One of my favorite things about Google is the way they enter new markets. They always show up unexpectedly, and in brilliant ways nobody could possibly predict. I don’t know for sure, but I think this is a direct result of their 20% policy: that their employees are given one work day a week to spend on personal projects. From what I understand services like Gmail and Google Docs started out as these kinds of projects.
Regardless of what causes this phenomenon, it’s clear that Google consistently approaches their competition from imaginative angles, usually with positive results.
Look at Google Chrome as a case study: Google decides they want to make their own browser to compete with Firefox/Explorer/etc (for whatever reason), and immediately begins deconstructing “browser tropes.” They examine everything that their competitors have taken for granted, and develop innovative ways to address old problems. Judging by it’s reception, Chrome’s gambits have successfully captured the public’s imagination.
As far as I was concerned Chrome had been a success. Google had made their mark on the browser scene, and I figured the Chromebook was a good indication of where they were planning to go with it in the future. When the Chrome app store was announced I honestly didn’t pay any attention; it seemed like an isolated incident of the “store creep” that’s been infecting most major platforms recently.
Then Bastion was released.
This got my attention immediately! What the hell? True, Chrome had games from day one of the app store with Angry Birds…but everything runs Angry Birds, it was hardly surprising that Rovio would launch into what was bound to be a popular new storefront. I follow Greg Kasavin quite closely and hadn’t heard any announcement about Supergiant working on a Chrome version of their game, and it seemed like a weird thing to do anyway considering Bastion had come out on Steam fairly recently.
So I dug a little deeper, and learned that Google had played a major role in getting Bastion onto the service, possibly even programming some of it themselves. They had specifically selected Bastion as the flagship for what their app store was capable of.
But what was it capable of? I kept looking, and found out that games developed for the Chrome app store are platform agnostic: because they run within the browser, they can run equally well on Windows, OS X, or Linux. Releasing on Chrome had eliminated the need for developing seperate versions of the game for each operating system. And even though Bastion didn’t have it at launch, Google had recently added “gamepad support” to Chrome, meaning that you could plug a game controller into your computer and play app store games that way.
Google has a history of finding innovative and unexpected ways to compete in new markets, and I think that is precisely what is happening here.
Everyone has been so distracted by EA releasing Origin that they’ve completely missed the threat that Chrome presents to Steam. At the end of the day Steam has more games and Valve has more goodwill than Origin and EA do, but you’d be hardpressed to find a more popular company than Google. What if Google has decided to compete with Valve, and set Chrome up to be a competing service to Steam? Obviously they have a long way to go before people abandon all their Steam library, but you can’t deny the exciting possibility that Chrome’s universal platform presents to developers, especially independants.
Time will tell if Chrome really is all the things it appears to be, but if I were Valve I would have my eyes on Google’s every move. As a gamer I’m just excited to see more competition.
(photo credit: Aray Chen)