Google Stadia is already in crisis editorial
March 2019. Google holds a presentation at the Game Developers Conference to present its revolution in the gaming world: its name is Stadia. A streaming service is announced like others (Gaikai, OnLive, PlayStation Now) had never dared before. This time, Google assured us, the ambitions were much higher: 4K graphics, great third-party support and continuous technological evolution. February 2021: Google announces that it will stop producing video games.
In less than two years, Google has drastically downsized the ambitions of that project which, in its aims, was to represent a paradigm shift. Stadia VP Phil Harrison didn’t go around it – making games is difficult and requires years of investment. Which is why, the executive said, costs were growing “exponentially”: evidently too much for the calculations that Google had made.
Here our first question arises: Google (which is part of Alphabet, a group that is worth 1.280 billion dollars) had no idea of this before announcing Stadia? Having included industry veterans like Phil Harrison and Jade Raymond, who headed Stadia Games and Entertainment and is now leaving Google, what good was that?
The fact is that this finding has now prompted Google to dissolve the internal studios (one in Montreal and one in Los Angeles) to focus exclusively on the technological consolidation of Stadia and on collaborations with third parties. The service will remain active, mind you, yet it is difficult not to see the first cracks in the wall. And behind them you can glimpse the infamous Google cemetery (where all the services closed by the company, such as the Google+ social network, reside). Not that the cracks, continuing with the metaphor, were not already seen, indeed.
First of all, Stadia’s commercial offer has always been controversial: the titles are sold at full price but to play them in 4K HDR you need to pay a separate subscription (i.e. Stadia Pro, which costs 9 euros per month). Then there was the downsizing of the devices on which to play Stadia: in March 2019 Google promised an easy and fast experience, before specifying that the launch necessarily needed a Pixel smartphone, that iOS was not supported and that to play on TV needed a Chromecast Ultra. The result is that instead of increasing, the wait for the launch of the service has been steadily decreasing.
Over time, this situation has improved: now Stadia can be used on many Android smartphones and, recently, also on iOS via the browser. The TV experience flaw remains and a Chromecast Ultra continues to be served, although some future LG smart TVs will integrate the application.
Finally, there is the lack of trust that Google itself is showing. While PS4 and Xbox One users complained of big problems playing Cyberpunk 2077, on Stadia the game was immediately usable with a quality that made you forget that the game is not processed locally.
But instead of striking while it’s hot, less than two months after Cyberpunk 2077 debuted on Stadia, Google has announced that it will step back to focus on other fronts. Of course, other producers will be able to continue to distribute their games on Stadia but why believe it if even the owner decides to reduce their commitment despite the public having given a sign of life?
What would happen to the Switch, PlayStation 5 or Xbox if Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft decided that games are no longer worth making? That’s right: you would expect a backlash.
The decision by Google is therefore even more noisy, whose fault is perhaps to have overestimated the two key figures to whom it entrusted the project, namely Phil Harrison and Jade Raymond. The latter was the face of the Assassin’s Creed series in its early days (although the creative mind was that of Patrice Désilets). After leaving Ubisoft, Raymond joined Electronic Arts in 2015 to lead the newly created Motive studio. The developer made the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 single player campaign, with a decidedly negligible result. Raymond then joined Google in March 2019.
As for Harrison, he is best known for having been part of the Sony Computer Entertainment management from the mid 90s until 2008, experiencing the first three generations of PlayStation. After that experience, Harrison has bounced between various companies – Atari, Gaikai, Microsoft and finally Google – without actually making a tangible contribution.
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