The nickname “Killed by Google” is deserved, but also exaggerated. Google may have a huge graveyard of services left behind in its 24-year history – my colleagues still mourn Google Reader and Google+ – but it almost always takes the bones of one killed project to start another. Google Wallet became Android Pay, became Google Pay, and became Google Wallet again. The same goes for its messaging apps. Until now, it was the display company for software recycling.
Stadia, despite its resounding failure, is another example: the consumer service will die in early 2023, but the white-label spin-off Immersive Stream for Games will no doubt continue. Google has already sold cloud gaming services to AT&T and Peloton and attempted to sell “Google Stream” to various game publishers like Bungie and Capcom earlier this year. We don’t know if it worked, but chances are Google will make a lot more money from B2B cloud game server rentals than from Stadia Pro subscriptions and 30% cuts in game sales. .
However, just because this news falls directly into Google’s MO doesn’t mean it’s any less dire for its partners or damages its reputation. Yes, Google will reimburse its users, which most failing brands cannot afford to do. But it also hurt indie game developers with its secrecy and “everything is fine” message until the announcement. Below are some examples:
After weeks of paperwork and preparations to bring Donut Dodo, Sir Lovelot, and Sigi to Stadia, we successfully completed the onboarding process with Google yesterday.Two hours later, news broke that Stadia was shutting down. Sad. @4Scarrs_Gaming #Stadia pic.twitter.com/pLc19oAtu4September 30, 2022
OH BOY VERY HAPPY TO SEE MORE MONTHS OF MY WORK GOING IN THE GARBAGE. I SURE LOVE GAME DEVELOPMENT.https://t.co/DUpBtof8tpSeptember 29, 2022
We have a title coming out on November 1st. Now we hear about it.September 29, 2022
Google had no reason to hide Stadia’s upcoming shutdown. Google will reimburse customers for all their purchases, so keeping it a secret hasn’t made them extra profit. Now IGN is reporting (opens in a new tab) as developers scramble to find ways to transfer Stadia save data and purchases.
What I find interesting – and I’m only speculating here – is that Ubisoft might have received some special attention from Google. It has long been seriously invested in cloud gaming, offering a Ubisoft+ package on Stadia and Amazon Luna. But in mid-September, Ubisoft abruptly canceled a planned Stadia release for Assassin’s Creed Mirage, while confirming that a cloud version would be released for Luna. This decision didn’t make sense at the time, but Google may have given Ubisoft a few weeks notice of Stadia’s closure, due to their close partnership.
So why conceal their plans? Maybe Google wanted to keep the facade long enough to sell Stadia to other companies or collect valuable user data until the very end. Or as Anshel Sag, Principal Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy has speculated, “it seems like some of these decisions are down to one person making up their minds about a project”, blinding everyone – including own Stadia employees – with quick judgements.
Whatever the circumstances, all of this ensures that console game developers will never trust Google again. Mobile developers will always happily put the best mobile games on the play store. But if they’re invited to join Google’s other upcoming gaming project currently in beta, Google Play Games for PC, it would more than fair question Google’s commitment to the project.
“There are so many projects that the company has closed that it’s ultimately difficult for anyone to partner with the company on new projects, and I think that hurts the Google brand in the long run,” says Wis. Google kills and regurgitates its own projects is fine, but the flakiness is less excusable when it involves the results of other companies.
Google executives might not care, as they are currently in the midst of an internal project cutback spree. In recent weeks, Google canceled its Chromebook Pixelbook 2 and shut down seven projects at its internal Area 120 R&D unit, which had a reputation for incubating fun ideas that weren’t always profit-driven. Instead, Google will focus on a “Simplicity Sprint,” urging employees to work 20% more efficiently on existing projects while freezing new hires.
Google’s own employees aren’t happy with this trend. An employee asked CEO Sundar Pichai why Google executives were ‘nickel and gradation employees’ when ‘Google has record profits and huge cash reserves,’ according to a recording obtained by CNBC (opens in a new tab). Pichai responded that employees “shouldn’t always equate fun with money,” blamed an economic downturn and ignored questions about executive pay cuts.
In February last year, I wrote about Google killing Stadia Games & Entertainment, saying it perfectly showed “Google’s engagement issues”. Google must have known that game development took years to pay off, but its executives shut it down after just 17 months because its huge investments in old third-party exclusives like Cyberpunk 2077 and Red Dead Redemption 2 didn’t pay off. immediately generated huge profits.
Yet even without exclusives, Stadia persisted thanks to a loyal user base who believed the platform performed much better than other cloud gaming services like Game Pass Ultimate, Luna, and GeForce Now. He had the technical chops to succeed with better marketing and better leadership; instead, it turned into a massive and demoralizing missed opportunity.
My question now is what else will Google opt out of as the company cracks down on experimentation in favor of safe investments? Will its new cloud-powered AR glasses get software support from companies that saw Stadia and Google Daydream come to an abrupt end? If the new Pixel and Pixel Notepad tablets don’t sell in droves, will Google abandon them like its old Nexus and Slate tablets?
Even if Google holds firm in its future plans, Sag believes that Google “is not “very well placed with consumer confidence in all of its products” and that it “struggles with the consistency [will] it’ll only hurt them later.” Even if Google employees believe in a troubled project, an impatient executive might be lurking above with an axe, ready to strike. And Google’s tech-savvy customers know this better than an average consumer.
Believe it or not, this location from the editor’s office was originally picked up by a post listing all of our staff’s hopes for the upcoming Google Pixel event on October 6, where they’ll be revealing the Pixel 7 and Pixel Watch. Staff are particularly excited about the latter, a watch that survived one delay after another for half a decade before finally hitting the scene.
I’m always intrigued by what Google has to offer, and we’ll post our list a little closer to Thursday’s event. But as the “founder” of Stadia, I can’t deny that this news dampened my excitement. And I wonder if the company’s next Pixel Watch equivalent won’t have the same leeway.