After years of using Google to successfully search for everything from song lyrics to pot roast recipes, it apphears we have finally learned that there is one thing that Google could not find… a winning strategy for their now-defunct streaming game service, the Google Stadia. Launched by one the largest and most ubiquitous names in technology on the planet, Stadia promised to deliver a AAA gaming experience that could compete with the likes of Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and Steam… all without the expensive price tag of a console or high-end gaming PC. The good news is that Google’s take on a streaming service seemed to deliver on many of its’ promises, allowing participants to play many of gaming’s most prestigious titles anywhere they chose to play… the bad news is that after three short years Google’s dream of owning a piece of the lucrative gaming marketplace is officially over. While there are a large number of reasons why Stadia was unable to find a path to sustained relevance (fierce competition, launching before all features were available, limited exclusives, a lack of internal game development, failure to grow their user base, etc.), there is one central reason that Google Stadia has had its’ plug pulled once and for all… and it may not be what many of us may have initially thought.
The reality is that Google, the parent company for Stadia, had more than enough money to continue propping this service up until it finally found its’ footing. Last time I checked, they have a value of over $400 billion dollars, so while this is certainly a disappointing setback, I think the company will be just fine. I just used Google to search for something a few minutes ago, and it still seemed to be its normal, cheerful self (it even offered me cookies, but I blocked them). And all of the users of the service who made full game purchases can follow a process to have these refunded to their original method of payment. which is a pretty nice gesture. The actual pain of this is being felt most deeply by the developers who had either partially or fully committed their resources to building games on this platform, as there isn’t a simple path to recouping their losses on this promising gambit. So… if Google isn’t going broke, and they even had enough resources to refund gamer’s purchases, AND Stadia actually showed signs of promise, why is it GONE? For one simple reason… Google didn’t accurately count the cost of this endeavor from the onset of the journey, so once Stadia reached a point that was more than Google was willing to continue to invest, it was easier for them to simply pull the plug, count their losses, and move on. While the gaming world will briefly pause to mourn yet one more abandoned platform, it will trudge on. The Stadia will forever exist as a mile-marker on a road nobody travels on anymore and serve as an expensive reminder to even those with the deepest of pockets… failing to properly “count the cost” only ends in heartbreak and loss.
“Counting the cost” can be a challenging part of our real world lives as well, especially when it relates to our spiritual commitments. It can be easy as believers in Christ to mistakenly intertwine the concept of grace being free (which it is) with the act of following Christ (which carries the exceptionally high cost of absolute surrender) as shown in Luke 14:33. But the idea of “cost” can also be quite misunderstood, because of the nature of how we tend to perceive transactions in general. For example, I understand when I purchase my groceries at the grocery store that there is a “cost” associated with them. It is typically clearly indicated with a sticker or a sign, so I can properly evaluate the item vs. what I will be paying for it before I even make my final decision. When I bring my purchases to the front of the store to check out, I have a very good idea of how much I will have to pay in order to acquire what is in my cart… and while I may not enjoy that final total, I made an assessment at each point of selection that contributed to that amount. Once paid, I leave with my groceries, and we all move on with our lives. But… what if after I paid, I did NOT get to leave with them? What if they just took my money and I had to leave with nothing? Well, I would definitely feel MUCH differently about that cost. I would be upset, I would feel misled, I would feel cheated, and I would most definitely NOT be okay with it. I was only willing to accept “the cost” as long as what I RECEIVED was what I perceived as an equitable exchange for what I was giving in return. My concept of “cost” is closely affiliated with what I would GAIN from the transaction… and at the moment I feel that I am not at least “breaking even”, I am no longer interested in continuing.
This is certainly not a series of verses that tend to get put on T-shirts or bumper stickers, but it is as important as any of the messages that Christ shared with those who wanted to follow Him. Christ was not interested in being followed because of the miracles He performed or the power of His messages… He was seeking INFORMED followers who fully understood what they were committing to and accepting of what it would ask from them in return.
Luke 14:27-33 Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
Before we fully unpack that, let’s look back at our perception of “cost” one more time. While many of us are absolutely willing to pay any costs associated with the equitable receipt of goods and services, that is not the way that the Lord’s economy tends to work. As a matter of fact, it is clear through both the Old and New Testament accounts of those who chose to follow the Lord that we will often be asked to make far more deposits into the kingdom of heaven than withdrawals on this side of eternity… and we will rarely have the opportunity to see the quantifiable success of our efforts until after our journey’s end. The prophet Jeremiah was charged with preaching an unwelcome message to an unreceptive audience for the entirety of his ministry, foretelling the fall of Jerusalem in his generation. His cross? To preach from a position of pain and imprisonment before finally being forced against his will to join his people on an exodus to Egypt that they would not return from in his lifetime (Jeremiah 43). Ezekiel was shown visions beyond our comprehension… but he also was tasked with painfully enduring the loss of his beloved wife without even the luxury of mourning her passing as a component of his ministry (Ezekiel 24). Oh, and the Apostle Paul? Well, he certainly has quite a bit to say in the matter…
2 Corinthians 11:24-28 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
Let’s get back to Google for a moment. Obviously, they knew that launching an entirely new streaming platform would neither be easy nor cheap. They were prepared to invest into the concept, but it was with an expectation of seeing a new revenue stream develop that would indicate it would offset the costs… and eventually turn into profits. Their entire strategy was predicated on an assumption of success within certain targeted measurements, and when “counting the costs” they did not accurately prepare themselves for the amount of time or the depth of the expense it would take to achieve them. When the costs of the moment became too high, they simply closed up shop. And while that sounds like good business sense, if they had properly read the room, they would have known this eventuality was coming and either never launched in the first place or done a better job preparing themselves for the inevitable storms that were on the horizon before taking on such a task. And within the sad fall of this promising service is a critical lesson for us all.
While our forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with the Father is a free gift of grace that we can never earn, Jesus was always abundantly clear with all who would choose to follow Him that walking this path would come at a cost (Mark 10:17-27). While that cost will be measured differently for each of us, it will always come in the form of a cross that we must choose to carry… and many times we will not understand the purpose for our cross or be able to see the value in carrying it at the time. For Noah, it took the form of building a giant boat at a heavy cost while those around him mocked its’ seemingly needless purpose (Genesis 5). For Paul, it meant giving up his personal desires and pursuits to live a life of sacrifice so he could sow the seeds and write the letters that would one day form the basis of most of our Christian doctrine (1 Corinthians 9). David said it best when he declined to follow a path without a price in 2 Samuel 24:24 when he sagely stated, ” I can’t offer my God a sacrifice that cost me nothing.”
Matthew 10:38-39 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
Launching the Google Stadia was always going to be an uphill climb, and as their fellow gaming competitors have found, we must be prepared for multiple losing seasons before finding lasting success. Companies like Microsoft have endured massive losses for YEARS in order to build the Xbox brand and marketplace… Steam had to completely rebuild the concept of a PC marketplace at their own cost to provide an infrastructure that was previously non-existent. Nintendo had to thwart numerous hungry competitors and constantly innovate to remain competitive, and Sony found their path to relevance through massive investments into their gaming architecture that often did not pay off until their next console launch. And our Christian walk follows the exact same expectation… while His grace is completely free, following Him always comes at a cost. Not because He is “charging us”, but because if we are following in His footsteps then we will find that they will lead us on an identical journey of selflessness and sacrifice that He took during His path on this earth.
To avoid the mistake that Google made with Stadia, we must “count the costs” and accept that there will be many parts of our journey that don’t result in the level of measurable success that we had hoped for or planned on in the timeframe we anticipated. Like that trip to the grocery store, we may look at our “receipt” and feel that what we are walking out with isn’t immediately equivalent with the costs we are paying. We can’t expect immediate returns on earth for investments we are making into heavenly places. For many of us, following the Lord’s will may feel like we are investing our time, our efforts, and our lives into areas of seemingly diminishing returns. As His servants, we may devote our time and energy into projects that seem to only absorb our efforts and offer very little in the form of reward or even acknowledgment. But it is the purpose of a vessel to be filled up for the purposes of being poured out… as many times as is necessary for its’ purpose to be completed. And if we “count the cost” with the understanding that “carrying our cross” often includes accepting loss on this side of the journey, we will find that the exponential returns that await us on the other side of this equation will far outweigh the temporary sacrifices we are making now.
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