Google announced its Stadia cloud gaming service almost two years ago, but the company is already planning to shake things up. In a new blog post, Google says it will shut down its game studio and will instead rely entirely on third-party developers. Google adds that this is just part of a larger strategy to strengthen its Stadia partnerships, but this feels like the beginning of the end for Google’s fledgling game streaming platform.
Stadia is in the same general category as GeForce Now and Microsoft xCloud: Instead of using local hardware like a PC or game console to render images, Stadia has powerful servers that do the hard work and then stream video of the gameplay down to your devices. Stadia works on phones, tablets, Chromecasts, and almost any computer that can run Chrome. The service launched with a handful of third-party games and a few temporary exclusives, but Google promised first-party content that would take full advantage of the platform’s capabilities. That’s no longer in the cards without its Stadia Games and Entertainment (SG&E) division, which has offices in Los Angeles and Montreal. The move will affect about 150 developers, most of whom will be moved to other jobs at Google. However, gaming veteran Jade Raymond will be leaving Google after joining the company in 2019 to run SG&E.
Google says it will continue to bring third-party games to the platform, but the cost of creating AAA games is very high. Although, it’s hard to believe Google didn’t see that coming. Regardless, Google says it wants to continue developing the underlying technology of Stadia and license it to other companies. It’s unclear how this is going to jive with the existing Stadia storefront. Letting other firms run cloud gaming services with Stadia tech would only create more competition for Stadia, which won’t have any exclusive Google-developed games after this move.
The end of SG&E also means we may never see the “new generation” of gaming Google promised. At launch, Google envisioned online worlds with thousands of people interacting in real-time, along with integrated live streaming and Google Assistant features. It’s unlikely any third-parties are going to build things like that for Stadia when Google can’t even be bothered to support its own platform. If Google does give up on Stadia in a few years, we’ll probably point to this as the first nail in Stadia’s coffin.
Stadia isn’t dead, and Google could still sort this out if it can just choose a lane. You can play select Stadia games for free on almost any device by going to the website on your computer or downloading the Stadia app. If you want the Stadia controller with its lower-latency connection, those are still available for $69 (and it is a very good controller). Although, spending money in the Stadia ecosystem might not be the best call when Google itself is shying away from the investment.