The beginning of the end for Google Stadia

Do you remember Google Stadia? It’s the video game streaming platform that internet powerhouse Google launched in late 2019. I hope you didn’t spend too much money on buying any of the dozen or so games that got ported over, though, because it seems as though Google is throwing in the towel.

While the Stadia service itself isn’t going anywhere, Google announced today that they will be ending all internal game development and closing their Stadia-only game studios. We don’t know exactly how many titles were being worked on for the service, but there were several in development that haven’t yet been released – and it seems as though all titles scheduled to release in 2022 or later are now cancelled. A handful of titles planned for this year may still be released.

In typical corporate style, Google is trying to spin this as an “evolution” of the service; opening up Stadia to third-party developers. But… which third-party developers would those be, exactly? Make no mistake: this is the beginning of the end for Stadia.

The Google Stadia controller.

Google Stadia was not an inherently bad idea. By streaming games instead of running them on a console, phone, or PC, Stadia allowed anyone with a decent internet connection to play games regardless of whether they owned an up-to-date console or powerful PC. But the service never really took off following a seriously underwhelming launch. In late 2019, Stadia was criticised for feeling like it was in its alpha version. Basic features were missing, and the service had less than twenty games. Though the Stadia team did put in some hard work to improve things, it never really got much attention from the gaming community or the public at large.

Within really just a few weeks of the service being launched, most of the attention from players and observers was on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Despite having some advantages in theory – like a lower up-front cost and being readily available – no one really considered Stadia as a serious competitor to Microsoft and Sony.

And Google isn’t the only massive company in the tech space to suffer an ignominious defeat in its first foray into the gaming realm. A few weeks ago, Amazon announced that it was shutting down its first internally-developed multiplayer game, citing a lack of players. I couldn’t even remember the name of Crucible, such was the lack of attention and interest the project garnered!

Stadia was Google’s first project in the gaming sphere.

Both Google and Amazon seem to have expected to “break in” to the games industry in a similar manner to Microsoft’s 2001 launch of the original Xbox, yet neither company has managed to stick the landing. That’s despite gaming having grown massively in the intervening two decades, and despite, as mentioned, Google Stadia offering several potential advantages.

A relatively low cost of entry was Stadia’s big selling point in many ways, and as Xbox and PlayStation both continue to struggle with hardware availability – something which looks set to continue through at least the first half of this year – there was an opportunity for Stadia to have another throw of the dice and push hard. But Google appears to have lost interest in Stadia almost from the moment of its troubled launch, and today’s news has felt like an inevitability for some time.

The Stadia service, while interesting on paper, had two major drawbacks: it still required players to buy games individually, and it relied on faster-than-average internet connection speeds to work properly. There were also issues of lag, both from the service itself and its controller, and in any kind of competitive game, even a millisecond of lag is unacceptable.

ChromeCast – one way to use Stadia.

Microsoft’s big selling point right now is Xbox Game Pass – a subscription service where a single monthly fee grants players access to a massive library of titles. Because Stadia is already a streaming platform – games run on Google’s hardware and stream via the internet to a player’s machine – there was an expectation that a subscription service would at least be an option, but it wasn’t at launch. The subsequent announcement of Stadia Pro was basically ignored, and doesn’t seem to have hooked in many subscribers. When you’re unable to download the games you buy, Google Stadia felt to many players like a risky option – how can you “own” something if you can’t even get a digital copy? Players who made that argument in 2019 may be feeling rather smug today, as Google is one step away from proving them right.

The internet connection speed was also an issue. In some countries with superfast internet it wouldn’t be an issue, but where I live in the UK, Stadia would have struggled. I’ve heard anecdotally from friends and others who bought into the service that even when they had what they thought was an acceptable connection speed, Stadia still underperformed.

There was a healthy scepticism regarding Stadia when it was launched, and the rough time the service endured in those crucial first few weeks was very offputting even to those who might’ve been interested. Streaming as a concept can work – and in the future don’t be surprised to see a Stadia-like offering from the likes of Steam, Epic Games, or even Nintendo. But for too many people, the infrastructure doesn’t exist right now to make streaming games a viable business proposition – or a risk consumers are willing to take.

The green variant of Google Stadia’s controller.

Finally, Stadia lacked any exclusive games. Alright, it had two: 2019’s Gylt, and Outcasters, which was released in December. Those are the only two Stadia-exclusive games as far as I can tell, and as I’ve said before: exclusive games sell systems. Without any – or with a couple of underwhelming titles that nobody notices – it’s very difficult to convince anyone to pick up a new system, even one which is relatively inexpensive.

Google is notorious for shutting down big projects, which was another reason folks were cautious about getting on board with Stadia. According to the website Killed By Google, the tech giant has shut down over 200 companies and projects, including some pretty well-known ones like Google Glass and Hangouts. The company has a tendency to cut and run when a project doesn’t meet expectations – and given Stadia has barely been more than a blip on the gaming radar, perhaps that’s to be expected.

So we don’t know at this stage how long Stadia itself will still be around. It’s possible that, despite the shutdown of internal game development, the servers will remain online for years to come, and if that’s the case maybe one day Stadia will see a revival. I wouldn’t bet on it right now, but you never know. Google’s corporate-speak of “focusing on improving technology” and “building business partnerships” sounds like a load of waffle to me, though, and I’m not sure which business partners they think are going to swoop in and save the ailing Stadia.

The Google Stadia logo.

Stadia, like some of Google’s other abandoned projects, was an experiment. It was an attempt to make streaming the “next big thing” in gaming, and if it had worked we might be talking about the death of traditional home consoles in favour of cheaper streaming kits. But the reality is that the experiment didn’t work. Early adopters and tech enthusiasts were simply not interested, put off by a weak launch, lack of games, lack of the necessary infrastructure, the concept of buying games that they couldn’t be sure they’d be able to keep, and most importantly Google’s reputation. As a result, Stadia never hit the mainstream. Most consumers never even came to know it existed, and this news likely won’t even reach mainstream outlets.

In general I’m supportive of more competition in the gaming realm. Google, as a massive company with a huge budget, was uniquely placed to be disruptive, but for all the reasons above they couldn’t convince more than a handful of players to give Stadia a shot. This news is disappointing for the 150 or so developers who will lose their jobs, but it was not unexpected.

Stadia is owned by Google. All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective owners, studios, publishers, developers, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.