In the tech world and the digital entertainment world, success stories are many and varied, especially during the last two decades that they converged to offer products and services to consumers the world over. Spectacular failures are not uncommon, though and, by the look of things, we are all standing witness to one such failure in the making during the last 14 months or so. Worrying signs about Google Stadia came fairly early on, as early as within the service’s launch window in winter 2019 in fact. With nothing but such signs during the last few months or so, though, it feels not at all early to claim that Google has fundamentally failed to put Stadia on the map.
So it’s difficult to expect from a non-starter to do anything else than fade away.
This is an impression only reinforced by the announcement of Google I/O’s schedule for next week: the biggest event of the year for the Americans will host conferences, presentations and workshops for anything Google, from hardware, Android and AI to Assistant, ChromeOS and smart homes. Not a single mention of Stadia anywhere, though. Just last week John Justice, product head of Stadia at Google, left the company. A few days prior to that six other Google employees resigned in order to join Jade Raymond, the famous producer of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs, at her new Haven Studios development house. Raymond had resigned as soon as Google announced the closure of Stadia Games and Entertainment studio in February. More departures are expected too.
In light of the above, the future of Stadia is not just uncertain. It is almost inevitable given this company’s record: the search giant has killed so many of its products and services over the years that the infamous “Google graveyard” really is a thing. With Stadia, though, it’s different because many feel that the company did not even give its cloud gaming service the chance to try and fail: it seems almost as though it got bored of the whole project, shuttered its first-party game development studio unceremoniously, changed course in order to become a platform for others, but did all of that without dealing with everything that was wrong with Stadia’s business model in the first place.
Stadia’s strategy was never clear, its message was never clear, its aspirations were never clear. It always seemed like an effort that was made because “cloud gaming is the future” and because Google seemed well-positioned to compete with Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo based on its Internet experience, product portfolio and infrastructure (which makes Stadia’s failure such a shame as both sentiments are actually true). Nobody really knows what Google expected of Stadia within its first year in the market in order to understand its apparent indifference now. But so many high-profile departures from a project this early on often indicate a lack of direction on a managerial level, as well as internal disputes over important matters that define a product or service.
Google may not yet be ready to pull the plug on Stadia. Maybe there are plans in motion that could right all the wrongs and save this project. But in the grand scheme of things it has already failed because, as anyone and anything, it only got one chance to make a first impression… and wasted it. If Stadia were to become a competitive entertainment platform, it would have already gained some traction with gamers — and they seem to have no interest in investing time and money in this service now.
Stadia has also run out of time: Microsoft’s xCloud service will soon offer something along the lines of Stadia to Game Pass subscribers and Sony will probably start promoting PlayStation Now in a more aggressive manner at some point, sooner rather than later. Last but not least: not making the most out of consumers’ heightened interest in gaming during pandemic lockdowns in 2020 is indicative of a service that was either not ready, not promoted enough, not understood well enough by consumers or not commercially viable. Stadia simply checked too many of those boxes. See you at the funeral?