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In 2019, Google introduced Stadia during the Game Developers Conference (GDC) held in San Francisco. A cloud gaming service, Google described it as ‘a platform for everyone’ – one that could stream games from the cloud to the Chrome browser, Pixel devices, and Chromecast. Against this backdrop, Google had also planned to establish its own gaming studio for exclusive titles. Stadia was touted to be the next disruptive thing in the gaming industry.
Around the same time, Journalist Maddy Myers sat down for an interview with Phil Harrison, VP and general manager at Google. Myres asked him, among various other questions, whether Stadia was just an ambitious Google project that will see the same fate as discontinued products like Google Plus. To this, Harrison replied, “This is not a trivial project by any means. This is a very, very significant cross-company effort that isn’t just my team, but it’s also across YouTube, it’s across our technical infrastructure and networking team. It represents thousands of people who are working on this business.”
Cut to three years later, the statement has not aged well. Curtains dropped on Stadia, and as per the announcement, on January 18, 2023, the service will completely shut down. “And while Stadia’s approach to streaming games for consumers was built on a strong technology foundation, it hasn’t gained the traction with users that we expected, so we’ve made the difficult decision to begin winding down our Stadia streaming service,” Harrison wrote in Google’s official blog.
Though ambitious, Stadia was met with much skepticism when it was first launched in 2019. A lot of people cast aspersions, given Google’s history of unceremoniously closing businesses that do not take off. A few critics also pointed out the high cost of games, particularly because the user would not own them.
The company also hired Ubisoft and EA industry veteran Jade Raymonds to build the internal game development arm, calling it the Stadia Games and Entertainment. In an interview, Raymonds said that her team was building multiple first-party studios in Google to roll out exclusive titles. She added that the eventual goal is to release these exclusive games to take advantage of the cloud computing infrastructure, including integrations with Google Assistant, physical simulations, and other larger environments.
Just two years later, Google shut down its Stadia Games and Entertainment. At the time of its closing, the exclusive studio had zero games to its name, despite the company’s high hopes with the unit at the time of its release. Raymond exited Stadia soon after.
On the heels of this news, a Bloomberg report revealed that Stadia missed Google’s internal sales estimate by hundreds of thousands fewer controllers; moreover, the number of monthly active users logging in had also dwindled. This gave way to another high-profile exit. John Justice, then vice president and the product head, left Google Stadia.
Now that Google has announced that it would be shutting down Stadia for good, the company has said that they would be refunding all the hardware purchases made through Google Store, along with the games and add-on content purchases through the Stadia store. A majority of the refunding process will be completed by mid-January 2023, until then players will continue to have access to their game library.
Given how technologically advanced the platform has been, Google has planned to apply the underlying technology across other units like YouTube, Google Play, and other augmented reality efforts.
Google is notorious for shutting its not-so-successful projects. Many of these closed-down apps/services, which many believe, if tested well, could have turned out to be successful. There are several websites that specifically track the number of ‘cancelled’ Google apps and projects. One of the famous ones goes by the name Killed by Google. It lists as many as 273 apps that have been shut down by the company.
Cloud gaming’s future
While Stadia did not stand the test of time, it did usher a new era in cloud gaming. It helps players who want to play without being entangled in terms of cost, maintenance, and energy bills. While Stadia started it, other companies soon introduced their own versions of cloud gaming, like Microsoft, Sony, and Amazon.
Compared to Stadia, other companies’ ventures offered services at substantially lower costs. Case in point: Amazon’s Luna, which offered a single monthly fee for unlimited access to a library of titles instead of charging for individual games. Microsoft did not introduce the Xbox Cloud Gaming initiative as a standalone service but used it as a value addition to the Xbox Game Pass.
Similarly, Sony introduced its two subscription services into a single option and rebranded Playstation Plus, which includes an expanded version of Sony’s cloud services for higher subscription tiers. Other features include using cloud technology to emulate Playstation 3 for streaming games from its library.