- Google Stadia was meant to be console agnostic i.e., playable without requiring powerful consoles.
- It was also hailed as being Netflix for games. Even though it did provide a high quality 4k gaming experience, it was considered less reliable compared to conventional consoles.
- Some players also complained of serious latency issues.
It is easy to be cynical about the death of Google Stadia. The gaming platform was up for less than two years, and never grew to the proportions Google expected. When Google announced they would be shutting Google Stadia, no one was surprised. The project seemed doomed from the first day.
That said, Stadia was an interesting technology and achieved something that has been floating around the gaming industry for a long time in short lifespan. It made actual working cloud gaming a reality. Was it perfect? No, but it is worth exploring. Let’s delve into what could have been and the series of bad decisions, missed opportunities, and poor leadership that led to Google stadia’s demise.
Google Stadia Specs
Stadia is both hardware and software. Founder’s edition packs included a Chromecast, so you could download the Stadia app on it and play your games, and the Stadia Controller. Neither was technically necessary to play Stadia, but the controller felt surprisingly good. There was also the Stadia app, which you could download on any device that supported it.
Simple but elegant, the controller was fashioned in the design of the Xbox and DualShock but with a more straightforward bent. It has two joysticks, a D-pad on the left side, and face buttons on the right. It had the usual menu (start) and Options (select) buttons but also included built-in Google Assistant and a Capture button. The triggers were punchy and had good return and the grip was comfortable.
It was wireless and had a USB-C port for charging. Stadia did have support for other wireless controllers like the Xbox One and DualShock 4 but players would miss out on specific Stadia features, namely Assistant, without the first-party hardware.
Google pushed the service as “console agnostic” meaning you didn’t need powerful hardware to play the best games. To achieve this, Stadia needed to find a way to run games at high settings off any platform.
When players would download games, they were basically just “renting” space on a server owned and managed by Google. The game would download to the server that would run the game. It would then be streamed back to your television. Obviously, this could lead to some latency issues, but Google was adamant they would find a way around that.
In the end, many players reported decent load times. Bungie juggernaut Destiny 2 players said the lag was minimal while others reported nearly unplayable latency. This was the problem. Not only did streaming the game cause inherent latency but your proximity to Google’s servers also inhibited performance. If you lived in a major city, great! If not, tough luck.
Games and Stadia Pro
How you acquired games on Stadia was the biggest sticking point for a lot of gamers. Even though it was pitched as “Netflix for Video Games” it really wasn’t. At the Stadia storefront, you could buy and download games, or stream them. So, it was no different from a console just with less reliable performance.
Stadia Pro, a subscription service, gave members access to a catalog of games. It was also the only way to access 4K gaming. The 4K gaming was actually pretty solid. It achieved 4K at 60 FPS for some AAA titles. However, the catalog was small and lacked some of the biggest releases. Subscriptions came in well below where Google had hoped.
Stadia: Concept and Development
Back as 2016, Google had shown some interest in the video game industry. There were rumors a Google console, Project Yeti, was in the works. It would ultimately go by the code name Project Stream.
Google started hiring developers and even brought in industry veteran Phil Harrison. This new hire gave some fans pause. Phil Harrison’s track record hadn’t been great in the gaming industry. He’d previously worked at both Sony and Microsoft but resigned from both companies after short stints.
Phil’s hiring as the project’s VP was the first piece of writing on the wall for many. Still, development continued, and Google held a closed beta test with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. All players that took part in the test were given a copy of the game on PC free.
Stadia Games and Entertainment
The service was officially unveiled in 2019 at the Game Developers Conference. In addition, they announced the formation of Stadia Games and Entertainment, an in-house game studio that would produce Stadia exclusive games.
In the lead-up to the official announcement, Google had been hiring game developers like crazy. They even tapped veteran developer Jade Raymond, the founder of Ubisoft Toronto, who had worked on the Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs series. Altogether, Stadia’s development arm brought in around 150 developers to craft a stable of exclusive games for the system.
Google set a high bar for Stadia, but it fell well short of the mark. User numbers were nowhere near what Google had predicted. The service failed to reach the critical acclaim they were hoping. Stadia was supposed to change gaming, but it was barely making a foothold.
Despite its low numbers, Stadia trudged on. In 2019, Stadia Games and Entertainment acquired Typhoon Studios, the makers of Journey to the Savage Planet. Stadia opened its next studio in Los Angeles in the Playa Vista neighborhood. Shannon Studstill, another industry vet, was tapped to head up the studio.
Stadia’s game arm now boosted two studios full of high-caliber developers. Among the staff were alums from Ubisoft, EA, and Microsoft. They were trying to build an arsenal of games that could compete with other AAA developers. Unfortunately, those games would never come.
The Beginning of the End
On February 1st, 2021, Phil Harrison announced that Stadia Games and Entertainment would be shutting down. Prior to the announcement, neither Harrison nor anyone else in Stadia’s leadership had signified this was the plan. It came as a shock to Stadia players, industry analysts, and the developers themselves.
Harrison explained that the decision was a purely cost saving one through a series of blog posts. He claimed that game development costs had “grown exponentially.” They would instead focus on bringing third-party games like Red Dead Redemption and Destiny to the service. This would end up costing Stadia millions and did little to drive subscribers.
It was clear that Google was over its head with game development. The creation of the technology was within Google’s scope, but games were a different animal. The shutting down of SG&E was the first real sign that Google was losing faith in the product. Still, they tried to salvage the situation by shifting to a business model they understood.
White Label Technology
Starting in October 2021, Google started licensing the service as a white-label technology. What does “white label” mean? Basically, the creator of technology offers other companies access to that technology without citing them as the creator. So, in essence, other companies can “rent” Stadia technology and use it on their own devices.
Capcom made use of the service for its Resident Evil Village demo, allowing players to try the game on any Chrome-enabled device. It was also ported to all new Chromebooks and LG TVs with WebOS 5.0 or later. Google would even go so far as to add the service to its Google Cloud product, which is mostly aimed at businesses.
Still, Stadia’s catalog of available games was small and user growth was sluggish. Citing this, Phil Harrison would announce that the service was coming to an end. So, that brings us to the present.
Why did Stadia Fail?
Several things led to Google Stadia’s failure. First, Google is not a content company. They created an amazing technology that the gaming industry has been chasing for years but there is more to gaming than that.
Just look back at the console wars of the past. The system with the better technology doesn’t always win. If that were the case, Nintendo wouldn’t have become the juggernaut it is today. Nintendo has Mario, PlayStation has Naughty Dog games, Xbox has Halo, and even Sega had Sonic. Stadia didn’t have anything but access to third-party titles you could play on any other console.
Google’s fundamental misunderstanding of how to operate as a gaming company was another factor that dealt a blow to the gaming service. Stadia Games didn’t even have time to get something off the ground much less learn from mistakes. Google expected immediate results in an industry they knew nothing about and had no strong partnerships
Ultimately, the fall of Google Stadia isn’t a surprise, but it is sad to see. That said, Stadia might be dead, but cloud gaming isn’t going anywhere.
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