Google announced earlier this year that it was shutting down its game streaming service, Stadia. The service had only been up and running for three years since it was launched in 2018. Most of the people affected by the shutdown are fans of the service. However, there are a few developers whose games are only available on Stadia and will lose them when the service shuts down for good in January. Q-Games, which made PixelJunk Raiders, is one of them. The Verge talked to Dylan Cuthbert, the founder and CEO of Q-Games. He explained that Q-Games is in a unique situation where it is trying to get its exclusive game off Stadia’s sinking ship and onto a safe place where people can play it.
PixelJunk Raiders is a roguelike game about exploring space. It takes advantage of Stadia’s unique “state share” feature, which lets people share copies of their game that other players can jump into and play.
Cuthbert said that before Raiders was made, Google was showing Stadia to developers. Immediately, he liked the idea of players being able to share their game experiences with others. Cuthbert said, “We built a game around these basic ideas, which was a fun design challenge.”
As work on Raiders went on, Cuthbert wanted his team to flesh out more ideas they had for the game, which took more time. But about six months before Raiders came out, he started to worry that Stadia might have problems.
“Even though we wanted to improve the game more, [our Stadia representative] said, ‘No, you should really ship it, or maybe it won’t get shipped,'” Cuthbert said.
Raiders came out in March 2021, but it didn’t get excellent reviews. By then, Google had already closed the Jade Raymond-led studio it had set up to make its games for the service.
Cuthbert said, “I think the signs were there.”
Surprisingly, this is not the first time Cuthbert has had to save one of his games. The Tomorrow Children was made by Q-Games and came out in 2017. It is an adventure game with a unique voxel-based art style. Sony shut down the free-to-play game six months after it came out because it wasn’t making enough money to pay for its servers.
“Even though we had a lot of fans and users, we didn’t want to take advantage of them,” Cuthbert said. “It was hard to build up a base income, so Sony shut it down.”
The sudden end of The Tomorrow Children upset Cuthbert, Q-Games, and the game’s many fans.
“We turned it off in 2017,” Cuthbert said, “but fans kept posting about the game and talking about it.” “Every day, screenshots of the game were posted on Twitter, even though it was no longer available to play.”
Cuthbert’s passionate love for the game led him to try to bring it back to life, which involved a complicated dance with Sony’s licencing department.
“So I said, ‘Well, if you give me the IP back, I’ll fix the game so it doesn’t cost anything to run,'” Cuthbert said about his talks with Sony to get it to give Q-Games the IP rights to The Tomorrow Children.
“I’ll rerelease the game for the fans, and I’ll even make it better for the PlayStation 5.”
Before Sony could say yes, though, Cuthbert had to find the people who owned the rights to the tools used to make The Tomorrow Children, as well as the voice actors and music directors, and ask them for permission to re-release the game.
“Getting the permissions took about a year. Some of the people were hard to find because the companies they worked for were no longer in business.
But after Cuthbert collected information the old-fashioned way—by walking around and talking to people—he finally had everything he needed to re-release The Tomorrow Children, which Q-Games did earlier this year. Fans still love it as much as they did in 2017. “The support has been incredibly good. Everyone is crazy. “I mean, in a good way,” Cuthbert laughs.
Cuthbert hopes that he can help PixelJunk Raiders meet the same fate. When asked how Q-Games plans to port a game that seems to depend on a feature that is only available on Stadia, Cuthbert seemed sure that it would be a simple technical fix.
So, I think the state share system can be copied, he said. “Obviously, you couldn’t jump in from videos and stuff, but that wasn’t as important at the end of development, so I think that’s fine.”
Cuthbert does think that he might have problems with Google. Cuthbert said that one thing he learned from the trouble he had re-releasing The Tomorrow Children was to hold on to the IP rights to his games as much as possible. Even though he owns the rights to PixelJunk Raiders, he says that the contract he signed with Google makes it too expensive to put the game on other platforms.
“I think the signs were all there.”
“The main idea within the company is that if we can find the money, we’ll take the game and fix it up so that it’s more like what we had in mind,” he said. “We were able to get an addendum added to our contract so that we could maybe release on other platforms, but the royalty on that addendum was just too high to make it possible.”
Cuthbert’s plan is to find a publishing partner who can help with the costs of making the game and getting the word out about it. But before that can happen, he needs someone at Stadia to help him renegotiate his contract. Publishers won’t want to get involved if Q-Games has to pay a high royalty to Google in order for this game to be published somewhere else, even though the platform where it is now won’t exist in less than 28 days.
So, Raiders is in limbo for now.
Cuthbert said, “There’s one guy there who seems to be trying to get things done.” “He just told me that he’s working on it in a message. So be patient. But I’m not sure how much longer we have to wait.”
“I’m not sure how much longer we have to wait.”
Cuthbert is proud of what he did with Stadia, even though it seems like Raiders is about to disappear like Thanos’ snap. And that, if Stadia had used all of its potentials, it might have been able to solve the problem of keeping older games alive. “You could have a system where you could just watch a ’80s game on YouTube and play it with your mom. And it would just be there. No browser would have to do anything. So, the most exciting thing about Stadia was that it could make it easier for people to play games.
One problem with preserving video games is that hardware breaks down over time and that the industry goes through big jumps in technology every seven to eight years. Cuthbert’s vision for Stadia is an ecosystem in which all of the old game technologies are saved and kept in the cloud as emulators that people could play with the click of a button.
“I think if we’re serious about keeping games from the 1970s, 1980s, or even from the beginning, we need to. We need something like that. He said. “We can’t count on people to buy cheap plastic replicas in a box.” (It’s funny that one of Cuthbert’s own games was released on a “cheap plastic emulator in a box,” since he worked on StarFox 2, which was canceled for 20 years before Nintendo released it on the SNES Classic.)
But Cuthbert needs to Google PixelJunk Raiders before he can get the online emulator service he wants so he can play Smuggler’s Run.
Cuthbert said, “I’m just going to wait and see what happens.” “I’m kind of counting on them to come back and say, ‘Okay, here you go. You can take it from here.'”
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