Stadia Exodus Continues As Product Head For Stadia Exits

from the exit-stadia-left dept

The troubling signs for Google’s video game streaming platform Stadia continue. While I have to admit that I had really high hopes for Stadia, nothing about this has been smooth from launch to its current state of, well, who the hell knows what is going to happen to it. From a poor initial reception to questions about failed promises on performance, the conversation about Stadia quickly focused on the platform not offering much in the way of an actual game catalogue to play. Less than a year later, Google made this problem even worse by disbanding its own in-house game developers, leading to more fallout when Stadia could suddenly not support its own internally developed game.

And, as I mentioned above, the issues continue. Stadia’s product head, John Justice, has left Google entirely.

Another executive has left Google Stadia, and this time it’s John Justice, vice president and product head of Stadia at Google. Along with Phil Harrison, Justice was the face of the project, frequently giving interviews and talking to the press. Justice hasn’t updated his LinkedIn profile yet, but following a report from The Information, Google told 9to5Google, “We can confirm John is no longer with Google, and we wish him well on his next step.”

This latest departure is just another sign that Google’s game-streaming service is circling the drain. A Bloomberg report from February revealed that the service missed Google’s internal sales estimates by “hundreds of thousands” of users. Shortly before the release of that report, Google shut down its in-house game studio, Stadia Games and Entertainment, after less than two years of operation, citing the high cost of operating it. This move led to Stadia’s other high-profile departure, the exit of Assassin’s Creed co-creator Jade Raymond.

On some levels, this all feels a bit silly. Google has enormous resources from which to draw and game streaming is certainly going to become a massive force in the future of the gaming industry. It appears to certainly be the case that Google flubbed the Stadia launch and let that flub linger. But there is zero reason why Google should let this “circle the drain” if that is in fact what they’re doing. Instead, it would be nice if, for once, Google did the un-Google thing and bulwarked a project like this with more resources, seeing it to fruition.

And, to be fair to Google, perhaps they do have a coherent plan for Stadia. They lightly hinted as much in a blog post recently.

After shutting down its game studio, Google seemed to hint at a change of strategy for Stadia. Google’s blog post said the company is looking for a “path to building Stadia into a long-term, sustainable business that helps grow the industry,” which indicates that the current strategy of selling games to customers was not a “sustainable business.” The post highlighted Google’s “platform technology” that could help studios deliver games “directly” from publishers (as opposed to through the Stadia store?) and that Google saw this as “an important opportunity to work with partners seeking a gaming solution all built on Stadia’s advanced technical infrastructure and platform tools.”

If I’m reading that word salad correctly, this is hinting that Stadia might be less the gaming industry’s version of Netflix and more about building a platform that works with game developers so that they can offer cloud-gaming experiences directly to customers. Perhaps that’s the right way to go, though I still can’t see why a service like Stadia, were it actually running properly and populated with a good catalogue of games, can’t work.

In fact, it seems somewhat obvious that that’s the future, though it may not be a future run by Google.

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Comments on “Stadia Exodus Continues As Product Head For Stadia Exits”

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PaulT (profile) says:

"While I have to admit that I had really high hopes for Stadia, nothing about this has been smooth from launch to its current state of, well, who the hell knows what is going to happen to it."

It’s basically dead. There were 2 major problems – timing and pricing. If this had come along 5 years ago with pricing lower than if you owned the games on existing platforms, it might have been something special. But, by the time it was available other game streaming services started to be available at far better price points.

Why would you pay full price for a single 4 year old game on Stadia, when you can pay $15/month for 100 games on xCloud, which includes access to many more games on PC and console whenever you can use those platforms? If they want to be the Netflix of gaming as is sometimes said, why insist on the purchase model? Paying for individual brand new releases might be a selling point on top of a rental model, but it can’t form the basis of the service on its own with the limited titles available.

Anonymous Coward says:

game streaming is certainly going to become a massive force in the future of the gaming industry.

Why is this so certain? Computing power still increases faster than network speeds. (In terms of what’s widely available, anyway. Some people have 10-gigabit service, but one can’t expect even 10-megabit service to be available for an arbitrary address.)

It appears to certainly be the case that Google flubbed the Stadia launch and let that flub linger. But there is zero reason why Google should let this "circle the drain" if that is in fact what they’re doing. Instead, it would be nice if, for once, Google did the un-Google thing and bulwarked a project like this with more resources, seeing it to fruition.

How could they do it right? No matter what actions they take, people will be saying there’s zero reason for the public to expect them to stick around. And really, when has Google ever done anything resembling long-term support for something that wasn’t immediately popular?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Why is this so certain? Computing power still increases faster than network speeds. (In terms of what’s widely available, anyway."

Streaming removes the need to upgrade your gaming devices, and while no "hardcore" gamer is ever going to be happy with streaming performance, that’s not the market here. Many people would be willing to switch to a decent streaming service if it means not replacing your console regularly, or not having to keep upgrading the PC that’s mainly used for work just to install a new game.

If you get the occasional glitch but you save hundreds of dollars every few years by not upgrading (or not being able to upgrade, as is still happening due to shortages on current next gen consoles), there’s plenty of more casual gamers who will take that hit. What they won’t do is pay exactly what they would have done for the games on a more valuable local console.

It’s not to everyone’s taste, but it seems that it is becoming a strong alternative option for the future.

"Some people have 10-gigabit service, but one can’t expect even 10-megabit service to be available for an arbitrary address."

In the US maybe, but gigabit service is becoming increasingly common elsewhere. I don’t always get those speeds where I am on my 1Gb fibre connection (which has been upgraded for free twice so I’m still only paying what I did for 300Kb when it was first installed), but I get plenty of spare bandwidth even on bad connection days and I live in a small town not particularly close to major cities.

But, that’s down to the consumer to decide. If you have spotty service and are unlikely to get an upgrade soon, this isn’t for you. If you have fast, reliable service, then streaming is a good option to have for minimal investment (by minimal I mean stuff like xCloud where you have a monthly sub with no lock in, not Stadia where you shell out full price for every game).

"And really, when has Google ever done anything resembling long-term support for something that wasn’t immediately popular?"

When has any company done anything resembling long-term support for a product that had a significant launch but failed in the marketplace? There may well be numerous examples of successful relaunches, but this isn’t a Google thing, it’s a business thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Streaming removes the need to upgrade your gaming devices, and while no "hardcore" gamer is ever going to be happy with streaming performance, that’s not the market here. Many people would be willing to switch to a decent streaming service if it means not replacing your console regularly, or not having to keep upgrading the PC that’s mainly used for work just to install a new game.

While I see your point, I’m sceptical. Console owners are already a fairly hardcore group of gamers, and the cost of a new console every 7 years or so isn’t that much compared to the cost of games. A bit worse if people own 2 or 3 consoles. Streaming games who want to play on TVs will need some kind of device to do so, unless it’s built into their TV. Built-in or not, do we really expect those devices to still have streaming support after 7 years?

The truly casual gamers are using phones, which they’re replacing on shorter cycles than games consoles anyway; and many casual games don’t need that much power. And phone networks are especally flaky and expensive (with low data allowances) for many people, particularly in rural areas.

When has any company done anything resembling long-term support for a product that had a significant launch but failed in the marketplace? There may well be numerous examples of successful relaunches, but this isn’t a Google thing, it’s a business thing.

Not really. This is a service that will inherently screw people over when it shuts down. It relies on continued support to an extent most products and services don’t. Had Nintendo gone out of business shortly after the NES launch, the people who’d taken a chance at launch time would still (mostly) have working systems 35 years later. With all the games they’d purchased. (Yeah, I’ve had to re-torque the connector, and some people have to disconnect the CIC.)

Similarly, if Netflix or a phone carrier disappeared tomorrow, many would be annoyed, but they’d switch to something else and wouldn’t have really lost anything.

And then there’s my grandparents’ 50-year old furnace, which actually came with a warrantly bond from a major bank—guaranteeing that, if the manufacturer had gone out of business shortly afterward (as they did), the warranty would’ve been honored (which ultimately wasn’t necessary).

People know that they’re going to lose the "purchased" games if Stadia disappears, and most are aware of Google’s reputation for abandoning unsuccessful products. It’s a catch-22. People won’t take it seriously until it becomes popular, so how’s it ever gonna become popular? They might try some free games if they don’t have to buy any hardware or upgrade their internet connection to do it. That’s the only path to popularity I can see.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Streaming doesn’t actually require high bandwidth. If you can watch live video on your connection you can stream games. Latency can be an issue but that’s more to so with the location of servers than last-mile bandwidth.

Ultimately it comes down to price. If its cheaper to pay for a streaming service than to keep upgrading your hardware. And at least on the higher end of PCs, it probably is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Streaming doesn’t actually require high bandwidth. If you can watch live video on your connection you can stream games.

A lot of people can’t, though. It’s one reason why Netflix is still running their DVD-mailing service. The problem is widespread in rural areas, but also occurs in suburbia and even cities.

Latency can be an issue but that’s more to so with the location of servers than last-mile bandwidth.

Jitter as much as latency, and on old DOCSIS nodes (even in huge cities) it’ll be difficult to avoid. ISPs let their equipment get quite oversubscribed and outdated before they upgrade it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"Ultimately it comes down to price. If its cheaper to pay for a streaming service than to keep upgrading your hardware. And at least on the higher end of PCs, it probably is."

Also on consoles. A new Xbox Series X costs $499 – if you can get hold of one, which may be tricky at the moment due to supply chain issues. Game Pass including xCloud is $15/month, and something that’s essentially a no-brainer to purchase even if you do own a new Xbox, the value proposition is that good.

If your needs are met by the streaming options (which are expanding – MS are running beta tests on the PC and iOS versions and have stated plans to expand to other platforms including the Switch), you can justify not paying for the new hardware almost indefinitely already, and it seems the value is only going up.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"Streaming doesn’t actually require high bandwidth. If you can watch live video on your connection you can stream games."

That’s not exactly right. "live" video can still buffer locally which serves to eliminate a lot of the perceivable jitter, stutter and packet losses from a viewers perspective.

When the stream has to be interactive, that solution does not exist.

Bandwidth is arguably the least problem. A solid connection without packet loss, latency, or jitter? This is a must. Current multiplayer games have solved this by backloading all the graphics and as much of the heavy computational lifting as possible onto the local game installation, leaving the only thing going back and forth to the game servers compressed packages of commands. Even then, on a good link, there is no player who hasn’t experienced a lot of rubberbanding and link lag or dropouts.

Game streaming, otoh, needs for a 2k stream to persistently pass in one direction and the same commands go the other way, in real time, with little to no buffering or redundancy possible.

This puts incredibly high demands on the quality of your connection as compared to mere video streaming.

Streaming games will be working against a very heavy quality issue compared to locally installed games. PaulIT gives a few good reasons, above, as to why game streaming may still succeed; convenience; price; not having to upgrade your damn console every other year.

"And at least on the higher end of PCs, it probably is."

Maybe. High-end PC’s, otoh, are usually built with modular design in mind. I know I built my own rig with the idea that upgrading it should be the case of just buying and slotting new components. So far it’s worked out, because 9 times out of 10 what you really need to replace is just the GPU.

And forget all about the money perspective if you’re talking to the enthusiast crowd. I think it pretty safe to say that to anyone with a high-end gaming PC to begin with, streaming will not be popular. For the same reason that if you only drive on inner-city roads you probably wouldn’t buy a Hum-vee.

Streaming will be popular among the console crowd – because they’re chained to the hardware design as is. And with the crowd of budget computing who may have a decent link but are making do with a five year old hand-me-down laptop or tower.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"live" video can still buffer locally which serves to eliminate a lot of the perceivable jitter, stutter and packet losses from a viewers perspective. When the stream has to be interactive, that solution does not exist.

Technically, it does. Early CD-ROM games, including the original Playstation, had seek times much higher than one would see even on the shittiest satellite connections (e.g., over 1 second on the PC Engine). But people will no longer put up with Myst-style latency, or develop for it, and Stadia seems to lack the ability to do even simple computations—like overlaying a mouse cursor—locally.

Anonymous Coward says:

i don,t think it can compete with gamepass, or epic giving games free away,
also with people staying at home due to covid theres not much incentive to stream games.streaming uses alot of data , its alot easier to just download games .
And for playing online games like destiny any lag at all makes it pointless .
many people are using so much data ,using zoom, students using online apps,
streaming gigabytes of data just to play a game is not a good use of broadband.
in a world with no data caps it would have a greater chance of success .
people have pcs, and consoles, streaming might be like VR only a small
amount of consumers want to use it,
i cant imagine buying games on a streaming service that might shut down in 2 years.
maybe the public is not interested .
And the range of games on stadia is quite limited

Anonymous Coward says:

Latency

The internet infrastructure needs a bit of improvement before ‘remote gaming’ can work out…
It might even take a leap in networking to make it workable…
Even locally, "remote play" has a lot of delay in button press to action on screen… this makes many games unplayable as a ‘remote game’

Paul B says:

Re: Latency

This leap "Could" Happen the same way netflix handled lag on its network. Once Traffic grows to some size you start installing your backbone inside the last mile data centers.

This solution also addresses lag for online game design as you have a much easier time creating dedicated bandwidth for your gaming boxes in the data center to each other or allowing "Local" peer to peer gaming with your neighbors and having a single central gaming box pull double duty as the game server as well.

But of course (as a former Google Employee) I can say that Google thinks it’s smarter than everyone else and refuses to play by any existing industry rules. This of course is fine when you invent an industry but fails badly with a product like this.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

There’s a peculiar good faith assumption that consumer protections will simply evolve and adapt to the new realities… which history suggests will not be the case. Certainly not for a few years, during which the corporations will fight tooth and nail to win out the war of attrition against their own customers.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"There’s a peculiar good faith assumption that consumer protections will simply evolve and adapt to the new realities…"

Which to me is as odd as the modern-day communist who has read history and thus has no excuse for still trying to peddle marxism to flawed human beings who will turn the utopian ideal into a corrupt shit-show faster than you can blink.

The libertarian ideal assumes that in corporate utopia where no state exists to trammel the unfettered flow of commerce, ethics and consumer protections will magically emerge to serve the citizenry. And there are people with college degrees and doctorates earnestly believing that bullshit, all evidence to the contrary.

From a corporate stakeholder and marketing perspective, of course, this is a holy grail. If all you sell is access then there’s no need for logistics, a supply chain, or inventory. Make something once then lease it to other people without the need to have a factory learn to press the cost of manufacturing copies.

No wonder every corporation with a digital portfolio is riding this horse for all they’re worth.

Bloof (profile) says:

Stadia was a platform with no exclusive games of note, run by people who didn’t care about developers given their lack of communication with those who did work with them, all owned by a company with a history of cutting these things off if they’re not an immediate success.. With the underlying tech that requires infrastructure that doesn’t exist most of the places they were hoping to sell it.

There was no reality where it was destined to do anything but tank.

Paul B says:

Re: Re: Re:

Google is of course (and wants to be) the Anti Microsoft firm. Legacy code is to be refactored or tossed. Any product that can earn 100x returns is kept and everything else is starved for resources since you need to earn 100x / Dev working on it to justify its existence.

Google simply exists to explore as many markets as it can searching for those 100x returns and end any project that wont make that as soon as they can figure it out. No one has the appetite to build a normal business up from the ground like ever inside the firm.

Anonymous Coward says:

June 2021. So many gaming contracts expire. Google will legally HAVE to pull a massive bunch of top-end games from Stadia as companies are refusing to renew.

Stadia is going to lose most of it’s subscribers, as those games (and their saves etc) will be gone forever without hope of recovery.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Google will legally HAVE to pull a massive bunch of top-end games from Stadia as companies are refusing to renew.

Do you have a source on that? If true, it’s fucking braindead even by Google’s standards. People get attached to games in a way they don’t with movies. They’re annoyed when a movie disappears from Netflix, but they can always watch it elsewhere. But if they can’t play their favorite game anymore, especially if it’s something with a lot of stored progress, they’re going to be completely pissed.

Were I trying to start a streaming game service, I’d insist on semi-perpetual terms from the game-makers. Anyone who’d been playing the game would get to keep doing so, even if it never got any more updates and didn’t allow new players. I mean, how would I expect customers to take my service seriously if games could just disappear? In terms of operational costs, old games will get cheaper and cheaper to run over time anyway.

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