Google Disbands Stadia Game Developers And Signals Potential For More Trouble Ahead
from the ruh-roh dept
It’s no secret that in the year and a half since Google launched its video game streaming platform, Stadia, things haven’t gone particularly well. Game developers were wary at the onset that Google, as it has with projects like this in the past, might simply one day shut the whole thing down if it thinks the venture is a loser. The launch of Stadia itself was mostly met with meager interest, due to scant games available on the platform. Even then, the rollout was a mix of chaos and glitch, critiques of its promise for true 4k game streaming, very low adoption rates, and some at the company appearing to want to go to war with game-streamers.
And now, there are signals that the trouble is worsening. Google recently announced, completely without warning, that it was shuttering its in-house Stadia game development studio.
According to the report, developers at the studio were “shocked” by the sudden shutdown, since, only a week earlier, Stadia’s leading executive, game industry veteran Phil Harrison, told the group “[SG&E] has made great progress building a diverse and talented team and establishing a strong lineup of Stadia exclusive games.” The one-week flip-flop was “part of an apparent pattern of Stadia leadership not being honest and upfront with the company’s developers,” according to Kotaku, adding that many developers “upended their lives and careers to join the team.”
The report says Stadia’s developers found out about the studio closure at “almost the same time as everyone else.” Stadia’s developers had to wait three days before Harrison was available for a Q&A conference call, which the report describes as “contentious.” The most chilling line in the report details Harrison’s response to a question asking why the Studio was “making great progress” one week and then fired the next: “When asked what changed from the week prior, Harrison admitted nothing had and told those on the call, ‘We knew.'”
If that strikes you as fairly shitty, well, yes it is. And if it feels like a flavor of exactly what game developers originally feared — Google’s penchant for quickly bailing on hyped up projects — well, yeah, it’s that, too.
But while the plight of developers and Stadia employees is a very real and non-trivial thing, for Stadia to succeed, it needs the trust of its customers. Trust is particularly key for Stadia because, as we so often point out, gamers don’t actually own the games they play on Stadia. They, instead, pay for access to the platform. So, with PC gaming as an option and the new generation of consoles now released, the public has to decide whether to go with Stadia or choose a traditional option. And when Google comes out with statements like the following, that trust feels quite hard to come by.
Google doesn’t publicly share how well (or poorly) Stadia is doing, but that blog post mentions that Google is looking for “the best path to building Stadia into a long-term, sustainable business,” strongly hinting that Stadia is not currently a sustainable business. The post details what sounds like a pretty strong change in strategy, pivoting from the direct-to-consumer “game console” business and more toward being a technology provider for gaming companies.
If Stadia was ever going to be successful, it seems like that should have happened over the last several months. The pandemic is making gaming more popular than ever, and everyone else’s sales are up across the board. Stadia was also one of the best systems to play the long-awaited Cyberpunk 2077 on, especially given that the other best options were next-gen consoles that were perpetually sold out. If Google isn’t seeing success now, it’s hard to imagine a better opportunity for the service.
Which puts potential customers for Stadia in exactly the same place as the game developers that were fretting a year ago: if I game on Stadia, am I suddenly going to lose everything when Google decides to pull the plug?
Whatever else we might want to say for Stadia or the future of game streaming as a service, that question is the highest of hurdles.