Google Stadia, the company’s first foray into the gaming market and a potentially earth-shattering approach to high-end game streaming, is dead. Or at least it will be, once 2023 rolls around. In a somber blog post, Stadia’s general manager Phil Harrison said that the service will be shutting down on January 18 of next year. Most users will have their hardware and software purchases refunded.
Stadia was formally announced at the Game Developers Conference in 2019, just three and a half years ago, after a few months of testing the as-yet-unnamed game streaming service. Stadia was introduced with great expectations: PC-game level performance, utilizing the latest in hardware to both enhance graphics and create brand-new kinds of game experiences, all streamed near-instantly to players around the world via Google’s massive cloud presence. In a star-studded presentation, the company affirmed a commitment to a new type of platform, utilizing tools like YouTube and Android to make an always-on, always-sharable gaming world.
The reality was a lot more humble. Though Google invested in development and even created its own publishing division, the service launched with only a few major titles, all of which had been available on PC and consoles for some time. Stadia’s high-definition, lag-free streaming technology was impressive—it was cited as the best way to play Cyberpunk 2077 due to the game’s rocky technical launch. But the service’s requirement that users both buy individual games at full price and pay a subscription fee for full performance was a downer even at launch. Combine that with a relatively small game selection and hiccups like limited geographical availability and no iOS support, and it’s easy to see why gamers stuck with conventional PC and console systems.
It doesn’t help that even Google was soon facing stiff competition. Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass introduced streaming titles for Android and PC shortly after, complete with a Netflix-style all-you-can-play library. Nvidia followed with the final version of GeForce Now, allowing PC gamers to stream the huge Steam and Epic game collections they already owned at no extra cost.
Even before more consumer-friendly options appeared, the stigma of the “Google Graveyard”—Google’s reputation for abandoning its projects, even those popular with millions of users—made tech press wary and consumers hesitant to buy games and streaming hardware. Despite an advertising blitz and support from major publishers like EA, Rockstar, and Ubisoft, it seemed almost inevitable that Stadia would make its way to the graveyard too. The writing was on the wall when Google shut down its internal publisher, Stadia Games and Entertainment, without releasing a single exclusive title.
At the very least, Google isn’t leaving the players it did manage to attract on the hook for its ambitions. According to Harrison, the company will be refunding “all hardware purchases made through the Google Store, and all game and add-on content purchases made through the Stadia store.” Even with a small player base, that will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. Refunds are planned to be completed by mid-January, just as the service is shutting down.
And what will Google do with all the technology it created for Stadia? Who knows. It’s already branched out in offering at least some of it to partners like AT&T. And there’s certainly a market for high-end game streaming, if not in Google selling it directly to consumers. Microsoft and Nvidia are still going strong (though Amazon’s similar Luna isn’t looking too hot), and game developers like Square Enix and Capcom are using cloud gaming tech to deliver high-end games to the limited mobile hardware of the Nintendo Switch. Google says that it sees “clear opportunities” to apply Stadia tech to YouTube, Google Play, and augmented reality, and to share it with industrial partners.