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RIP Stadia – We Hardly Knew Ye

Stadia is dead. Google will refund the cost of hardware, games and DLC, and by January 18th the service will be completely wound down. I know what you’re thinking: wasn’t it already closed down? And that is the tragedy of Stadia.

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Because it wasn’t a bad idea. Like OnLive wasn’t a bad idea, or PlayStation Now. But they held such a strange position in the industry that they would never be able to find success. Why play something via the internet that you can easily play natively? Why pay for the ability to have a worse experience?

That wasn’t always the case, but it was enough to change the conversation. And I’m not going to spend 500 words eulogizing for a service I was barely interested in using. But I’m interested in why another cloud service has bitten the dust. What is it about this that just isn’t breaking through?

And what does this mean for Google’s plans for the gaming industry?

Beyond the Cloud

That’s a really interesting thought. Gaming is bigger than ever. This isn’t Google stepping away from the plate.

Honestly? I would be less surprised by Google buying Sony on January 19th than by them walking away completely. They are going to regroup, they are going to invest, and they are going to return to the industry ready to compete in a different way.

This isn’t a reflection of their failure, although I suppose on some level it has to be. Cancelling Stadia is a reflection of their need to regroup. It’s an acknowledgment that they cornered a market that didn’t want to exist.

So does Google get into mobile, which is obviously absolutely huge? Well, they already are. Google collected $48 billion in revenue through the app store in 2021, and creating a few killer apps could easily increase that amount.

For context, Sony’s PlayStation Network revenue was $14 billion.

Or do they try and take some of the console/PC pie? These days that’s as ‘easy’ as spending a few billion on a struggling major player. But what happens to Ubi or EA when Google decides to end its next experiment too? It’s a scary thought.

Why Did Stadia Fail?

Cloud streaming has always been cool, but it’s never been must-have. I say that as someone that loved OnLive back in the day. Being able to watch other people play (and indeed, them being able to watch me play) was incredible, built in at a system level, and has never been matched all these years later.

But a product has to be more than neat. People don’t invest in major purchases – and gaming can certainly fall under that banner – because it’s a nice idea.

If Stadia had caught the general imagination, maybe they’d have succeeded. They tried to do it with exclusive content and deals, but those aren’t the attractions they might seem to be. Xbox has Game Pass and a slightly cheaper/more powerful device. Sony has your digital library and that evergreen “default purchase” smell. Nintendo… is inexplicably fine just ticking along with what they’re doing.

Steam Deck – a PC on the go – has captured people’s imagination. If you explain why it works in a single sentence and you just nod because it makes sense, you have a good product.

You can play amazing PC games on a potato over the internet sounds neat, but the market is tiny. If you’re into PC games, you have a PC to play them and if you’re not, you’re probably going to go for a console. If you’re not into consoles or PC games, you’re going to go for a mobile and Stadia isn’t interesting anyway. The window of “people who want to play PC games” and “people who would rather pay Google for their service than upgrade” is apparently not sustainable.

Add in all the Stadia doom and gloom that appeared since launch. It’s been shutting down since day one. It was inevitable really.

Conclusion

But its demise is sad. That Stadia represented any slice of the market, and that it did it pretty well, means it should get its chance.

Someone else will step up to fill that gap. Chances are they will fail too. It’s not that the market isn’t ready for a cloud-only service, it’s that the market doesn’t really exist. It needs to be an additional plus, like xCloud.

But this closure may well mean bigger things for Google in the coming months and years, and they won’t necessarily be as passive as Stadia has always seemed.

 

Article By

blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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