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Stadia's issues were clear from the start | This Week in Business

No hindsight was needed to see that Google's Stadia first-party development plan didn't make sense

With Stadia Games and Entertainment no longer a going concern, let's take a look back to the day it was announced at the March 2019 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Outside the auditorium where Google executive Phil Harrison was about to reveal Stadia, the company was teasing the upcoming reveal with an exhibit of sorts: several pedestals in a row, each showcasing a memorable piece of gaming history. The last pedestal was reserved for whatever it was Google was about to announce, with a sign simply saying "Coming soon."

Unfortunately, there was a fairly recognizable theme of commercial failure behind the other artifacts of gaming history chosen for display: a Sega Dreamcast, an NES Power Glove, and a copy of E.T. for the 2600.

In a post on Twitter months later, Video Game History Foundation co-director Frank Cifaldi said his organization had been tapped by Google to create the display.

"Confession: We were paid to provide these things for the Stadia display," Cifaldi said. "They didn't know what they wanted, changed the scope about four times, and ended up mish-mashing two different concepts that worked together into one that didn't."

From the outside, that description would appear to be just as applicable to the Stadia project -- and Google's gaming ambitions -- as a whole. Stadia was presented as a consumer proposition, but it sounds like more of an enterprise business now. In announcing the internal studio's closure, Harrison said it would instead be focusing on "using our technology platform for industry partners."

"Having games streamed to any screen is the future of this industry, and we'll continue to invest in Stadia and its underlying platform to provide the best cloud gaming experience for our partners and the gaming community," Harrison said. "This has been the vision of Stadia since the beginning."

Making games? Not part of the original vision. The vision changed, obviously, as Stadia started up its own studio, acquired a second, and founded a third less than a year ago.

Making games became part of the vision for a stretch of time, but the vision has changed back.

The most frustrating aspect of this is you didn't need to be reading way too much into a simple promotional display at GDC in order to see Stadia's first-party plans were a poor fit for the platform launch strategy. It was obvious that building a studio to create AAA games that would launch years after the platform was less than ideal, and the sort of endeavor you should only pursue if you're willing to lose a ton of money keeping the platform around until those games are ready.

But Google did it anyway, and then when the platform without a compelling value proposition failed to take off immediately, it pulled the plug. And all that was lost along the way was an unconscionable amount of money and a year or two in the professional lives of about 150 developers.

QUOTE | "Creating best-in-class games from the ground up takes many years and significant investment, and the cost is going up exponentially. Given our focus on building on the proven technology of Stadia as well as deepening our business partnerships, we've decided that we will not be investing further in bringing exclusive content from our internal development team SG&E, beyond any near-term planned games." - Google Stadia VP and GM Phil Harrison announced the end of the company's attempt to make its own AAA games showing off the power of the cloud.

STAT | 23 months - The time between Stadia launching Stadia Games and Entertainment and shutting it down.

STAT | Considerably longer than 23 months - The time required to make a new AAA game, nevermind one that would feature heretofore unproven gameplay powered by cutting edge technology.

QUOTE | "A fully physics-simulated game is one of the Holy Grails of game creation since Trespasser was being imagined 20-something years ago, and now we finally have a platform where we'll be able to deliver some of those experiences." - As if the Power Glove and E.T. display wasn't enough of a pre-launch omen, Stadia Games & Entertainment head Jade Raymond invoked a technically ambitious yet notoriously disappointing product as an aspiration when talking to GamesIndustry.biz about Stadia just before the launch.

QUOTE | "Without [Stadia first-party studios], the whole proposition of game streaming may be more realistic, but it's also terribly stunted. Until someone else steps up to put budget and commitment behind exploring the potential for exclusives, streaming is always going to be little more than a snack between consoles." - In an editorial, GamesIndustry.biz's Rob Fahey laments the demise of the biggest push for streaming as a way to enable new types of games rather than a new way to play the same games you get on console and PC.

QUOTE | "Some businesses take off in the first year, and others take many years. Though we haven't consistently succeeded yet in [Amazon Game Studios], I believe we will if we hang in there." - Amazon CEO-in-waiting Andy Jassy says the online retailer and tech giant is committed to game development, even if the results so far have been disappointing, to say the least.

QUOTE | "There's probably some incredible talent elsewhere in the Embracer Group that would absolutely love to spend time in some Gearbox IP. And likewise, there's probably some Embracer IP we might want to play with, or some titles which our publishing unit might bring some advantages to. We'll figure that out." - Randy Pitchford, when asked about the potential for cross-company collaborations between the Borderlands developer and its numerous new sibling studios.

QUOTE | "I'm a game developer, I love what I'm doing and I enjoy nothing more than to make games that surprise people, that put a smile on their faces or that might even make people cry. But I'm also a passionate gamer myself." - Moon Studios and Ori and the Will of the Wisps creative director Thomas Mahler, explaining why he felt the need to post a profanity-laced rant on a public forum about "snake oil salesmen" developers, specifically Peter Molyneux, Sean Murray, and CD Projekt Red.

STAT | 128 million - Activision's monthly active users during the holiday quarter of last year. That's exactly the same number the division reported for the holiday quarter of 2019, even though it released the free-to-play hit Call of Duty Warzone last Mach and 2020 saw the Call of Duty franchise nearly double the amount of money it brought in over 2019.

QUOTE | "Once [the consumers] invest in our products, it doesn't go by the wayside in two years or three years, but they are able to really enjoy that particular console for a very long time." - Sony Computer Entertainment president Kaz Hirai, 10 years ago this month, hyping up the PlayStation Vita by explaining how important it is for hardware makers to support their platforms for a long time and not just give up making games for it two or three years after launch.

QUOTE | "To The Moon follows two roommates laid off from their jobs at GameStop and AMC, who turn Covid into lemonade by using their stimulus checks to dip into the world of day trading. It's The Big Short meets Reddit, in this chronicle of the movement that grabbed Wall Street by the wallet and chucked it all the way to the moon." - A plot synopsis for one of three almost certainly regrettable film and TV productions inspired by the recent GameStop stock surge that are now reportedly in the works.

QUOTE | "If it looks like a goose, swims like a goose, and sounds like a goose, could I be accused of misappropriation of the original goose?" - Just one of the questions GG Insurance managing director Philip Wildman suggests developers ask themselves in this overview of intellectual property issues in gaming.

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