Much like Bruno, we don’t talk about Stadia. Unlike Bruno, Stadia has at no point been secretly living in my house. And with its shutdown, it’s unlikely it ever will be.
I know a fair number of folks with gaming PC’s. I know folks with both brands of mainstream VR headsets. I know people who make board games, video games, write for games, do art for games.
I don’t know a single person in real life who actually used or tried Stadia. Not one. So let’s start with a recap of what Stadia was.
The Life and Death of Stadia
Stadia was Google’s attempt at a game streaming platform. It released in 2019 with little fanfare, and as of today, it’s officially dead. It had a fairly decent number of games, including things like Destiny 2, Assassins’ Creed, and Far Cry. It also had quite a few smaller games like Celeste, Enter the Gungeon, Killer Queen Black, and Golf with your Friends.
The statement about Stadia’s shutdown is brief, and you can read it here. I’ll also summarize it it quickly.
Paragraph 1 & 2 – Our technology worked, but we didn’t build a userbase that met our expectations.
Paragraph 3 – We’ll be refunding hardware and games purchased through us. (But notably, not subscription fees).
Paragraph 4 – Our technology was so great, and we can totally use it in other parts of our business. We absolutely did not just burn several hundred million dollars for nothing on this project, and we’ll totally still be invested in gaming. Trust us guys.
Paragraph 5 – We’re not going to fire everyone on the Stadia team. But y’know. We are shutting down Stadia, so uh… we’re not not firing people.
Okay, so I may have taken some artistic license onparagraphs 4 and 5. But in my mind, the most important and interesting paragraph here is number 3.
The Opposite of Graceful Product Failure
Alphabet/Google does not have a good track record of maintaining services or devices that don’t make them money. The biggest example I can think of is Google Glass, a product you had to beg to get, pay $1400 or something for, and that was then shutdown. But the same is true of smaller things, like Hangouts. I would also note that they have “bad” customer service, except even that is giving them too much credit.
“Bad” customer service is 3 hours on hold to try to get something resolved. Google doesn’t have any customer service. If something goes wrong on one of their platforms, and you’re a general consumer, you are hosed. Game over. There is no human, there is no phone number.
And I think that these two things may have come back to bite them with Stadia. Nobody loves Google or Alphabet. They’re just another Microsoft. Folks like me and you use their products because they’re the market leader, but not because we love them, or trust them. So when they launched Stadia, the general opinion of “Why would I ever touch a service run by a company that shuts down projects out of the blue, has no customer service, and isn’t actually a gaming company?” was a pretty common sentiment.
There’s zero reason to be an early adopter of Google projects at the moment as a consumer. And paragraph 3 feels like someone realized that, and went “Hold up.”
So why refund consumers?
I can personally think of at least two reasons for them choosing to refund hardware and game costs. The first is simple. Google’s reputation is actively harming them at this point when it comes to hardware launches, and is a cause for concern when it comes software. They’ve already burnt millions on Stadia, choosing to burn a few million more to try to wind the program down without alienating the few
fucking idiots who are early adopters for Google hardware individuals who are willing to engage with their products at early stages is probably worth it.
The other possibility is that their whole spiel about planning to remain in the video game space isn’t complete bullshit, and they actually do intend to try to make a future play on this industry.
Regardless of whether it’s an optics move, or a legitimate business choice, I think it’s probably the right one. Stadia may have failed, but giving consumers the impression that they can safely buy into Google/Alphabet projects without fear of getting the rug pulled and losing everything is a smart idea (but remember, they didn’t refund subscription fees).
Even if it’s the only one that came out of Stadia.
PS. I mean, c’mon. As one of my friends pointed out, they launched this product at a time of forced isolation, graphic cards shortage, and supply chain issues (PS5 where?). Conditions couldn’t have possibly been better for success. It still flopped.