Just how badly did Google’s Stadia video game streaming service flop when it launched back in 2019? According to a new report by Bloomberg, it underperformed its sales target by hundreds of thousands of users, despite spending “tens of millions of dollars” secure ports of big blockbuster games.
It’s not hard to see why either, considering many of the features Stadia promoted during its reveal were missing at launch That’s not to mention the leap of faith the business model asked of users requiring them to pay full price for individual games on an as yet untested and unproven new technology.
Meanwhile, Google apparently paid publishers like Ubisoft and Take-Two small fortunes to ensure games like Red Dead Redemption 2 were available on the service when it released. At the same time, the service suffered from a lack of games overall, with Business Insider previously reporting that Google failed to offer enough money to indie developers to win their games over to its burgeoning platform. Some sources within Google wanted Stadia to launch in beta first, growing slowly, according to Bloomberg, but the company ended up rushing to market instead.
Moving fast, maybe too fast, and breaking things appears to be a recurring theme with Stadia. After launching internal development studios to make big first-party exclusives just a couple of years ago, Google suddenly shut the whole thing down February 1, catching both Stadia subscribers and developers by surprise. As Kotaku later reported, Stadia developers learned their studios would be no more at the same time that Google made the news public and less than a week after Stadia VP and general manager Phil Harison sent an email to the team congratulating them on their “great progress.”
This apparent 180 was in line with some current and former Stadia developers’ suspicions that Google went into first-party game development with unrealistic expectations, according to a separate in-depth report out today from Wired.
“I think it’s a lack of understanding of the process,” one source told Wired regarding Stadia’s game development woes. “It seemed there were executive-level people not fully grasping how to navigate through a space that is highly creative, cross-disciplinary.”
In addition to treating game development as a way to show off Stadia’s unique features, rather than prioritizing it in and of itself, a hiring freeze that went into effect once the covid-19 pandemic started made it hard to meaningfully move forward with production. Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in an April 2020 email that “momentum in a small number of strategic areas” would continue, but gaming was not considered one of them, reports Wired.
In the meantime, third-party games continue to trickle into the platform’s library. Just this week, Google announced PixelJunk Raiders by Q-Games as a Stadia that will arrive sometime in the future. Still, it’ll take more than that to rebuild the bridges Stadia appears to be very good at burning.