Tag Archives: ‘Stadia’

Report: Stadia Missed Active User Targets by Hundreds of Thousands

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Google launched its Stadia cloud gaming service in late 2019, but already the bloom is off the rose. A series of increasingly concerning tales from Google’s game division has come to light in the weeks since Google killed its internal studio, and the latest tidbits are perhaps the most damning. According to a report in Bloomberg, Google blew millions of dollars to get games like Red Dead Redemption 2, but it still missed active user targets by hundreds of thousands of units. 

Stadia is similar to platforms like Amazon Luna and Microsoft xCloud, but both of those services have rolled out more gradually. Google tried to hit the ground running after testing the streaming technology with Project Stream. According to Bloomberg’s sources, Stadia management took a game console approach rather than starting small, but the service’s poor game library and traditional pay-per-game model didn’t catch on. 

Many of the sources interviewed for the Bloomberg report say this approach was flawed from the start. Several members of the team urged the company to launch Stadia as a beta — both Gmail and Maps Navigation were in beta for years after launch, allowing Google to tune the services based on how people used them. But Stadia manager Phil Harrison wanted the service to duke it out with consoles right away. 

The Stadia app as seen on Android in early 2021.

Google is said to have dropped huge sums of money to get AAA titles like Assassin’s Creed and Red Dead Redemption 2 to further this goal — we’re talking tens of millions for each game. That’s enough to develop a new game from scratch, but a handful of premium games isn’t going to hack it when gamers on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox get hundreds of new games every year. The result was a substantially smaller player base than Google expected, to the tune of hundreds of thousands. The resultant oversupply of Stadia controllers is allegedly why Google was giving them away so readily late last year. 

While Google was paying out the nose for AAA games, the company’s Stadia Games and Entertainment division was working on games that could only happen in the cloud. Sources claim they were building experiences that transcended the memory and processing limits of local hardware, but then Google got cold feet. That’s when the company pulled the plug on SG&E early this month. Without exclusive content, Stadia’s future as a distinct platform is in doubt. Google hinted that it might license Stadia’s tech to other companies — that might be Stadia’s destiny.

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Google Struggled to Patch New Stadia Game After Closing Development Studio

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Google’s late 2019 Stadia launch was a bit of a slow start. There were only a handful of games, and most of the fancy cloud features Google promised were nowhere to be found. Google’s in-house game developers were supposed to lead the charge, but now most of them are out of work, and there’s no one to issue prompt patches for a brand new game. It’s just one more embarrassing misstep for Stadia. 

Until just a few weeks ago, Google was, by all appearances, investing heavily in developing original games for Stadia. It purchased Typhoon Studios in late 2019, merging it with the Stadia Games and Entertainment (SG&E) group. Early this year, Typhoon’s Journey to the Savage Planet came to Stadia. However, Google shut down SG&E just days later. The abruptness of the move left gamers in the lurch as Journey to the Savage Planet still has its fair share of bugs. 

Right after the closure of SG&E, one Redditor documented the disheartening process of trying to get a game-breaking bug fixed. Apparently, many Stadia players got repeated crashes when attempting to play the game in either single-player or co-op mode. 505Games published Journey to the Savage Planet on other platforms, but it couldn’t do anything about the Stadia version. According to 505, Google owns all the code and data for that version. However, there’s no SG&E to push updates anymore. It’s quite the dilemma! 

Google didn’t do anything about the bugs until this week when gaming blogs started to post about the situation. Then, miraculously, a patch appeared just yesterday (February 23). This addresses one issue with one game, but it doesn’t bode well for the future of Stadia. Google really blew up its internal game development team without thinking someone might need to update the title it had literally just released. It just reeks of poor planning. 

There’s a lot of doom and gloom about Stadia right now, and for good reason. Still, the service isn’t any worse than it was a few weeks ago. As Google tried to emphasize when announcing the end of SG&E, games are still launching on Stadia. Google isn’t making any of them, though. We’ll have to wait and see what happens when the current raft of in-development titles are released. Who would start a new Stadia project right now? If Google doesn’t think it’s worth it to make games for Stadia, why would anyone else? Should interest in Stadia wane, Google might feel justified in shutting it all down. It’s already demonstrated a clear lack of confidence.

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Google Told Stadia Developers They Were Making ‘Great Progress,’ Then Fired Them

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Google’s decision to kill Stadia’s game development and shut down its studio came as a surprise to everyone, especially its employees. A leaked email shows that that the VP of Stadia and general manager Phil Harrison sent an email on January 27 lauding everyone for the ‘great progress’ Stadia had made thus far. Five days later, Harrison announced Google would no longer be developing its own games, effective immediately.

Kotaku reports that Harrison held a contentious conference call with Stadia developers several days later. When pressed to explain the difference in tone between his January 27 email and the Feb 1 announcement, Harrison admitted nothing had changed between those two dates. “We knew,” Harrison said.

Officially, Harrison claims that Google quit the game development business because Microsoft bought Bethesda and because the cost of game development continues to rise. Sources claim Harrison also referenced the difficulties of working during the pandemic as one reason why Google shut down development. These answers strain credulity. Are we to believe that Google launched itself into game development without bothering to read a single article on the difficulty of launching into the console space? The cost of making games is literally always going up. Here’s the data:

Adjusted for inflation, the price of making games goes up roughly 10x every decade and has for the past 26 years. This is not new data.

I found this in under five minutes. The idea that Google launched Stadia without conducting some minimum due diligence is insulting. Furthermore, Stadia only launched 14 months ago. Google’s game development effort is reportedly under two years old. That’s not enough time for any game studio to create a brand-new AAA game. There are reports that developer headcounts were frozen all throughout 2020, indicating someone at Google had misgivings about Stadia from the get-go. It sounds as if Stadia never had Google’s full support, which is exactly the kind of half-baked effort everyone was afraid Stadia would turn out to be.

There is a profound and growing disconnect between Google and the concerns of actual humans who use its products. Google’s customer service has been infamously nonexistent for years, but things came to a head earlier this month when the developer of Terraria, a game with tens of millions of Android customers, announced he’d canceled the Stadia version of his game because he couldn’t get in touch with anyone at Google who could explain the total account ban affecting his company.

Getting locked out of your Google account without any known reason or apparent recourse isn’t just something that happens to little people. It happens to developers who partner with Google to sell software. Now, we know it happens to developers who trust Google as an employer, too. The company makes a lot of noise about wanting ethical AI experts on-staff, only to fire them the first time they raise questions about ongoing projects.

Google is not honest with the public about its own goals, motivations, or priorities. At times, it’s self-evidently not honest with its staff, either. The company repeatedly pledges to support projects like Stadia, then drops the entire concept of developing its own games with zero warning to anyone, even its own employees.

This isn’t just a question of shading the truth in a self-evidently favorable way. Every company does that. Consider: When Apple announces new hardware, speculation revolves around cost. When Microsoft announces a new feature, speculation revolves around how well it’ll work. If Facebook announces a new product, the discussion revolves around privacy.

When Google launches a new product, speculation revolves around how long it’ll be before the company kills it.

It’s unfortunate to learn Google treats at least some of its employees with the same disdain it treats everyone else, but it certainly isn’t surprising. Google used to be known for what it built. Now, it’s mostly noteworthy for what it quits.

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Google Shuts Down Stadia Games Studio, Plans to License Tech

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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.

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Stadia Could Have a Huge 2021 If Google Can Just Focus for Once

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Google launched Stadia just over a year ago to a distinct lack of cheers, and for good reason. There weren’t many games, the controller bundle was expensive, and the service was unreliable. Stadia has not been completely rehabilitated in the past year and change, but circumstances have given Google a boost. With more people than ever looking for a way to pass the time thanks to quarantine, Stadia has emerged as a surprisingly reliable and economical way to play the latest games. Maybe this cloud gaming thing isn’t so crazy after all. In fact, 2021 might be a huge year for Stadia, if Google can overcome its tendency to lose focus. 

Signs of Improvement

Stadia began life as a premium-only service, but Google opened it up to everyone as the pandemic lockdowns bloomed across the world. Reliability improved markedly over the course of the year — I’d say I have no issues about 90 percent of the time. That other 10 percent is usually thanks to the app on my phone needing a restart or (rarely) a problem with my network requiring a router reboot. Regardless, the latency and sharpness are both within spitting distance of game consoles. 

At several points, Stadia’s performance seemed to tank for days at a time. I can’t rule out something with my network, but the timing was suspiciously similar to Google’s Stadia bundle giveaways in late 2020. Google was throwing controllers at anyone who had subscriptions to services like YouTube Premium and YouTube TV. The spike in new users may well have contributed to my issues, but I still think this shows Stadia is working. A large user base is necessary for Stadia’s survival, and people are using those free controllers based on what I’ve seen around the web. 

Speaking of the controller, it’s even better than it was at launch. Initially, it only worked wirelessly with the Chromecast. Now, you can connect it to the Stadia cloud via Wi-Fi for smartphone gaming. The process is sometimes a little clunky in the app, but you get improved latency compared with a Bluetooth connection, which is how you play with other services like GeForce Now. 

The convenience of Stadia is starting to show as this never-ending year drags on. I can pick up the Stadia controller and be playing AAA games on my phone or TV in a minute. There’s no installation, no worrying about drivers, no hunting for sold-out game consoles or GPUs, and Stadia’s game catalog is getting competitive. 

Google launched Stdia with a few Pro freebies, but that program has expanded dramatically. Now, there are five or six free games every month, and there are some real gems in there. Google has also been running Steam-style holiday sales with prices on new-ish titles slashed by as much as 80 percent. You can even buy Cyberpunk 2077 on Stadia, and it runs flawlessly. That’s more than you can say for the current-gen Xbox and PlayStation. On the PC, it takes a $ 1,000 GPU to get the game even close to playable

Getting It Together

Stadia might be in a better place than I expected it to be, but there’s still a long way to go. Some of the remaining issues are all Google’s fault, but some are beyond even its control. 

There’s no way around the bandwidth requirements — even if your internet connection is far above the 10Mbps requirement, you might find your game pixelates or stops working as local network conditions impact your available bandwidth. Unlike regular streaming video, there’s nothing to buffer in a game that’s being rendered live. Google can’t just wave its magic wand and fix the sorry state of internet connectivity in the US. 

Stadia’s game catalog is an issue, too. Yes, it’s getting better with games like Cyberpunk 2077 launching alongside other platforms. However, the back catalog is very weak. Awesome games from just a few years ago like The Witcher 3, GTA V, and Fallout 4 don’t exist on Stadia, and developers can’t just flip a switch to add games as they can with GeForce Now (which is essentially a virtual desktop). It takes time to optimize for Stadia’s custom platform, and that might mean some of these last-gen games fall by the wayside. 

Ctrl+f is not an acceptable substitute for search, Google.

One thing Google can (and should) address is the Stadia app. Both the web app and the Android client are annoyingly barebones. Google, which is a search company, still doesn’t have a search function in the Stadia store. You can look at various categories or just see a full alphabetical list of games, which is not very helpful as the number of games has expanded to over 100. Some basic features, like pairing a controller, are also needlessly clunky. And heaven help you if you want to manage your screen captures. You can’t even zoom on screenshots. 

Google is not alone in trying to make cloud gaming workable; Microsoft, Nvidia, and Amazon are also in the mix. Google has a bit of a headstart, but now is not the time to rest on its laurels. Amazon’s upcoming Luna service could be particularly vexing for Google. Amazon has its AWS backbone that will no doubt help with Luna performance, and the service will be fully integrated with Twitch. Meanwhile, Google has barely talked about the supposedly revolutionary features of Stadia like Stream Connect.

Possibly the smartest thing Google could do is to keep giving away those controllers in 2021. Unfortunately, it keeps ending the giveaways too soon. The recent Cyberpunk pre-order deal ended ahead of schedule after just a few days, but it should be doing the opposite. It should look for excuses to give long-time customers Stadia bundles rather than ending the deal when some arbitrary number of units are claimed. Google One? Free Stadia bundle. Bought a Pixel? Free Stadia bundle. Play Pass subscriber? Yes, free Stadia bundle. That’s a lot cheaper than handing out free Xboxes.

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Stadia Is Now Playable on iPhone Thanks to Google’s New Web App

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Google launched Stadia just over one year ago with support for select Android phones and the Chromecast. Google promised iPhone support, but Apple’s App Store policies got in the way. Now, there’s finally a way to play Stadia on iOS — just fire up Safari and go to the Stadia site to use the new progressive web app. 

Stadia is a cloud gaming service like the dearly departed OnLive or current competitors like Nvidia GeForce Now and Amazon Luna. That means Google’s servers do all the heavy lifting to render the games, and a video of the game streams to your device. That’s why you can play Cyberpunk 2077 on a Chromecast dongle at 4K — even an RTX 3090 has trouble with that game at 4K. 

Apple initially denied all cloud gaming apps but then updated its policies to allow them in the App Store under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, those circumstances would require completely redesigning current game streaming platforms. Apple demanded, among other things, that it gets to review all games before they are available and that each game would get its own page on the App Store. 

Google understandably opted to skip the App Store and work on a web app. It promised this just a few weeks ago, and now it’s available. In the Safari browser, you can head to the Stadia site and log in. The site won’t direct you to the app as it does on Android. Instead, you’ll see something akin to the app interface in your browser. Just pick a game and play. 

Stadia on iOS works with the Stadia controller without any additional tweaking. Simply pair it with your phone inside Stadia, and the controller links directly to the cloud over Wi-Fi. You can also use a Bluetooth controller paired with the phone over Bluetooth. 

Google stresses this feature is still experimental, but so is the Stadia app on all but the approved Android phones. It has been my experience that even unsupported phones work as well as the supported ones, so the web app should work as well as it does on Android. Whether or not that experience is objectively good depends on your connection speed. Stadia needs at least 10Mbps to run at 720p, and a full HD stream is closer to 20Mbps. This might seem a bit high, but Stadia needs a little headroom to remain playable — there’s no such thing as buffering in a game that’s rendering live as you play.

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Someone Made a Free Browser App to Play Stadia Games on iOS, and Then Apple Killed It

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Apple’s animosity toward cloud gaming services like xCloud and Stadia are well-known at this point, but one iOS developer Zach Knox thought he had a good solution. The free “Stadium” app runs a stripped-down browser on the iPhone and iPad designed specifically to play titles from Google’s Stadia streaming service. Well, it did. Apple removed the app from the App Store after it started to gain popularity, citing its esoteric API rules. 

Like other cloud gaming services, Stadia renders games in the cloud and streams that video to your devices over the internet. Stadia launched almost a year ago on Android and Chrome, but Apple has consistently refused to allow cloud gaming clients unless they adhere to the same rules as standalone apps. That means each game (and game update) needs to be reviewed and approved by Apple, and they all need to have individual store pages on the App Store. Clearly, that doesn’t mesh with the model of cloud gaming, which is probably Apple’s intent. 

Stadium was a clever workaround, as it used the WebKit engine that Apple requires for all browsers on its platform. There was no UI — Stadium simply loaded Stadia and let you stream games. It also tied into the iOS Bluetooth framework for controller support. The app launched just a few weeks ago, and Apple has already smacked it down. The developer now says the app has been removed because of the way it leveraged Bluetooth. 

Apple justifies its action by pointing to App Store Review Guideline section 2.5.1, which requires apps to only use public APIs “for their intended purpose.” In the case of Stadia, the dev “extended” WebKit to allow Stadia to access the Bluetooth stack. Without that, you wouldn’t be able to control your game. However, this isn’t the intended purpose of the API, so Apple is within its rights to block the app from its store. Since there’s no supported way to install software from another source, the app is effectively dead. Although, Knox says he has some plans for Stadium in the future. 

This once again leaves iOS users with no easy way to play Stadia titles on their devices. It’s unlikely Google will completely redesign its service to adapt to Apple’s app-centric rules, and Apple is never going to accept cloud gaming services that can circumvent Apple’s 30 percent cut of sales. It’s quite a pickle.

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Take-Two CEO Says Stadia Has Been a ‘Disappointment’

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Google is not the first company to try its luck at cloud gaming, but game developers seemed more excited by Google’s Stadia service. In the months leading up to launch, Google signed numerous partners, including Take-Two Interactive, but the bloom is off the rose just six months after launch. Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick says Google overpromised, and he questions the value of cloud gaming as a whole. 

Stadia, GeForce Now, Microsoft xCloud, and other cloud gaming services operate in the same basic fashion. A server someplace runs your game and renders each frame with powerful hardware. The video of the game streams across the internet to your device, and your control inputs go back up to the server. You don’t need a game console or a powerful video card — even a phone can play AAA games via streaming services. 

Speaking at the Bernstein Annual Strategic Decisions Conference, Zelnick says the slow Stadia launch has been a disappointment to customers. Google showed off numerous custom Stadia features, but games have thus far failed to take advantage of them. In fact, many basic features like achievements and gameplay recording took months to materialize. Even now, the selection of games has not matured.

Zelnick’s reading of the market could spell trouble for all streaming services. The business model of Stadia and other cloud gaming services relies on the assumption that more people will play video games if they don’t need dedicated hardware. But will they? As Zelnick points out, we’re talking about games that cost $ 60, and some special edition games can reach $ 100 or more. Are the people willing to buy a $ 60 game really unwilling to buy a $ 300 console?

“The belief that streaming was going to be transformative was based on a view that there were loads of people who really [had] an interest in interactive entertainment, really wanted to pay for it, but just didn’t want to have a console,” Zelnick said. “I’m not sure that turned out to be the case.”

Cloud gaming also bets on internet connections getting faster and more reliable. Currently, most people don’t have enough bandwidth to stream high-resolution Stadia games without interruption. That might change as 5G rolls out, but that could take years. A console costs more upfront, but it doesn’t have as many limitations. Zelnick wrapped up his comments by saying he’s excited about streaming technology, but he doesn’t expect it to significantly expand the gaming market.

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Google Makes Stadia Free to Anyone With a Gmail Address

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Google has finally had an idea for how to expand Stadia’s audience, and it only took a worldwide pandemic for the company to realize there might be a better way to reach potential customers. A recent company blog post states:

Video games can be a valuable way to socialize with friends and family when you’re stuck at home, so we’re giving gamers in 14 countries free access to Stadia Pro for two months. This is starting today and rolling out over the next 48 hours

You can read our review of Stadia by my colleague Ryan Whitwam here.

How It Works and What You Get

First of all, the offer is free to anyone with a Gmail address, which is to say, it’s free to anyone who can figure out how to make up a name for a burner email account they’ll never otherwise use. The nine games you’ll have access to are:

  • Destiny 2: The Collection
  • GRID
  • Gylt
  • SteamWorld Dig 2
  • SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech
  • Serious Sam Collection
  • Spitlings
  • Stacks on Stacks (on Stacks)
  • Thumper

This is a two-month trial of Stadia Pro, which means you get access to the free games offered with that service. Other titles have to be purchased at full price. Stadia Pro is normally $ 10 per month, but nobody will be charged for the next two months; existing customers will receive two months free. You also don’t need a Chromecast or any other hardware from Google.

Does This Make Stadia a Good Investment?

No. The average lifetime of a Google service, based on ~200 products and services the company has killed, is about four years. Google has made absolutely no guarantees about Stadia longevity and I will not recommend Stadia as a paid service to anyone for anything until it’s either sufficiently successful that Google would be downright stupid to kill it, or Google starts making written minimum-service guarantees. That’s been my consistent opinion since Stadia launched, and it remains my opinion today.

Google-Stadia-Bandwidth

Stadia can put a fair load on bandwidth, but the company is only planning to stream in 1080p temporarily, which should help.

Obviously, if you don’t care about retaining access to games you’ve previously played, you may feel differently about the value proposition. But the prospect of paying full price for games that I promptly lose access to when Google decides Stadia hasn’t made enough money instantly kills my interest in paying for the service.

Trying Stadia, on the other hand, seems pretty reasonable. Yes, Google is hoping these nine games will persuade you to sign up for the service. I wouldn’t. Use Stadia as a way to investigate two different questions: First, can your local ISP deliver game streaming at acceptable frame rates in the first place? If it can’t, no streaming game service is going to be worth your time and money, regardless of what you think of the underlying product. Second, do you want to buy the games from stores with longer histories or better track records? Stadia is a perfectly useful way to answer those two questions and if you choose to sign up, that’s what I’d use it for.

I’d like to say something along the lines of “And if you enjoy it and think the value is good, why not stay a Pro subscriber at $ 9.99?” But my problem with Stadia isn’t the idea of a $ 10-per-month subscription, it’s the fact that Google charges you full price for games you have no access to if or when they shut the service down. Until the company provides a method for consumers to keep the games they purchased, makes an in-writing commitment to operate Stadia for at least five years, or guarantees in writing that customers will not lose access to games they’ve purchased by providing equivalent digital licenses for products via Steam/GOG/Epic in the event of a shutdown, I can’t recommend spending money on it.

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