room here with the phrase “unforeseen circumstances.” That 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’ll have to wait until the November launch of Stadia and see what unforeseen circumstances will force Google’s hand in this regard.