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How Google's gaming platform could forever change e-commerce

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Just as Amazon Go is changing the way people think about retail checkout, Google's ambitious new gaming platform, Stadia, could fundamentally change the way people make purchases online.

During Google's hourlong presentation at this year's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, executives outlined a massive, cloud-based project for hosting high-end games and streaming them to any device — from the tiniest mobile phone to the biggest flat-screen TV — without requiring the user to buy new hardware. Perhaps the biggest innovation is how Google removes the storefront.

While Stadia will have an app and website, neither will be the focus of the experience. To play a new game, users just click a link and the full game opens in their browser. Whether Google sells games via subscription or a la carte, the message is clear: whatever money is exchanged happens invisibly, without even a bare-bones checkout process.

The idea that this is "Amazon Go for the internet" seems backward, but that's what this is — a new retail concept, designed from the ground up with extensive technology behind the scenes, to remove the friction of checkout.

Behind Harrison, several examples made this clear: "Play now" links on Twitter, Discord, Google Play, Facebook, Reddit and email take users directly to the content. YouTube personalities can even link to specific points in the game to challenge their followers to a match, or just to sell another copy of the game they're playing.

"Gamers are going to be able to find, discover and enjoy your games anywhere they are, and easily share them with their friends," Phil Harrison, vice president of Google LLC, said in his GDC presentation.

The idea is similar in concept to the card networks' planned "buy button," which would use EMVCo standards to create a consistent and secure online and mobile shopping experience. But where Visa and Mastercard ran into immediate opposition from retailers, Google hopes to instead launch with the support of the game development community — hence, its decision to announce Stadia at GDC (an industrywide event) and not at Google I/O, its own annual developers conference.

Stadia is still in development, and there is likely more to its sales process than what Google revealed in its keynote. Obviously there will have to be a payment at some point, just as there is in other frictionless environments like Uber and Amazon Go. But the point of the project is clear: Google wants to blur the line between talking about a product and buying it.

Gaming is conducive to this model because it is inherently social and already woven into the DNA of Google's YouTube platform. If Google can deliver on its vision of a frictionless experience for sharing games, it could adapt the Stadia model to anything else it wants to sell online. And even if it doesn't, Google can inspire imitators and competitors who aim to deliver the same experience without the heavy technology investment — just as Amazon Go did when it opened its first store in Seattle.

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