Google’s game streaming service, Stadia, is a technically-impressive platform that has been plagued with countless management and publishing issues. Now that Google has shifted its business to serving other game platforms, and ending big-budget ports, the Stadia we know is just about dead.
A Rough Start
Google Stadia has been the butt of jokes ever since its introduction in 2019, most of which were some variation of “can’t wait for Google to shut it down.” It’s true that Google has a long history of shutting down applications and services after just a few years, even some that had a decent level of popularity (RIP Google Reader). However, few of Google’s paid products and services are ever shut down, which granted some credibility to the idea that Stadia would stick around for a while.
Stadia had another significant roadblock for public perception: pricing. Stadia was primarily built around purchasing each game individually, with the option to subscribe to Stadia Pro, which increases the maximum streaming resolution and includes several games. Google didn’t seem to do a great job of communicating that you didn’t need the subscription to play games after you bought them, which wasn’t a great start for the platform.
There was also plenty of discourse in the gaming community about “owning” games on Stadia. Many were quick to point out that purchasing a game that you don’t fully own and can’t download is silly, and whenever Stadia would shut down, you would presumably lose access to your entire game collection. Even though that is a valid point on a surface level, the same can be said for Steam, Epic Games Store, and just about every other modern games platform. You don’t “own” a game on Steam any more than you “own” a Stadia game, and if Valve suddenly stopped existing one day, you would lose all your games purchased on Steam.
The confusion over pricing, Google’s history with shutting down services (even if most of them weren’t paid), and the general reluctance to use any games platforms on PC besides Steam (see: the Epic Games Store) proved to be a deadly combination for Stadia. The platform has had many other blunders since launch, like the shutting down of its internal game studio, but that’s a story for another day.
Despite the mixed public perception, Stadia quickly built up an impressive library of both AAA titles and indie games. Ubisoft was perhaps Google’s greatest partner, bringing many games from its popular Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry series, on top of other titles like Just Dance 2020, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, and Trials Rising. Square Enix also published a few games, like Dragon Quest XI, Marvel’s Avengers, the most recent Tomb Raider trilogy, and Octopath Traveler.
Stadia’s best success story to date might be the release of Cyberpunk 2077 in December 2020. Cyberpunk was a highly-anticipated futuristic RPG from the same studio behind The Witcher game series, but not only was it incredibly buggy at launch (to the point where it generated plenty of memes), the game was also demanding on PC hardware right in the middle of a GPU shortage. The Stadia version of Cyberpunk 2077, with its ease of access and fewer bugs, was seemingly the best way to play the game at launch.
Fast forward to 2022, and even though Stadia now has a library packed full of great games, new releases for major games are becoming increasingly more rare. Far Cry Primal and Cities: Skylines both arrived in May, but neither of them are new — Primal was released in 2016, and Skylines came out in 2015. Life is Strange and its sequel Life is Strange: Before The Storm were released on Stadia in January, but again, both games are several years old (first released in 2015 and 2017, respectively).
Bloomberg reported a year ago that Google spent “tens of millions of dollars” to convince major game publishers to support Stadia, including Take-Two Interactive (owners of Borderlands, Red Dead Redemption, GTA, etc.) and Ubisoft. That’s a lot of money, especially given that amount was reportedly the range for each individual high-profile port.
Paying developers to support a new platform is not a new business practice, but it usually happens with the assumption that it won’t be necessary after a while — once Stadia had enough players, many studios would want to publish their games on the platform alongside Xbox, PlayStation, and other systems. That never really happened.
Google has never publicly stated how many players Stadia has, but that same Bloomberg report claims Stadia missed Google’s targets for controller sales (referring to the $69 Stadia Controller) and monthly active users by “hundreds of thousands.” Google web searches for Stadia have also been mostly stagnant over the past two years, with occasional spikes when a major game arrived (like Cyberpunk 2077 in December 2020).
Google has increasingly pivoted its attention away from Stadia as as a platform, moving towards selling Stadia as a cloud service for other companies building cloud game infrastructure — Capcom just used it for a Resident Evil Village demo. Since players are no longer Google’s focus, it wouldn’t make sense to sign multi-million dollar deals with publishers anymore.
(Almost) No More Big Games
Stadia still doesn’t have a large enough userbase for most developers to be interested, so without Google forking over money for ports, publishers are clearly losing interest. Electronic Arts brought Madden NFL 21 and Madden NFL 22 to Stadia, but this year’s sequel won’t arrive on the platform. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor also isn’t coming to Stadia, even though its predecessor (Jedi: Fall Order) is on Stadia.
There are still a few major games on the way that will have a Stadia release, like Ubisoft’s Rabbids: Party of Legends and Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, but the schedule is much less packed than Stadia’s output in 2020 (and even 2021). Stadia announced in February that “more than 100 titles” would be added to the platform this year, but we’re now in June and Stadia isn’t even halfway there.
44% of the year has passed and Stadia has 28% of its new games goal https://t.co/J0ZxCv2aec
— Ben Schoon (@NexusBen) June 10, 2022
The good news (if you like new things) is that cloud gaming as a concept is sticking around. Amazon Luna is a similar service, built around subscription ‘channels’ with collections of similar games, similar to cable TV. Microsoft is seemingly now the top contender, with Xbox Cloud Gaming allowing people to stream Xbox games to any number of devices.
With Google’s shift towards game streaming as a service, Stadia as a technology will continue for the forseeable future, but the Stadia most of us know has hit a dead end. Google Stadia is dead, long live Google Stadia.