(Pocket-lint) – After Google announced the shutdown of its Stadia Games and Entertainment division yesterday, my social media feeds were ablaze with “told you sos” and “the end is nighs”. Stadia sceptics see the decision as evidence that the Stadia cloud gaming platform is imminently doomed – all because the company has closed its own, first-party games studios.
I disagree. Strongly.
Closing a games development wing that hadn’t yet produced a game is extremely sad, because it puts good, talented staff out of work during an already tough period. However, it isn’t particularly unusual for the industry as a whole. Nor does it have any effect on the Stadia service whatsoever.
With few official figures on usage, it’s honestly hard to know whether Stadia is doing well or not. But, in terms of quality – of the service and its existing games library – I’d argue that it is technically in a strong position already. Gameplay on Stadia is close enough to console-standard in terms of latency when convenience is also taken into account. And, thanks to deals with major publishers, including Ubisoft and Electronic Arts (Madden NFL 21 has just appeared on the platform), there is plenty to play.
Stadia Pro members have been rewarded plenty of free games since launch – my library has more than 60 games available that I’ve received at no extra cost as a Pro member, for example. And, more recently, users have been able to play games on iOS devices as well as Android – something that has hampered other cloud gaming services in the past.
Having first-party exclusives would make little difference for existing subscribers.
It is also highly doubtful that a potential user would give Stadia a second look simply because it is the only place to play a Stadia Games and Entertainment title, let alone one of the naysayers on my social feeds. It’s hard enough to launch a brand new intellectual property full stop, let alone one that is exclusive to a platform that hardcore gamers are already wary of.
I personally don’t know what Google’s studios in Montreal and LA had in development, but considering the amount of talent employed – including the team behind Journey to the Savage Planet – I expect their efforts could have resulted in very decent games. But, were they going to be first-party titles of the standard of Halo or God of War? Only if they were given four or more years of grace and a whole tonne of money.
And, that just wasn’t going to happen. Ever.
Not just because Google barely ever exhibits that level of patience, but also because that amount of development time would have zero impact on Stadia’s success in the interim. And, even when the fruits of the studios’ labours were released, they were unlikely to have much of an impact after too.
Initially, when it was first announced that Google was setting up its own games development department, I thought that it wouldn’t just result in games for Stadia, it would become multi-platform – maybe giving its own service timed exclusives. That was the only move that made financial sense to me. But, as Amazon also proved recently with its studio – and the withdrawal and cancellation of Crucible – publishing and developing your own games is tough. It takes time and a whole load of cash.
That’s why Stadia Games and Entertainment is being shut down. Not because Stadia is failing as a platform, but because Google cannot afford the time and money it will take to make even one five-star triple-A game. And, its closure will have little impact on Stadia itself as no-one was waiting to see what games it produced before subscribing.
So, Stadia will not live or die on its first-party exclusives, it’ll live or die on its ability to range the games everyone already wants. Games that are invariably made by existing third-party publishers that support the service, or those that soon will.
And, that’s a box it’s ticking already.
For me though, there’s another hurdle that Stadia has to overcome that is far more important to its survival than in-house games development. More than a year on, it is still hard to play Stadia games on a TV.
It’s something that could improve a touch in the coming months, with TV manufacturers potentially offering access through their smart services (LG’s 2021 TVs will have a Stadia app, for example). But, until there is a Stadia app on a wider variety of televisions and set-top-boxes, it’s not speaking to the people who would potentially use it most – casual gamers that would prefer the convenience and cost saving of not needing a console.
It’s frustrating that Google is yet to even offer Stadia on its latest Chromecast with Google TV. That’s the issue with Stadia. Not the absence of games I didn’t know enough about yet to anticipate, but the absence of access.
If that improves, the shutting of a development division many didn’t even know existed beforehand will be largely irrelevant, no matter the outrage on Twitter.
Writing by Rik Henderson.