Google launched its Stadia cloud gaming service in late 2019, but already the bloom is off the rose. A series of increasingly concerning tales from Google’s game division has come to light in the weeks since Google killed its internal studio, and the latest tidbits are perhaps the most damning. According to a report in Bloomberg, Google blew millions of dollars to get games like Red Dead Redemption 2, but it still missed active user targets by hundreds of thousands of units.
Stadia is similar to platforms like Amazon Luna and Microsoft xCloud, but both of those services have rolled out more gradually. Google tried to hit the ground running after testing the streaming technology with Project Stream. According to Bloomberg’s sources, Stadia management took a game console approach rather than starting small, but the service’s poor game library and traditional pay-per-game model didn’t catch on.
Many of the sources interviewed for the Bloomberg report say this approach was flawed from the start. Several members of the team urged the company to launch Stadia as a beta — both Gmail and Maps Navigation were in beta for years after launch, allowing Google to tune the services based on how people used them. But Stadia manager Phil Harrison wanted the service to duke it out with consoles right away.
Google is said to have dropped huge sums of money to get AAA titles like Assassin’s Creed and Red Dead Redemption 2 to further this goal — we’re talking tens of millions for each game. That’s enough to develop a new game from scratch, but a handful of premium games isn’t going to hack it when gamers on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox get hundreds of new games every year. The result was a substantially smaller player base than Google expected, to the tune of hundreds of thousands. The resultant oversupply of Stadia controllers is allegedly why Google was giving them away so readily late last year.
While Google was paying out the nose for AAA games, the company’s Stadia Games and Entertainment division was working on games that could only happen in the cloud. Sources claim they were building experiences that transcended the memory and processing limits of local hardware, but then Google got cold feet. That’s when the company pulled the plug on SG&E early this month. Without exclusive content, Stadia’s future as a distinct platform is in doubt. Google hinted that it might license Stadia’s tech to other companies — that might be Stadia’s destiny.