There’s a lot of talk right now about the “surprise” shutdown of Stadia, Google’s game streaming service. While it’s true that rivals like Geforce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming presented entrenched competition, and that Google knows next to nothing about gaming, the main problem — as with most of its products these days — is that no one trusted them to last longer. keep for a year or two.
It’s that simple: nobody trusts Google. It has shown such a poor understanding of what people want, need and will pay for that at this point people are wary of investing in even more popular products.
The technical implementation was certainly not to be blamed. I admit I was a skeptic when they said they could get the frame rates and response times they advertised, but at Jupiter they did. At its best, Stadia was better than its competitors and almost magical in how it fulfilled its promise of going from zero to in-game in one second.
The business side has never been more inspiring. There’s now a great reminder of the much-derided pre-launch hype display for Stadia: the doomed Dreamcast, meaningless Power Glove, and ET for Atari, the game so bad they buried it in a shallow grave, followed by an empty pedestal on which Stadia would soon be in.
While it’s clear that this was a hilarious misunderstanding about…just about everything, it turned out to be quite true. Stadia was doomed, meaningless, and destined for an undignified death.
The last first; it was only two months ago that Stadia’s Twitter account insured a concerned user that in fact the service was not shut down.
In fact, the wheels were probably already moving, but the higher folks hadn’t told their social team, or developers, or pretty much anyone that this was the plan yet. It has been reported that many people close to the service were taken aback by the decision – and who wouldn’t be, after the company publicly stated that everything was fine?
For some, the writing was on the wall before, when the first-party development team assembled by Google to create exclusive games was shut down before it had a chance to do just about anything. The company may have misjudged how long it takes to develop a game from scratch. At least as long as a Google Doodle.
Yet it could have succeeded even without exclusive offers if it had offered an attractive product. Unfortunately, Google Stadia was just as pointless and ostentatious as the Power Glove. “It’s so poor,‘ as the meme has it.
Impressive as its performance was, I couldn’t quite figure out who it was for. A huge, huge chunk of gamers looking to play the latest hit, say Deathloop, already own a console, a gaming PC, or both. Why should I buy Deathloop for Stadia instead of my PS5 or on Steam? It will play natively and look better (although Stadia looked surprisingly good), and of course they’ve already invested hundreds in those platforms.
Sure, you can play on the go, or on your laptop or something. But… not only do services already exist to do that, but the experience isn’t exactly great. Full-price games these days are immersive, big affairs where you sit on the couch for an hour or two and immerse yourself in it with the surround sound system popping. Sure, I wouldn’t mind doing a bit of inventory management on my laptop during a coffee break at the office, but otherwise, having permanent access to AAA games isn’t much of an advantage.
Meanwhile, games like Genshin Impact are reaching AAA levels and are naturally portable – played by millions on phones. Again, why was Stadia a better deal?
It might have made sense if the proposition was that you pay $20 a month and with some Google wizardry you can play PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, or PC games anywhere you want. A true cross-platform bridge builder type, and Google would probably pay millions behind the scenes for the privilege. A bit like what Samsung is trying:
But no. You couldn’t access your existing games – you couldn’t even use your own controller! It cost you a bill to get in, plus the monthly fee, then you had to buy games on top of that, for full price.
And here it was really doomed. Because while people here and there are happy to shell out a few bucks for a Google service, no one is going to pay hundreds for something they secretly feel will be completely worthless in the short term.
google’s legacy of killing products is notorious. The twists and turns in priorities, branding, standards, and everything else have made it clear to everyone that they can’t be trusted with anything beyond their core services, and they even enjoy screwing up every now and then.
I still have my original Super Nintendo, which plays just as well as it did the day I took it home. My Mario Kart and Super Metroid cartridges have worked for… my god, 30 years now. I have games on Steam that I bought ten years and more ago that I can load and play just as easily as I did then. There are digital copies of games on my PS3 that would boot right up if I felt like pulling it out of storage. These companies and services have built up trust for decades to show that they can’t or won’t pull the rug out from under their customers.
Why do you think the whole PT drama was so disturbing? It was really unexpected: an aggressive and unnecessary destruction of a digital product that people thought they owned. Gamers felt betrayed.
But at Google, the shoe is on the other side. Google has built up nothing but mistrust, outside of a handful of products that no one wants or needs to change. For me (and dozens more of us) the turning point was the murder of Google Reader — for which I’ll never forgive them, and regularly try to get a little revenge by calling it that — but plenty of other products have expanded, embraced and then extinguished (to reuse the idiom).
Google couldn’t betray me now if they tried, because there’s nothing to betray. To be honest, I’d be relieved if they screwed up Gmail so much that I had no choice but to switch – otherwise I can’t muster the will.
And while there’s no question that the people for whom Stadia made sense for whatever reason (and I was happy for them) feel betrayed, the millions of others who squinted and smiled and said, “Not this time, big G! ” feel confirmed. I will say I am amazed that Google is doing the right thing by offering a really robust refund. It’s the least they could do, and god knows they have the money.
I don’t think Stadia could have ever really been a success. The whole model was probably doomed from the start. But even a long shot can be molded into a successful product with a few pivots if the core is solid and it develops a large, invested community. That was never ever will be the case for Stadia. Google has built such a strong case against itself that, whether it’s creators on YouTube, programmers and scientists on Colab, or media and advertisers on Search, no community will ever truly trust it again.