Google Stadia is dead because it was too ambitious and also not ambitious enough.

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bigsocrates

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Edited By bigsocrates

Well it has happened. Google Stadia is officially a dead platform. For the vast majority of gamers this is pretty meaningless because most of us never even tried Stadia, or quickly abandoned it if we did. For a few people it means they have lost their main way of interacting with games, and I feel bad for them though at least they got their money back and in some cases were able to export their saves.

The fascinating thing about Google Stadia is that by all rights it should have been at least a modest success. It had everything you need to do well in the gaming space. Tech that most people agree was impressive and worked well. Brand awareness. A massive corporation with the deepest imaginable pockets backing it. It even had a pitch; play anywhere any time with no installations or patches. A perfect way to fit gaming into your life the same way that video now fits into our lives, where you have services you use across multiple devices on demand and it all just works.

There were a few obvious issues with Stadia from the outset. The first was the lack of a killer app. There have been a few Stadia exclusive games but nothing that people were like "you need to find a way to play this." The conventional wisdom is that you need some special game to get people to invest in a platform. However Stadia didn't really require an investment at all, so this doesn't seem like a deal breaker for me. The Epic Store and Good Old Games don't have killer apps, and while Steam launched with Half Life 2 it was never really driven by exclusives after that. You may need a killer app to get someone to buy a $500 console to put under their TV but not to play games on devices they already own. Stadia did have a controller you were supposed to use with the service but it offered those for free to many people at various times.

The second issue with Stadia was the lack of universal compatibility. This is a bigger issue because it undercut Stadia's whole appeal. If Netflix only worked on IOS and Linux it would not be Netflix today. Of course Stadia's compatibility issues weren't nearly that bad, but the fact that Google had trouble making Stadia work with its own Chromecast devices was a serious issue. I don't think that this was a total platform killer but I do think it was a major dent in Stadia's armor.

But the real thing that sank Stadia was not the lack of games (there were a LOT of games on the service) or the lack of compatibility. It was the business model. Asking people to buy games that they couldn't download and use locally but could only use with a service that 'lived in the cloud' and could only play at high quality with a monthly subscription doomed the thing before it launched. All the other major problems stemmed from that.

For example one issue a lot of people bring up regarding Stadia is that a lot of people have bad Internet connections. Stadia was developed by a team of Google employees often living in major cities and having expensive connections they needed for work and that the company might even be subsidizing. By all accounts it did a decent job of streaming games even with more representative connections but people were understandably worried about this, and while you definitely could test your connection for free with various FTP games and trials the fact is that you wouldn’t really know how input delay will impact a given game until you try it, and asking people to plunk down $60 for a game that might not work well was never going to work well. Especially given that Google has a reputation for pulling the plugs on even big well-funded projects pretty regularly. People didn’t want to spend a bunch of money for games they might not be able to play and wouldn’t own in any meaningful way even if they did. Of course Google DID pull the plug on Stadia early, though it refunded all purchases, which meant concerns about losing your ‘investment’ were actually overblown (though the fact that Google could happily hand back all the money Stadia pulled in probably shows just how poorly it performed, especially because they weren’t able to recoup the portion they paid out to developers.)

Stadia was overly ambitious in that it tried to get people to embrace an all streaming model instead of going with some kind of hybrid model like Xbox has, where you can download games or stream them. Just allowing downloads would have done a lot to make Stadia more appealing, but it wanted to jump headlong into the all streaming future even I customers were not ready. But it was not ambitious enough in that it didn’t try to disrupt the basic retail model of video games. If Stadia had been a subscription service people would have been more willing to try it and it could have offered something that people might check out multiple times as their internet connection improved and streaming games became more generally popular. Or if Stadia had offered downloads along with streaming it would have been just another PC game store but with a unique additional feature that could have made it appealing. There is an argument that either method would have been more expensive for Google, but I’m not sure that’s true given that they were already spending tens of millions to get ports of pre-existing games. I can’t imagine they couldn’t have worked out a deal for games to be added to a subscription or to permit the download of pre-existing PC versions.

Of course there were lots of other problems in Stadia’s execution too. Google’s game development program never really got off the ground and while some additional services and options were added after the initial launch the messaging remained murky and confusing. Stadia’s compatibility issues with Google’s own hardware made it look half-assed and like the company wasn’t fully behind it. These things acted like ballast on what was already an uphill battle.

Still I can’t help but see Stadia as a missed opportunity. Game streaming will be mainstream one day soon. It’s basically inevitable. More and more games essentially live in the cloud anyway, with local versions being paperweights once the servers come down. Gamers have mostly moved from physical media to downloads and gaming will follow the same route that film and music have. Physical to downloads to streaming. It’s just a matter of the tech being there and customers getting used to it but it will happen. Stadia could have been a leader in this. Instead it’s like any number of start ups that tried to get into an industry before that industry was ready for its ideas. Except this startup was backed by Google so it didn’t have to die. At least if it had been more ambitious from the outset (Music and movies are consumed by streaming but people aren’t buying streaming rights, they’re renting them.) Or maybe a little less in its desire to force an immature technology on an unwilling market.

Oh well. It’s gone now. At least they unlocked the controllers for use with other games.

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AV_Gamer

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#1  Edited By AV_Gamer

Its gone because charging people a fee to stream games, which isn't the optimal way to play them, and then also claiming they have to pay full price for the whole game to stream is just bad business. Yes, there are a very small number of people who can't afford to own a modern console, so something like Stadia could work for them. But most people can, and even the ones who can't, know there are better options like PlayStation Now on PC before the merge with PS Plus, Xbox Game Pass, etc. You can say Nvidia Geforce streaming does the same, but the hook with them is that you get to stream the games from a high bandwidth gaming PC with the latest graphics cards on ultra settings with ray-tracing. They just added support for the RTX4080 to their service. So PC gaming purist who can't afford to spend thousands of dollars on a gaming PC can see that as an option. Stadia wasn't doing any of those things with their streaming. It was doomed out the gate.

But its a shame for those small number of people who were counting on Stadia for their gaming. I hope they're able to find something else, especially if they were playing live service games like Destiny 2.

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ThePanzini

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#2  Edited By ThePanzini

@av_gamer: The Switch has received a ton of late ports which run pretty bad even compared to their PS4/XB1 counterparts, The Witcher 3 on Switch sold ~1m copies for instance in a few months.

A Stadia version would have easily been an upgrade outside of the price, which was down to Google using Linux.

The Switch even has a few clould only games which are successful enough that they keep doing them, and we seen from the Steam survey most people use quite poor hardware.

Stadia could have carved out a sizable audience just providing access, without the Netflix for games angle. The pitch would have been easier and more importantly cheaper to sell.

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gtxforza

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#3  Edited By gtxforza

@thepanzini: Also, the PC version of The Witcher 3 has outsold the PS4 and Xbox One versions around 2020, while Cyberpunk 2077 is more popular on PC than consoles, so I believe CD Projekt Red is more of a PC game studio as they prioritise optimizing their game performance for PC.

I'm glad that I bought Cyberpunk 2077 on PC instead of the gaming console versions.

Overall, I prefer playing games natively (In regardless of the gaming platform) more than cloud gaming.

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ThePanzini

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#4  Edited By ThePanzini

@gtxforza: Witcher 3 on Switch was an unstable 30fps and sub 720p, at that point Stadia 1440/60 would arguably be better than native. Would it not?

CD Projekt Red also spent a lot of time 15 months porting the Witcher 3 to Switch.

If you have the means and hardware native is of course better but most folks even on PC can't run Cyberpunk 2077 decently or at all never mind better than Stadia.

Stadia could have be a good option for a lot of people.

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gtxforza

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#5  Edited By gtxforza

@thepanzini: Oh sorry, I meant to say I would rather play on a good-spec native gaming platform rather than cloud gaming and a poor-spec native gaming platform.

Yeah, I really hoped Google Stadia to have a very good future but oh well, I hope there will be another good cloud gaming service for those who cannot afford a good spec gaming platform for each specific game.

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Onemanarmyy

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#6  Edited By Onemanarmyy

I'm surprised they never managed to get that youtube integration going. I expected them to at least have a bunch of games where every video of that game would come with a big button to instantly play the game on screen no matter what potato laptop you're using.

I've sat here without a competent GPU for a few years before, and Geforce Now was a good solution back then. I imagine a bunch of people around the globe would be amazed that they can play pretty-looking games on their 2012 laptop if only they had a completely barrier-less option to experience cloud-gaming instead of having to fully commit to a new streaming-only library. Getting a stadia button on the youtube pages could've been huge i reckon.

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Glad it died. I don't believe in removing ownership and letting big corpse control my content.

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ThePanzini

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@onemanarmyy: I pretty sure if Google did Youtube integration it would have been considered a sort of advertisement like an affiliated link, Google has gotten into trouble in the past with them favouring its own services.

Considering ads are Googles golden goose I'm guessing they didn't want to mess with it or the very least be forced to provide to same service to other vendors like Amazon & Apple.

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Onemanarmyy

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#9  Edited By Onemanarmyy

@thepanzini: But wasn't that something they themselves said they wanted to do?

Let's talk about YouTube integration.

Phil Harrison: Our platform engages deeply with the YouTube technology but actually, take a step back. Think of gaming today. There are really two discrete universes that co-exist. There are people who play games and there are people who watch games. There are 200m people watching games on YouTube every day. In 2018 there was 50bn hours of watch time of game content and you know, just unpack that mentally for a second in terms of what that means in years. It's insane in terms of time and population, and our vision for our platform is to converge those two worlds together so that you can be watching a game, click and be playing a game and vice-versa. It even goes down to what we call the platform.

......

So you could have a cascade of new users joining a particular instance just by sharing.

Phil Harrison: And then the YouTube creators, the people who create videos, VOD or livestream on YouTube are a central part of how we connect games with gamers. So you'll see how that works in practice, but at a fundamental level it's the future of multiplayer lobbies, where as a streamer, as a YouTube creator, I can bring people into my game in an instant from the fans and subscribers to my channel. And whether that's me and my 10 mates, or Matpat with millions and millions of subscribers, the technology is the same.

https://www.eurogamer.net/digitalfoundry-2019-google-stadia-phil-harrison-majd-bakar-interview

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ThePanzini

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@onemanarmyy: Yes Phil Harrison and Stadia, I don't think it was ever feasible. The Stadia pitch was pie in the sky hopes and dreams without any plan or thinking behind it.

Its not the first time asperational PR hasn't come to fruition.

If you wanna see how much YouTube pushed Stadia, type Stadia into YouTube and sort by views.

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Onemanarmyy

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#11  Edited By Onemanarmyy

@thepanzini:

I guess i'm just surprised that

1. Whether this would be feasible wasn't studied by the company before sharing these lofty ambitions

2. If the company neglects this process, that no interview ever questioned whether Google would be able to directly steer their youtube audience towards their other service or if that was an unfair competitive advantage towards their competitors.

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ThePanzini

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#12  Edited By ThePanzini

@onemanarmyy: Its just an educated guess on my part, but I don't see how Google could promote its own product on its own service, which happens to be one of the biggest ad platforms and a highly regulated one at that.

Its something the EU has always had an issue with particularly within big tech, its an anti-trust complaint waiting to happen.

MS is the 2nd biggest company on the planet during the disaster Xbox One reveal they released a Q&A regarding used games not only was it poorly worded hard to decipher and full of contradictions, I quite clearly remember watching a video of the GB crew trying to understand it.

Particularly interesting was the single sentance in the Q&A that publishers could opt-out of the entire thing and just block used games, we never got an answer if any publisher would.

You would have thought MS proposing such radical change would have had the details nailed down and every publisher on board, but it was like they were making it up as they went along even Gamestop was surprised by the announcement.

Platform launches often provide loft ambitions which never get fulfilled 1080/60 standard last gen or 8K this etc.

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Anecdotally, I tried xcloud, stadia and geforce now during lockdown, and I thought stadia had the best latency and fewest frame drops than the other two. But I used geforce now the most because I didn't have to pay extra for my steam games. In the US, I have to worry about my <1TB/month data cap too.

Tbh, I think even if Apple said, "hey, we're going to support every steam game in existence on our new silicon chips," it still wouldn't be a big sales point because most people already have a console or PC. I.e. nobody's suddenly moving to a mac because apple now supports gaming.

Cloud gaming is still pretty niche, and tbh I don't think the average person will use it extensively unless they do everything else through the cloud too.

Xcloud and geforce now are still pretty usable, but if I can get a cheap used console on ebay or whatever then what's the point?