Google Stadia, the late 2019 streaming platform that promised to revolutionize gaming by letting users stream games without needing to own a powerful PC or console, is altering course, getting out of the game-making business and will now offer its platform directly to game publishers alongside offering Stadia Pro to the public.
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The company is announcing the news today, though Kotaku began to hear rumblings from sources close to Stadia last week that Google’s service was heading for a major change. One games industry source told Kotaku that Google was canceling multiple projects, basically any games slated for release beyond a specific 2021 window, though they believed games close to release would still come out. Today brings some clarification.
Google will close its two game studios, located in Montreal and Los Angeles. Neither had released any games yet. That closure will impact around 150 developers, one source familiar with Stadia operations said. The company says it will try to find those developers new roles at Google.
Jade Raymond, the veteran producer who helped build Assassin’s Creed for Ubisoft and moved on to EA several years ago before leaving to run game creation at Stadia, is exiting the company, according to Google.
Google will continue to operate the Stadia gaming service and its $10 monthly Stadia Pro service. It’s unclear how many, if any, exclusive games will still come to the service, though the company has indicated that it can still sign new games and will bring more third-party releases to the platform. It nevertheless will look to many like a draw down of the plan to have Stadia run as a bona fide competitor to console platforms.
The company plans to begin offering its Stadia tech to publishers, opening up the possibility for Stadia to become the streaming tech for other video game companies. Google’s head of Stadia operations, longtime console executive Phil Harrison, will focus on pursuing these new partnerships.
“We see an important opportunity to work with partners seeking a gaming solution all built on Stadia’s advanced technical infrastructure and platform tools,” Harrison wrote in a blog post today. “We believe this is the best path to building Stadia into a long-term, sustainable business that helps grow the industry.”
Google initially offered Stadia in a $129 Founder’s Edition bundle, which included a custom controller, a Chromecast Ultra (used for streaming games from Google’s servers to a TV), and three months of Stadia Pro, a subscription service that granted access to certain games.
Google promoted some exciting features, including the ability to let players pass control of a livestreamed Stadia game on the fly and to share savestates of games, but many of them weren’t available at launch and remained in testing phases.
The service’s best moments may have been when its third-party ports showed off the strength of the cloud gaming model, in which a game can run well on just about any device with a screen and a strong internet connection. Ubisoft games such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey ran well on Stadia. Destiny 2's Stadia support let players of that game drop in for an extra match or quest from their phone or laptop when they were far from their regular gaming gear. When Cyberpunk 2077 was faltering on everything else in December, it was running quite well on Stadia.
Still, without offering an all-you-can-play service nor offering killer exclusive games, Stadia struggled to get its footing. Meanwhile, Microsoft ramped up its xCloud cloud gaming service as part of its Game Pass Ultimate bundle, and Stadia became less and less alluring to the kind of hardcore gamer who can build buzz for a new gaming service.
Google seemingly built for the future with the creation of first-party studios and a leadership team consisting of accomplished studio heads and creative directors, but those efforts weren’t enough to stave off the fate many people feared when hearing about this Google initiative: that it would lose support from within before it got ample time to realize its potential.
Stadia isn’t quite done. The Stadia tech could still succeed. By many accounts, Stadia runs games great. But as a game-maker, Google appears to have packed it in. Said one source familiar with Stadia’s first-party operations, citing another tech giant’s widely publicized failure to create video games: “Google was a terrible place to make games. Imagine Amazon, but under-resourced.”
Update: February 2, 2021, 4:0o pm: In a statement to Kotaku about her departure, Raymond said: “I am proud of the team we built at Stadia Games and Entertainment, and the ground-breaking work on exclusive games for the platform. It was a difficult decision to take on a new opportunity, and I will be forever grateful to this team for everything we learned and achieved together.”