Google vows to fight abuse that could pop up in Stadia communities
"We're going to work as hard as we can," Google VP Phil Harrison says in a wide-ranging interview.
Richard NievaFormer senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Google wants to prevent its new Stadia from filling up with racists, bigots and trolls who congregate online.
Earlier this week, the search giant unveiled its cloud-based video game service, which lets people play games streamed over the web. It'll also let players connect and share content on YouTube, which Google also owns.
Creating that community could also open the door to abusive conduct and content, a problem that already plagues Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms. Tech platforms are under intense scrutiny for failing to police what happens on their services. Google wants to make sure the problems don't reappear on Stadia.
In a 30-minute interview, Phil Harrison, who runs Stadia, said the game project was committed to keeping abusive activity off the service. But he offered few specifics and acknowledged it would be hard to combat.
"I wish we could make some grand proclamation that it's going to go away," Harrison said on the sidelines of the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. "I don't think that is true."
Wading deeper into video games means facing challenges that have already beset the gaming community. Discord, a chat app for gamers, has been criticized for being what some say is a safe place for white supremacists and anti-Semites. GamerGate, an online movement that gained steam in 2014, pushed some of the sexist and racist tropes of prevalent in gaming culture.
Separately, Google-owned YouTube has had trouble containing abuse on its site. After a shooter opened fire at two mosques in New Zealand last week, video footage of the terrorist attack spread relentlessly on video site, which welcomes more than a billion visitors each month. In the hours after the shooting, a team at Google worked through the night to take down "tens of thousands" of videos. The site has also faced controversy for scandals involving pedophilia, extremism and disinformation.
During the interview, Harrison also discussed game design and internet speeds. He declined to talk about pricing or business models, saying the company will share more details this summer.
Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Question: How are you looking at trying to prevent abuse and whatever toxic behavior on Stadia? Harrison: We're going to work as hard as we can on that. I wish we could make some grand proclamation that it's going to go away. I don't think that is true. I think we can marginalize it to a large degree. And there are certain gamers who enjoy that type of communication. But that's not what we want to associate with as a platform. And we will do everything we can to find it and insulated from the rest of what our platform is.
There's clearly some things that we can lean on from the rest of Google that will help us. We are investing in robust parental controls that will help at a more kind of account level mean that the right content is matched with the right age, you play with the right people, and you play with the content at the right time.
How will Stadia's technology, like being able to share a playable snippet of a game through a link or on YouTube, influence the nature of game design? I hope it radically changes it. If I wanted one headline or one takeaway that came out of yesterday's presentation, it was what this means for game design.
For the last 40 years, until 10 o'clock yesterday morning [when Stadia launched], all game design was device-centric and package-centric. The package was initially a cartridge, it was in a cassette, it was a floppy disc, then a shiny optical disc, and then more recently been a downloaded package. For the mental model of design has been the same for the last 40 years, I think we just broke through that glass ceiling.
And I think that we just gave the development community a vision of the future of what it means when your data center is a platform, and you are no longer bound by the device you're playing, and that you are now screen agnostic. And that's really exciting. The industry wide shift in its entirety overnight. But if we've given it a tip in the right direction, that's great.
What kind of role could YouTube creators play in terms of interaction with gamers? What is going to be fascinating is when a game studio is thinking about "play" and "broadcast" as two sides of the game design coin: When a developer is purposefully thinking about "What's the role of the player in this moment?" And "What's the role of the viewer in this moment?" And that's even why our platform is called Stadia. It's this idea of participation and watching.
Do you see VR as a possibility for Stadia? We have lots of R&D, but nothing to share.
How important was it to have a Google Assistant button on the controller? It's very focused on the experience. It is not an always-on microphone. Only when you press that button does it invoke the microphone.
But there's a secondary -- and I believe longer term -- more important innovation, which is that it also allows you to engage with the game. And just being able to bring the best of Google to support a game developer. In a future role playing game, rather than going through a complex text tree of creating a sentence, you have a conversation, or understanding, or relationship with an NPC [non-player-character]. How magical would that be? You're actually just using your voice to influence and understand and tell stories inside a world.
Will you be able to do the other Assistant stuff on it? Like look up your flight info or read the news? No. This is explicitly for games. I wouldn't say "never." We will evolve that over time. But personally, I don't know that there's a strong use case for bringing up the weather while you're in the middle of playing a complex RPG.
How do you handle the "last mile latency" problem of slow internet connections? Twenty to 30 megabits per second is not crazy future talk. That is within the realm of possibility for a very, very large number of people -- hundreds of millions of people in the markets that we're talking about.
There will be continued capital investments necessary to reach more and more people. We know that just over the horizon are some innovations in cellular technology, particularly 5G.