Google Stadia: From revolution to bitter failure, the Netflix story of video games!

Game news Google Stadia: From revolution to bitter failure, the Netflix story of video games!

It’s simple – in 2019 – almost everyone saw Stadia as the “logical” future of video games. After all, streaming services were slowly starting to emerge, then hey, it’s Google coming, we’re not kidding! Today, it is especially time to become disillusioned. Next year, Stadia will shut down. Throwback to a project that was supposed to change everything in the industry.

Yes, Stadia, it’s over. To everyone’s surprise – more or less – Google announced this Thursday, September 29, the shutdown of its platform | streaming service launched at the end of 2019. “Although the Stadia approach (…) was built on a solid technological foundation, it did not gain the popularity with users that we expected” explains Phil Harrison, vice- president and general manager of the project which will shut down its servers on January 18, 2023. The tech giant also provides for the reimbursement of hardware, games, DLC Stadia purchased on its store.

“(Despite the end of Stadia, editor’s note) we remain deeply invested in video games. We will continue to invest in new tools, technologies and platforms” – Phil Harrison vice president and general manager of Stadia (Google)

It’s more or less a surprise. On the web, many consider the fate reserved for Stadia as “Google all spitting”. The Mountain View company is known to abandon projects along the way, whether in the field of entertainment, artificial intelligence or virtual reality. There is even a “cemetery site” where all the innovations “killed” by Google rest. Now Stadia is one of them. Even if it is easy to speak of failure foregone, the streaming platform has actually arrived with serious arguments. A revolution ?

“Netflix of video games”

At the end of the 2010s, we know that Google was working on its “Project Stream”. The tech giant is then no stranger to the video game world, with third-party games that are a hit on its Play Store and an AI designed to beat Starcraft players. This is how, on the stage of the GDC 2019, the company unveils Stadia. “Our ambition (with this project, editor’s note) is simple: to create a place for all ways to play”explains Phil Harrison, in full live. “It’s focused on gamers, inspired by developers, amplified by YouTube creators.”

A few months later, the technology will be presented further. Concretely, Stadia is both a sales platform and a dematerialized game machine which is divided into two offers. The first one, ‘Pro’, allows you to play up to 4K | 60 frames per second and access to free games, all for €10 per month. The second, ‘Base’, is free, but does not exceed 1080p | 60fps. In the latter case, you have to buy your titles individually as on Steam, for example. After yes, in any case, you need a good internet connection. The strength of the proposal lies in its multi-media nature (PC, tablet, mobile, TV via Chromecast).

“Investors fear that their current domination of the world of video games (by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, editor’s note) will be shaken up by Google which (…) promises to revolutionize the way of playing” – Agence France Presse, after the announcement of Stadia (2019)

The thing is, it works well, very well. Despite the absence of quite a few features presented at the GDC – some of which will never arrive – and a somewhat meager launch catalog (22 games including Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Red Dead Redemption II), “it must be recognized that the technology in place by Google has great potential” we wrote during our test. “It’s hard not to be seduced by the ease of use of the whole (…) and by the lack of latency felt in the game. Even a small ADSL allows you to have a satisfactory experience whereas fiber will be all totally at home in Full HD and 4K”. Not too bad for a foregone failure.

Know how to steer your boat

Ultimately, Stadia will never really find its audience. But the reason here is not technology. Google knows this well and also plans, after the closure of the service, to infuse this know how in other entities (YouTube, Google Play, augmented reality projects) and to make Stadia performance available to industry partners. No, what led Stadia to its downfall was the Mountain View fime itself. Firstly because it has not been able to build up a sufficiently solid catalog of games – especially with regard to exclusives – even having JV veterans on its side (Phil Harrison, Jade Raymond). And because there were big differences.

Thanks to joint investigations by Bloomberg, Wired and Video Games Chronicle, published early last year, we know that Google has spent “tens of millions of dollars” to afford names like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption on its catalog. Google may be a company that has been valued at 2,000 billion dollars by Wall Street, in 2021, the bill seems salty for a service that will not achieve its objectives.

Above all, it is the internal management of video game studios that seems to be lacking! When the platform was presented in 2019, Google immediately announced Stadia Games and Entertainment, the proprietary development team – also a publisher – led by Jade Raymond. The ambition is then clearly displayed. The manager explains that she wants “reinventing the next generation of games” using all of Google’s technology. The firm opens a first office in Montreal, then a second in California. In the meantime, she bought Typhoon Studios, behind the sympathetic Journey to the Savage Planet. But at the beginning of 2021, “plot twist”: the tech giant announced the outright closure of its internal video game division. Phil Harrison explains:

“Creating top-notch games from scratch takes years and significant investment, and the cost increases exponentially. Given our desire to leverage Stadia’s proven technology and deepen our partnerships, we have decided not to invest further on bringing in exclusive content.” – Phil Harrison vice president and general manager of Stadia (Google)

A lack of anticipation

The saddest thing about this closure – apart from the 150 employees concerned – is the shutdown of games that have been in production for a long time. No ambitious follow-up for Journey to the Savage Planet nor future for partnerships with Harmonix (Rock Band, Guitar Hero) and Supermassive Games (Until Dawn, The Dark Pictures). Overall, after a late first step to create exclusivities, Google is doing here two big steps back. “I think Google realized that content is scary, risky, expensive and requires a lot of trust (…) it just wasn’t their core business,” notes Alex Hutchinson, co-founder of Typhoon Studios, in the columns of Game Developer. Since then, the man has assembled a new team.

Following this pivotal step, Stadia is transformed into a platform exclusively devoted to games from external publishers and developers. To entice them, in a sort of last resort, Google is trying to cut its commission on Stadia in half, leaving 85% of the profits to creators when making a purchase. A “promotion” which was to stop at the end of 2023. As you know, it is the very end of the platform that is making headlines today. A few months back, the company was amused by rumors of closure on Stadia. A smile, no doubt, on the face of it.

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