OPINION: Google has squandered a giant opportunity to establish Stadia in the future of gaming. Chris Smith says the cloud game streaming platform is now impossible to recommend in the long term.
I’m yet to decide where my next-gen loyalties will lie. Will it be the flexibility of Game Pass Ultimate on Xbox Series X? Or the promise of more generation-defining exclusives on PS5? Not being able to get either console buys you time to decide! One thing I do know, it won’t be Google Stadia powering my future gaming endeavours.
I don’t know how Google can expect gamers to look at Stadia and say ‘this is the platform I’m going to invest in’. Big executives are leaving, ambitions are being scaled back and Google does not appear to be putting any of its marketing clout behind Stadia. It’s giving us no reason to look at Stadia as a going concern, let alone the future of gaming.
Stadia currently has all the hallmarks of one of those projects Google quickly loses interest in, despite lots of investment and lots of big promises out of the gate. I like a bet every now and again and my money’s on it being added to the Google Graveyard by the end of 2022. Either that or a further drawn down platform that’s folded into something else.
Stadia is on borrowed time
Right now, despite Google’s denials, it seems the entire platform is on borrowed time. I can’t possibly advise anyone to put all their eggs in this basket and spend money on Stadia games and hardware. And I’m not alone. Give Stadia a quick Google Search and here are the top six ‘people who ask’ questions being posed.
1) Is Stadia dead? (translation: Is it gone already?)
2) Why is (sic) Stadia flopped? (translation: It clearly hasn’t taken off. Why?)
3) Is Stadia any good? (translation: Is it good? Who knows?)
4) How much is Stadia? (ok, fair question)
5) Is Stadia shutting down? (translation: Is it in the process of shutting down?)
6) Is Stadia dead in 2021? (translation: Will it shut down this year?)
It’s not the whole picture, but not exactly indicative of a platform on the up is it? It’s reflective of the poor job Google has done of setting out what Stadia is, why it’s good and why it’s worth gamers’ time and money. In the last 12 months what has Google done to get new people on board? What it is doing to reassure gamers about its future? People literally cannot get the new consoles. Why isn’t Stadia attempting to capitalise on this?
Those who follow tech news have nothing to hang their hat on either. Google Stadia is haemorrhaging key figures on an almost weekly basis. John Justice, former VP and product head of Stadia at Google, left this week. Six more former staffers have followed the former head of Stadia’s now-defunct first-party studio Jade Raymond out of the door; joining her at the new Haven Studios.
The credibility problem
Gaming legend Raymond had the credibility and track record to really establish Google’s cloud-based proposition as a major player with first-party exclusives that would give gamers a reason to seek out Stadia.
However, it appeared she was never given a proper chance to succeed and the Stadia Games & Entertainment division was shut down after just 18 months. What on Earth could she and her team have achieved in that time? Again, it has the hallmarks of something Google, despite its incredible resources, got bored of and just couldn’t see through.
Just a couple of weeks before announcing the SG&E shutdown, Google’s Phil Harrison was still promising “great progress building a diverse and talented team and establishing a strong lineup of Stadia-exclusive games.” Boy did that change quickly. How are gamers supposed to trust the company’s assurances moving forward?
Sony wasted no time in capitalising on Google’s decision to cut its losses on first-party projects. Now Raymond, the former Ubisoft developer who gave us Assassin’s Creed, is working on exclusives for the PS5 as part of a new Sony-backed studio.
Initially, it seemed like Stadia had a shot. The big three gaming companies could have become a big four and you wouldn’t need an expensive console to get in on the act. Stadia seemed ahead of the game and had the chance to really pioneer a cloud gaming platform that democratised access to the best AAA games without the need for the best hardware and without making an appointment in front of your TV set.
At the time we were high on the idea. Given Google’s resources and the absolutely massive game it talked in the summer of 2019, the future looked bright for Stadia. Google has categorically wasted that opportunity.
Game Pass Ultimate > Stadia
There was another lifeline last year when the calamity of the Cyberpunk 2077 launch on current-gen consoles gave Stadia and the advantages of cloud gaming a real chance to shine. Google squandered this lifeline by failing to capitalise on the fact that, save a high-end gaming PC, Stadia was the best place to play Cyberbpunk 2077. It remains among the best Stadia games while the console versions struggle, but you wouldn’t know it.
In the last two years Microsoft has completely eradicated any perceived advantage Google had in bringing cloud-gaming to the masses. The almost impossibly-good value Xbox Game Pass Ultimate platform is bringing Xbox games to any screen, either via apps or web browsers.
The value proposition, £10 a month for Stadia Pro, isn’t close to being competitive with the similarly-priced Game Pass Ultimate. The depth of the games library isn’t there and the free benefits don’t match up either. It’s only a matter of time before Sony gets its act together with a more robust cloud gaming platform and further lessens Stadia’s attractiveness.
It’s not over yet. Google I/O is in less than two weeks away and it gives Google a worldwide audience to reestablish its goals for the platform and convince gamers it is staying the course. However, if we don’t hear big things on Stadia and Google’s plans for its future, the writing is on the wall: Stadia isn’t dead, but it will be soon.