Google still puts on a strong face, but all the news coming from the company’s Stadia gaming division is disheartening. Stadia’s sluggish acquisition of new games has led to similarly stagnant subscriber numbers, but Google might have a secret weapon to boost adoption: Windows. There are hints that Google could unveil a Windows compatibility layer for Stadia at its upcoming Dev Summit, which could make it a snap to port games to Stadia.
Like other cloud gaming platforms, Stadia does all the heavy lifting on the server side. Video of the game being played is streamed to players after it is rendered, and their control inputs are sent back to the cloud. Google’s powerful server hardware runs Linux, and most games run on Windows. If a game lacks native Linux support, developers need to do a little work to port it. Even a little work might be too much when Google is reportedly focused more on licensing Stadia than building out the consumer-facing service.
The Google for Games Developer Summit will kick off on March 15th, and Redditors spotted an interesting session called “How to write a Windows emulator for Linux from scratch.” The description says the session will explain Google’s solution for running unmodified Windows games on Stadia. It has not publicly announced any such system, but this could be a major step forward for Stadia that would benefit both the consumer and enterprise sides of the business.
While Google’s session description calls this unannounced tech an “emulator,” it probably means “compatibility layer.” Emulating Windows would make performance lag, which is the last thing you want when already dealing with the latency of streaming over the internet. A compatibility layer, like the Proton layer Valve uses on the Steam Deck, maps APIs from one platform to another.
Players routinely cite Stadia’s lacking game catalog as its biggest problem. Google came out of the gate with a good selection of titles, including Red Dead Redemption 2, Destiny 2, and several Assassin’s Creed titles. In the past two years, almost all AAA releases have bypassed Stadia, and Google closed its game studio less than a year after it was opened, nixing any possibility of first-party titles. Reducing friction for devs to move games to Stadia is probably the only way Google will ever build a decent selection of games. We hope to hear more when the Dev Summit kicks off next week.