Stadia is shutting down internal game development and Jade Raymond has left the company

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berfunkle

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Microsoft bought Bethesda. They bought Double Fine. They figured out long ago that it's cheaper to buy an existing game developer than to start from scratch. I'm shocked that Google didn't realize that starting their own gaming division would cost so much. At least that's what I got from reading their press release. I feel sorry for the folks who were brought in to make games. According to the press release, they're going to move them to other divisions. They wanted to make games, and now they have the chance to work on Chrome?!

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bigsocrates

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@berfunkle: To be fair, Microsoft combines buying studios with building them. 343 is a Microsoft built studio (albeit one a lot of people dislike), The Coalition was sort of built out of an acquired studio but more or less made by Microsoft, and The Initiative is a new Microsoft studio making Perfect Dark. Turn 10 was also built by Microsoft but it's 20 years old so maybe doesn't count.

Of course Microsoft has bought more studios than it has built, especially recently, but it does both.

Honestly I think that it isn't that Google didn't realize how expensive games are to make, it's that Stadia just isn't popular enough to justify the cost. They thought it would have a bigger userbase. Microsoft has 18 million Gamepass subscribers and tens of million more Xbox owners (and then tens of millions MORE Windows gamers) so they have a big market to support the cost of making games. With Stadia either the games were going to be too small to matter, or too expensive to justify their budgets given the install base.

It's a vicious cycle. Stadia isn't big enough to support big exclusive AAA games, but without big exclusive AAA games it's not clear how Stadia will grow.

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drwhat

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Stadia will be much easier to maintain and support with zero dedicated games and the just staying with the same trickle of AAA games that you can already play on GeForce Now or a real console or whatever. The near zero users will be very happy. Great job Google.

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bacongames

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The part where they roped in people to make in-house exclusives and then cutting them loose during the pandemic, uhhhh, fucking sucks.

Of course Phil Harrison still has a job. So much for any accountability I guess.

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bigsocrates

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@bacongames: Technically they haven't released anybody. They said that they will try to find people new positions within Google. For programmers and graphic designers and the like that probably won't be too hard if they want to stay, but for 3D animators and other people I don't really know what Google does that matches their skillset. Then again, Google is vast so they may have some division somewhere that needs a level designer, or close enough.

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isomeri

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Microsoft are happy about this I guess. I really like Game Pass and xCloud seems like a promising product, but I would also appreciate some more competition in this space. Hopefully Amazon will step up their efforts then.

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ButchMeatHook

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Google have cooked themselves. There was huge speculation when they were getting into the game space as to whether they were even serious about it because of their long track record of cancelling technologies that weren't short term successes and while they haven't cancelled Stadia, this is a huge indication that it's heading that way.

Who in their right mind beyond curiosity of a new system and technology actually would buy Stadia? The obvious sticking point is that the games are full price - it's not a Netflix of games like what a rival such as Microsoft offers, who have a much longer established position in the industry. Now they don't even have the angle of 'we will have exclusive AAA games at some point', which just nose dives the value proposition even further.

Streaming tech is cool, but Google has no favor with gamers and have just made the situation worse. Unless they are going to turn around and buy EA or something they have no foot in the business. If they cancel Stadia they won't have a way back into the business in any shape or form (besides partnering with Sony or Nintendo to provide streaming tech or something like that) for decades because the bad stench of Stadia will still be in people's mouths. They've made a very poor decision to jump into the business without being 100% committed to what they were trying to do.

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noobsauce

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This is why Google needs to be broken up. They have limitless money to just start projects, never follow through with them, and never suffer financially in a meaningful way while the people who opt in on whatever experimental tech are kinda screwed. How is any of that supposed to motivate innovation or consumer faith in anything they do?

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hughj

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#59  Edited By hughj

@noobsauce: I dunno, I feel like instances such as this carries an increasingly heavy cost with Google going forward. A lot of people, including businesses, likely didn't get involved with Stadia in the first place for the precise reason of Google's track record, and that's probably going to be felt doubly so for however they try to pivot and rebrand their Stadia tech. The next product/service/initiative that Google attempts to rollout is going to be received with even more skepticism than Stadia was, especially if there's competing offerings from the likes of Amazon, MS, Facebook, etc (not that these companies are perfect, they're just not quite as notorious as Google have made themselves.)

Internally I'd have to imagine that these situations don't do wonders for morale either, as people tend to care about seeing their years of work pay off into shipping products that actually have impact in the world. I recall one of Valve's past VR/AR engineers (Tom Forsyth) specifically citing this as a reason for motivating the mass exodus from Valve to Oculus/Facebook when the opportunity arose, as they were growing tired of an environment where Steam paid the bills and all other initiatives never having to amount to anything. In the case of Google, they probably have a bunch of people with CVs that look like the killedbygoogle.com meme, and sooner or later their best people will leave to work elsewhere.

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MrGreenMan

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Hot Take: video games are difficult to make.

I do not understand how Google/Stadia thought they would be able to make anything worth a damn, while being brand new to the industry and having no clout at all to push a 1st party title to sell their platform.

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xpsync

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Game Pass is tough competition. Microsoft bought an enormous army of young gamer's (minecraft). As they grow and become interested in exploring other games, Game Pass is their natural gateway.

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TreeTrunk

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Panfoot

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@treetrunk: Are they seriously pulling an epic on a port of a niche game that's 2 years old???

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buzz_killington

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#64  Edited By buzz_killington

I tried Stadia over the holidays to play Cyberpunk and the Immortals demo. I even tried it on a 25Mbps LTE hotspot on my laptop. I was fairly impressed with the tech.

What they should really do is open submission to all developers, including Indies, offered as white-label or "Powered by Stadia". Then anyone with a Unity or Unreal game can sell a 4k 60fps experience that plays instantly in any browser instead of worrying about publishing the game on a bunch of platforms.

Players pay for the game once, directly to the developer, and can play on any platform. The developer only has to build and maintain 1 version of the game. The developer pays Google for sever time and hosting fees (basically like AWS or Google Cloud). Everybody wins.

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Regal

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The bad news here is that Stadia currently has the best game streaming tech. And the original pitch was "games only possible in the cloud", which sounds great.

Even if you are not jumping at the bit to get on Googles platform, it would be cool and important if they could demonstrate games of unlimited size (for assets), and with gameplay scenes that require >30 Teraflops to merely run (like the demo they showed running on three stadia instances).

That could push the entire industry forward to deliver on that vision too. As far as we know that could be the biggest generational leap ever. Geforce Now, xCloud and Luna are only built to play existing games built for a single machine, and not built for this "elastic compute" concept. I know Phil Spencer has talked about something similar, but that could be decades delayed now that Google refuses to demonstrate what is possible on such a platform. Good news for Microsoft, when the upgraded xCloud comes out with a wide release they will effectively be the first mover in this space.

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FinalDasa

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#66 FinalDasa  Moderator

Really curious if this indicates Google views Stadia as a unique platform they can try and convince publishers to switch to or if this is them slowly sunsetting the service.

Google clearly doesn't understand how to enter the video game market. Their service is essentially a new store with a lackluster Game Pass you can snag. Why not offer free games like Epic continues to do?

Only advantage Stadia has is its ability to potentially be anywhere. TVs, phones, browsers, etc. If Stadia can easily say "we have the potential to reach hundreds of millions of users" then they could easily make an impact on the market.

Just seems like Google doesn't know what it's doing and thought the tech would be enough to entice customers.

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Serryl

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Just seems like Google doesn't know what it's doing and thought the tech would be enough to entice customers.

This is the part that confuses me. A move like this suggest Google was never serious about 1st-party games or Stadia's business model. For all their critics, Harrison and Raymond are veterans. I imagine they would've told company leadership that in-house game development is a 4-5 year investment, which doesnt take into consideration the revolutionary, "cloud-only" possibilities Google teased.

I saw someone else suggest this might've been Google wanting to appear as though they could compete with Amazon Game Studios. Basically them saying, "we don't really care about this, but we want to have teams in place if Amazon has a big hit and all the Wall Street analyst start asking how we'll respond".

If true, it's ironic that their hedging only reinforces the stereotype that Google is indifferent towards their own products and is undeserving of consumer loyalty or trust.

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Onemanarmyy

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#68  Edited By Onemanarmyy

@serryl: . A move like this suggest Google was never serious about 1st-party games or Stadia's business model

I can see a situation happen where Google made the assumption that the tech was so incredible and the interest in gaming was large enough that demand would be incredibly high. But as they were met with dissapointing subscriber numbers, Stadia's ambitions had to be downsized over time and less and less money got allocated to the (expensive) game development side of things. Until it was binned entirely.

At some point leadership takes a look at the entire Stadia project and comes to terms that they're not the mainstream service that they thought they would be. Budget goes down and Stadia decides that they should fully focus on the core business: The datacenter tech that fuels the service. It's relatively cheap and already generates revenue, unlike the expensive game development side that doesn't bring any guarantees of a significant population boost to the service.

Now if Stadia had truly caught on with the people from the get-go, i bet they could make a businesscase to keep spending big on the game studio for years to create unique games that could only work with 'the power of the datacenter'. Those games should've been akin to what The Boys is to Prime Video or Stranger Things is to Netflix. Exclusive content that makes a decent service become even bigger. I do think that they were banking on this scenario happening, but had to course correct as their service didn't hit big.

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TreeTrunk

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@panfoot:Yeah looks like they did, hopefully it's only for 3-6 months as speculated. I still need to get through Yakuza 3, 4, 5 & 6 anyway :P

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FinalDasa

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#70 FinalDasa  Moderator

@serryl: If I recall correctly I remember those first Stadia videos feeling really confident but really out of touch with the actual video game market. So when their 1st party announcements came along I think portions of Google just didn't know what it took to grow a console base.

All of it feels like there were a lot of assumptions and because it's Google and they're all smart, there's no way they could be wrong.

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csl316

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With Xcloud and Luna in the market, is there really room/a need for Stadia at all?

I've only tried the Xbox version of this cloud stuff and it seemed ok, so I'm curious if Stadia is so much better to the point where it needs to continue.

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whitegreyblack

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I must really be missing something regarding the "games only possible in the cloud" selling point of Stadia. I just can't see what Stadia can do that the extremely fast SSD interfaces of the Series X and PS5 cannot?

That tech will steamrolled into the mainstream PC scene before long, and then I just don't get what Stadia was supposed to have offered, software wise. Perhaps that is what Google realized as well, which is why they cut their losses on the in-house development front?

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hughj

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#73  Edited By hughj

@whitegreyblack: I think what a lot of people had in mind with leveraging the "cloud" would be whatever benefits could be extracted from having the game clients in close proximity with a fast network/fabric interconnecting them. The scale/scope of multiplayer games really hasn't changed a whole lot over the last two decades, whether it be concurrent users in a given zone in an MMO, or maximum player numbers in FPS/action games.

I'd chalk that up to being stuck with the client-server network architecture where the clients can never be trusted and the latency between them varies from single to triple digits. Stuff like client-side hit detection and backward reconciliation would be way more streamlined (perhaps not necessary at all) if all the clients are trusted and have low and/or very predictable latency.

I'd like a Planetside-style game that can actually scale up to hundreds of players in a skirmish without exhibiting any of the telltale network jank (desync, stutter, lag, rubberbanding, etc). I'd like an MMO city/hub that's as overcrowded as a launch day, but actually have the infrastructure be able to handle it.

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whitegreyblack

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@hughj:That's a really good analysis, thanks! It does put into perspective where cloud computing could possibly make some strides in a game experience. The issue that would remain, however – even in a purely online game – is either

  1. the game would have to be Stadia-only,
    In which (this week's announcement of the closure of studios aside) Google was so late to the table with any thoughts of having in-house devs building Stadia exclusive games that it was absolutely foolish to even imagine. Maybe they can still get third-party devs to help here, but it really sounds a lot like they dropped the ball completely and are now cutting any pretenses of having Stadia-exclusive software.
  2. likely a bad experience because cross-play with other architecture and platforms would make the experience bound to the same bottlenecks that exist currently.

Both of those problems seemed to exist purely because Google either rushed to market, did not plan properly, or straight-up did not understand and take action on things that could have made Stadia more of a success out of the gate.

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bigsocrates

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@whitegreyblack: Stadia's plan was to build a userbase, refine the technology, and then make games that would shine on it and build it even further. This sort of makes sense, both because having a larger userbase is necessary for games to go viral (it's hard to attract people to a service with no word of mouth and no track record) and because as the tech improves the number of unique things that can be done with it will also increase.

Stadia's problems were not offering a product that was as compelling as they thought (because not everyone has Google fiber), and especially its pricing model, which made no sense for a Google product that could be shut down at any time.

Google didn't invest nearly enough money into the project (they could easily have bought the rights to stream a large back catalog of games as a subscription like Gamepass) and they failed to generate the userbase they needed to make the project viable. They're retooling into something different now but it's not clear what it will be exactly.

There's a lot of talk about how Google underinvested in Stadia and development and the rest of it. The tech is good but they weren't willing to subsidize it to build a strong userbase.

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whitegreyblack

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@bigsocrates: Nothing Google did, in terms of strategy, makes any sense.

Expecting to building a userbase (especially with their convoluted free/paid tier PLUS selling the games at full price!) before you even think of making games that show the potential of the platform seems crazy. Software sells platforms, always has. Xbox would be a footnote in game hardware history if they did not have the game(s) to move systems and gain that first foothold in the market.

Stadia could have done like Epic does with their free games (all the money changes hands behind the scenes) in order to make a decently-sized game library completely free at launch and compel users to sign on with zero risk.

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bigsocrates

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@whitegreyblack: I didn't say it was a good strategy.

They thought that the platform would appeal to people who want to play the latest game but can't afford the latest hardware or don't have room for it or travel too much etc... That kind of makes sense, but the problem was the pricing model and the fact that when it launched you were expected to buy hardware rather than it being software you just downloaded to a device.

I don't know if I fully agree that software is always necessary to launch new hardware. Yes, Xbox launched with Halo, but look at the PS1 launch lineup. The closest thing to a killer app on that system was Battle Arena Toshinden. PS2 launched with an even worse software lineup and won the generation on the back of PS1's popularity and DVD. PS3's launch lineup was also not great, but it had Blu Ray and the PlayStation branding. You can say the same for a lot of systems that went on to have some success.

I do think that if Stadia had subsidized the software in some way (it wouldn't have to be free but if they'd had a strong Gamepass type subscription service or just lower prices subsidized by Google) it would have had a much better chance of success. The hardcore early adopter types all had other systems to play the games on already so they needed a reason to go to Stadia.

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whitegreyblack

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...look at the PS1 launch lineup. The closest thing to a killer app on that system was Battle Arena Toshinden. PS2 launched with an even worse software lineup and won the generation on the back of PS1's popularity and DVD. PS3's launch lineup was also not great, but it had Blu Ray and the PlayStation branding.

Decent points regarding software; however, these examples all, at least, had something. Stadia offered not much of anything to most people and had zero track record or secondary value proposition, unlike the PS2/DVD & PS3/BluRay examples... their sales pitch was basically 'play all the games you could have access to anywhere else, but with Stadia and on your internet browser' and then it came with a huge amount of caveats, fine print, and confusing pricing models & strings attached. The game they pushed hardest was Destiny 2 which had been a very known quantity and was freshly free-to-play everywhere. Past that... nothing, really.

@whitegreyblack: I didn't say it was a good strategy.

I hope I didn't imply you did! I think we're pretty much on the same page of Stadia really stumbling out of the gate and never recovering (or even making much of an attempt to)!

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bigsocrates

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@whitegreyblack: I think they thought "play anywhere, no need for separate hardware" was the big selling point but as you said they bungled it so it just didn't get people excited.

Something nobody is talking about in this thread is the cost model from Google's perspective. Stadia games cost server time and bandwidth and while Google can get those as cheaply as any other company on the planet they aren't free, and are issues that traditional game storefronts like Steam don't really have to deal with, at least for every game. I wonder how much that factors into the weird pricing model, because I think the biggest flaw was just trying to sell this as being a decent value compared to normal game purchases, even without having to buy your own hardware.

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whitegreyblack

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Good point @bigsocrates, and it makes me speculate whether a line on a graph of '# of Free Users/Paid Subscribers' vs. 'Where we have to be to expand our server capacity, spin up more hardware, and make this actually a thing' just never hit where it needed to. Again, I'm just speculating; but I wonder if, at some point, there was a do-or-die date for that to happen before the higher-ups pulled the plug on the money faucet for development, which is why they unceremoniously did so.

It's easy, and probably a bit unfair, for some schlub like me to armchair quarterback this stuff, but I'm still baffled at how Google didn't seem to take some of the lessons from things like Xbox GamePass and even Epic's attempt to take market share from Steam.

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bigsocrates

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@whitegreyblack: I think it's totally fair to armchair quarterback this thing. I know that I personally was given a buddy pass pretty soon after launch (never used it because I don't like the person who offered it to me and because of the service) and then I got an offer because I subscribe to Youtube Premium. So I've had several opportunities to dive in for free but haven't wanted to because the value just never seemed to be there.

My guess is that there was no hard cut off (because this would be too early for one) but rather that they saw the userbase adoption graph, how much the studios cost to keep running, and how long it would take to make an actual game and the numbers just did not work. Frankly they would have been better off just hiring outside studios to make exclusive games instead of setting up studios from scratch but at least they generated some headlines.

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