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Google slowly backs away from Stadia as two studios close

Google slowly backs away from Stadia as two studios close

The cloud gaming revolution is suddenly looking a little more stormy.

Google is shutting down its two game development studios that were previously tasked with building flagship exclusive games for Stadia. The move is part of a larger shift for the company away from in-house development, as Stadia GM Phil Harrison explained in a new blog post.

“Creating best-in-class games from the ground up takes many years and significant investment, and the cost is going up exponentially,” Harrison wrote. “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.”

To put that in simpler terms, Google is happy with Stadia as a platform for cloud-based gaming but not so much that it wants to continue throwing money into game development. So instead of trying to build exclusive games that would bring in new Stadia users, the company will instead focus its efforts outward

What that second part means exactly remains to be seen, but with growing interest in cloud-based gaming and the ramping up of 5G networks it’s not unreasonable to expect the tech that powers Stadia to be licensed out for external use. Back when this service was in beta as Project Stream, that was the direction smart industry observers expected Google to take anyway.

Unfortunately, it took several years for the company to reach that decision. In the meantime, Stadia launched as a standalone service and Google built studios in Los Angeles and Montreal to support in-house development. A Kotaku report confirms via a Stadia source that around 150 jobs will be affected, though Google will work to reassign some of those people to new roles inside the company.

The cloud gaming revolution is suddenly looking a little more stormy.

The official announcement also notes that Jade Raymond, the industry vet who did high-profile work at Ubisoft and Electronic Arts before joining Google, will leave the company to seek new opportunities. It seems that Harrison will keep his job as well, since Stadia is going to stick around for the time being.

“In 2021, we’re expanding our efforts to help game developers and publishers take advantage of our platform technology and deliver games directly to their players,” Harrison wrote. “We see an important opportunity to work with partners seeking a gaming solution all built on Stadia’s advanced technical infrastructure and platform tools. We believe this is the best path to building Stadia into a long-term, sustainable business that helps grow the industry.”

The studio closures are an especially unfortunate development given the number of jobs affected in the middle of a global pandemic. Harrison’s post also glosses over the specifics here — we only know the extent of the job losses from Kotaku’s report — regrettably putting business considerations ahead of the people impacted by this decision.

While it appears that Stadia will continue on for now, the decision to close studios and step away from in-house development raises questions about its ability to compete down the road. There’s no denying that Google’s underlying tech is impressive, but the Stadia experience is still roughly on par with what you get from competing services right now.

Those competitors already have a leg up, too. For Microsoft, the xCloud game streaming is bundled in as part of an Xbox Game Pass subscription for no additional cost. There’s also Nvidia and its GeForce Now, which lets users access their existing library of Steam games and offers a free membership tier.

Compare those to Stadia, which can only play games purchased from the platform’s own store. Google does offer a free membership tier (provided you buy the games you want to play specifically for Stadia), along with a monthly subscription that offers better technical performance and a small but growing library of games. It’s not a bad deal, but it’s still short of what users can get from Microsoft or Nvidia, to name just the two examples.

There’s also the fact that cloud-based gaming itself is still a developing space. Whichever service you use, performance isn’t quite up to snuff at all times. You might log in and get a totally smooth and seamless play experience … or you might run up against constant hitches and input lag. It’s one of those technologies that still feels a few years off (at least) from being fully realized.

All of which is to say: It’s tough to see the road ahead for Stadia as things stand right now. Harrison insists that Google is sticking with the service — though it pretty much has to after launching just over a year ago. But with promises unfulfilled and a seemingly more lucrative option of licensing the tech to outside interests, it’s entirely possible that Stadia will go away as well before long.

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