Is the Stadia finished before it even started?
Despite the fact that it was being launched by one of the biggest companies in the world, with world-class designers backing it up, and support from major developers, the Google Stadia hasn't had much luck.
Since its launch in November 2019, it has 166 titles available so far. When the PlayStation 4 was first released, approximately 90 titles were available in the same period a year or so after launch. As of date, the PlayStation 4 has 3,133 titles in its library.
Although the Stadia is still only in its first year, the number of titles is likely to stay in the hundreds, as Google quietly announced earlier this week that it's closing up its game development studio. This means that Stadia is now going to be solely supported by games from other developers rather than its own in-house studio. The games it released so far, such as 'Outcasters', 'Gylt', and 'Crayta', failed to make any significant impact. Reviews were middling to negative.
"Creating best-in-class games from the ground up takes many years and significant investment and the cost is going up exponentially," the statement read.
"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 has, in the past, developed products that have been dismantled just as quickly as they've been put together. Google+, for example, was fired out of a cannon in 2019 after eight years of low user engagement and a string of very public design flaws. Orkut fared slightly better, but that too met with a quiet end in 2014 after seventeen years in service.
While these social media platforms may have fizzled out, it's had better luck in its entertainment offerings. Vevo, a joint venture between the four major record companies - Universal, Sony, EMI, and Warner - hosts music videos on YouTube and splits the ad revenue between the two. YouTube and its original content programming, YouTube Originals, spawned the likes of 'Cobra Kai' and a host of reality TV shows featuring some of the platform's personalities like Pewdiepie, Sidemen, and comedians like Jack Whitehall and Kevin Hart. YouTube cancelled a number of these shows in their first season, but promised that it was committed to making original content.
Accurate numbers for Stadia's player base are hard to come by. Google, of course, has not released any figures, but estimates put it somewhere in the region of around 1 million to 1.3 million. How many of those accounts are active, however, is anyone's guess. What is much easier to gauge is the gaming community's sentiment to Stadia - and it's mostly ambivalent, if not negative. Players have been more or less waiting on the day for Google to admit defeat, close up Stadia, and move on to another project.
The frustrating part of all this is that there's a good idea here.
Cloud-gaming is the coming thing, and you only need to look at the headaches involved in Sony's rollout of the PlayStation 5 and the costs surrounding that. What if there was a way to run the PlayStation 5 and all of its features through a device no bigger than a biscuit? Now, what if you could take it with you anywhere and play it off a phone, someone else's TV, a computer desktop, anything with an internet connection that can take it? Match that with a library of games - a real library, not just a few ports here and there - and you're on to something special.
For manufacturers like Sony or Microsoft however, physical consoles are going nowhere. It's unlikely that they're going to adopt cloud-gaming any time soon, not when they've developed supply chains, endless amounts of research and development, product designers, and everything else that goes along with a physical console.
To top it all off, there's 5G to consider.
5G has been a subject of many baseless, batshit conspiracy theories since it was first announced. The current pandemic's only helped to accelerate them. Coverage of 5G in Ireland is decent, but worldwide, it's only somewhere in the single digits. In order for Stadia and cloud-gaming to reach its full potential - 4K graphics, 60 frames per second, 3D audio, and so forth - it's going to need 5G coverage everywhere, available all the time. That's a long way off.
In March of 2019, Google's Game Developer Conference had an interesting way of marketing the Stadia. It placed a number of artifacts of the gaming industry in glass cases with a 'Coming Soon' card at the end for what would eventually be the Stadia. The artifacts included a Sega Dreamcast, the Nintendo Power Glove, and a copy of 'ET' on the Atari 2600. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the gaming industry could see the humour in their choices.
The Dreamcast was to be the final console ever developed by Sega, and was the end of its dominance in the gaming industry. The Power Glove ended up as a kitsch collector's item that famously never worked, while Atari ordered so many copies of 'ET' that went unsold it had to bury them in a desert landfill site.
Of course, dig a little deeper and there's more to it. The Dreamcast was the very first console to have a built-in modem to allow for online play. The Power Glove was one of the earliest examples of virtual reality mechanics at a time when floppy disks were used more frequently than CDs. While both of these were noble failures, 'ET' on the Atari 2600 was a demonstration of hubris in the corporate world.
The irony shouldn't be lost on anyone if this is the beginning of the end of the Google Stadia.