With its Stadia service, Google attempted to quickly break into cloud-based video game publishing and development, but an incomplete launch product and poor sales model brought it down almost as soon as it got started. .
Now, as Google announces the impending shutdown of Stadia, it’s moving away from a cloud gaming marketplace that was mostly built in reaction to that. Stadia came first, but Amazon, Microsoft, Sony and others capitalized on Stadia’s weaknesses.
In 2022, cloud gaming is growing in popularity and affordability — in part thanks to learning from what Stadia did wrong.
Google announced on Thursday that it would be ending Stadia. The various Stadia storefronts have already been shut down, but users can continue to play games that are already in their Stadia library until the service is officially shut down on January 18.
“…While Stadia’s approach to consumer game streaming was built on a solid technology foundation, it hasn’t won the user success we hoped,” wrote Phil Harrison, vice-president. President of Google and CEO of Stadia.
“We remain deeply committed to gaming,” Harrison continued, “and will continue to invest in new tools, technologies and platforms that fuel the success of developers, industry partners, cloud customers and creators. .”
Current Stadia team members will be reassigned, while the service’s underlying technologies will be repurposed for use on YouTube, Google Play, and augmented/mixed reality projects. Users who purchased Stadia games and hardware through Google or Stadia stores will be refunded over the next few months.
Google originally announced Stadia at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in 2019. Via Stadia, according to Google, it would allow users to play video games via almost any networked device, via cloud access to Google servers.
The argument for consumers was that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on high-end consoles or PCs to play video games when you can connect to Stadia through your current tablet or phone and run latest Assassin’s Creed on maximum settings.
Additionally, Google had already made substantial investments that indicated that it planned to become a major player in the publishing and development of consumer games. This included opening two game studios in Los Angeles and Montreal, and hiring industry veterans like Harrison, who worked at Sony, Atari and Microsoft before joining Google, and the former producer of ‘Ubisoft Jade Raymond.
The hype was real for most of the next year, but when Stadia launched in November 2019, it did so with incomplete software and a really weird sales model. Google’s vision for Stadia was clearly that it was meant to be a kind of Virtual Console, as it charged users full retail price for its cloud versions of individual games.
Stadia then struggled to find an audience. Despite the massive growth in popularity of video games during 2020, Google opened 2021 by lowering its expectations of the Stadia project. It abruptly shut down its in-house development studios and turned Stadia into a low-cost game publishing service.
Conversely, other companies’ cloud gaming companies have focused on reducing costs for consumers. Amazon’s Luna, for example, was first announced a few months after Stadia, and was obviously designed in response to it. Instead of charging users for individual games, Luna offers a one-time monthly fee for unlimited access to a library of titles, with additional features like a Couch mode for online multiplayer or additional themed “channels” of games for a fee. additional charges.
Likewise, Microsoft used its Xbox Cloud Gaming initiative as an add-on to its Xbox Game Pass, rather than a standalone service. You can subscribe to Game Pass at the Ultimate level to have the option play games via the cloud on console, PC or supported mobile devices. It’s just an extra value addition to a subscription that is already full.
Sony got in on the act earlier this year when it bundled its two subscription services into one option, the rebranded PlayStation Plus, which includes an expanded version of Sony’s cloud services as a bonus for subscription tiers. superiors. This includes using cloud technology to effectively emulate the otherwise notoriously difficult PlayStation 3 for the purpose of streaming games from its library.
Analysts released data as recently as this week that suggests cloud gaming enthusiasm is slowly growing in the US market. Research firm Parks Associates released a report Monday morning showing that at least 35 million American households would be interested in purchasing a cloud gaming service at a price of around $9.99/month.
The crushing impact of Stadia therefore seems to have been a negative example. While playing games on Stadia is a decent experience at this point, as long as you have a stable high-speed internet connection (source: me, play Red Dead Redemption 2 on Stadia this morning), no one else in the cloud gaming space has come close to its sales model.
Users could only purchase individual games on Stadia at standard retail prices or play them for free for short periods as a demo. Stadia wanted to charge the full MSRP for what amounts to conditional server access, which could theoretically be taken away at any time due to a contract expiration or license dispute. There was no streaming equivalent, like Xbox Game Pass or PlayStation Plus.
This includes the relative handful of Stadia exclusives, which will disappear from the marketplace altogether when Stadia shuts down until or unless their publishers release them on other platforms. This includes Tequilaworks Gyltby tinyBuild Hello EngineerQgames’ Pixeljunk Raidersby Bandai Namco PAC-MAN Mega Tunnel Battle, and splash damage Outcaststhe last of which only came out last July.
(It’s hard not to draw a parallel here between Stadia and the current HBO Max controversy, where the company’s new management memorized multiple seasons of anime programming, allegedly to get a tax deduction. Physical media and the local installation both have their downsides, but neither will abruptly cease to exist due to some sudden corporate quirk.)
Analysts had been expecting Stadia to be sent to “Google’s graveyard” for at least the past year, but Harrison’s announcement was still quite sudden. As Stadia draws to a close, the final word on its cloud gaming efforts seems to have been that it came first, so it had to make all the first big mistakes.