It Took Way Too Long for a Game to Take Advantage of Stadia’s Killer Feature

Close-up detail of the D-pad and analogue control stick on a Google Stadia video game controller with a Night Blue finish. Photo: Olly Curtis/Future Publishing/Getty Images

On July 1, Crayta, a game that allows people to collaborate on making other games, exclusively launched on Google Stadia. It brought with it the first beta of the platform’s State Share feature. First announced in March 2019, State Share promised to let players link out to an exact moment in gameplay for others to click on and interact with themselves; the moment when a fully decked-out character approaches a climactic boss fight after hours of questing, for example. It’s the kind of power that’s so far been reserved for save states in emulators and game modders.

Crayta’s implementation of the feature, however, doesn’t live up to this promise. And while the developers may be doing the best they can with the feature as it exists today, it highlights how far Google has to go to deliver on the lofty promises of Stadia.

The term “State Share” isn’t terribly descriptive, but players are intuitively familiar with the concept of game states, even if they don’t use the term. For example, in Skyrim, a player is able to arbitrarily save wherever they’d like (as opposed to at designated save points). Health, position, completed quests, whether certain NPCs are alive or dead, and countless other variables collectively make up a game’s “state,” which can be written to a save file. If a player chooses to quicksave, kill everyone in Whiterun, and then reload, the game has everything it needs to restore things to the way they were. It’s like a more complex version of taking a photo of a chess board to remember where the pieces are.

Skyrim players have long since figured out how to share their game save files to create a complicated version of what State Share attempts to accomplish. Entire communities exist to trade save files in various states from simple saves that skip opening cutscenes or tutorial levels, to challenges where players are already wanted criminals as soon as they start. What State Share does is make this process accessible. According to Google’s announcement of the feature, developers can encode state data into a link that can be shared anywhere. Since Stadia games run in the cloud, there’s no need to copy files from one system to another. Just click a link and go directly to the exact point in a game that someone else shared.

The promise for this feature was that it would allow streamers to share specific moments from a game with their audience, enable speedrunners to challenge each other with preset scenarios, or just allow players to pass their game saves back and forth.

After more than a year since that announcement, Crayta’s implementation of the feature is nowhere near that powerful.

Photos courtesy of Unit 2 Games.

Crayta is an odd game to begin with. It’s a mini game creation engine in the style of Roblox, with Fortnite-style character models and a vaguely Minecraft design sense. Players can hop into user-created mini games, many of which are currently replicas of existing games like Prop Hunt or Overcooked. However, the game comes with a powerful editor that’s aimed less at kids who want to build their own Minecraft-style world, and more at adults who want to create their own nightmare games.

The game introduces an early version of State Share to Stadia for the first time as a beta feature, though it’s unclear what “beta” means in this context, and Google declined to comment. Crayta’s implementation uses it as a slightly improved share code system. Games like Mario Maker provide short, randomized codes that players can pass around to find a specific level. Crayta can similarly share codes to individual minigames or world instances, but State Share allows these codes to also be shared as URLs.

I playtested the game with a few friends and tried to use State Share links as much as possible. After everyone got over the hurdle of creating a Stadia account (which still requires signing up for a Stadia Pro free trial and entering payment information), I was able to send them a link to the game instance I had set up to play around with the editor.

While the link worked, it merely sends other players to the game world the way it is now, not the way it was when I created the share code. It was a slightly quicker way to jump into a game for someone who wasn’t already playing, but that’s about it.

The feature got messier when we tried to jump from one minigame to another. In theory, State Share links should allow players to jump from one minigame instance in Crayta to another, but in practice the links opened new Stadia tabs right where we already were. If I was in the main hub world, and a friend sent me a link to the minigame they were playing, I would click the link and a second Stadia tab would open, still in the hub world. Once you’re in Crayta, it’s quicker to manually type in a share code, which isn’t any different from how existing games like Mario Maker already work.

Crayta’s developers described State Share as “[wrapped] around” their existing Share Codes, and it’s hard to tell whether the clunkiness of the feature is due to Crayta’s implementation or limitations on Google’s part. What is clear is that it’s a far cry from what Google promised when it announced Stadia over a year ago.

Of course, Crayta might not need the powerful state sharing that Google showed off in 2019, but plenty of other games could certainly benefit. Yet the feature is either unavailable to other developers, or the platform as a whole isn’t attractive enough to justify the time it would take to add the feature, no matter how powerful it could be.

That it’s taken Google this long to roll out State Share is a bit like if the original iPhone launched without a multitouch screen. The core feature of Stadia — the ability to stream games online — technically works, but it’s missing key features that would make it stand out against competing gaming platforms. Developers can’t build games that take advantage of Stadia’s potential if Google takes months or years to release those features.

Since Stadia’s launch, it’s been increasingly clear that Google is playing a long game, hoping that players will eventually forgive its early rough launch if it can offer a more compelling platform for the future. Features like State Share are key to earning that forgiveness. Cloud gaming platforms like Stadia may have potential for new gaming use cases that consoles and PCs can’t achieve, but a link that makes it slightly easier to enter a minigame, once, and only if you’re not already in another minigame, doesn’t feel like a very effective use of that potential.

Eric Ravenscraft is a freelance writer from Atlanta covering tech, media, and geek culture for Medium, The New York Times, and more.

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