Google Stadia, the company’s first foray into the gaming market and a potentially revolutionary approach to high-end game streaming, is dead. Or at least it will be, when 2023 rolls around. In a somber blog post, Stadia General Manager Phil Harrison said the service will end on January 18 next year. Most users will have their hardware and software purchases refunded.
Stadia was formally announced at the , just three and a half years ago, after a few months of testing the as-yet-unnamed game streaming service. Stadia launched with high expectations: PC gaming-grade performance, utilizing the latest hardware to enhance graphics and create new types of gaming experiences, all delivered almost instantly to gamers around the world via massive cloud presence. Of google. In a star-studded presentation, the company affirmed a commitment to a new kind of platform, using tools like YouTube and Android to create an always-on, always-sharable gaming world.
The reality was much more humble. While Google has invested in development and even created its own publishing division, the service has launched with just a few major titles, all of which have been available on PC and consoles for some time now. Stadia’s lag-free, high-definition streaming technology was impressive – it was cited as the best way to play Cyberpunk 2077 due to the game’s rocky technical release. But the service’s requirement that users buy individual games at full price and paying a subscription fee for full performance was a downfall even at launch. Combine that with a relatively small game selection and hiccups like limited geographic availability and no iOS support, and it’s easy to see why gamers have 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 soon after, complete with a Netflix-style all-you-can-play library. Nvidia followed up with the final version of GeForce Now, allowing PC gamers to stream the massive collections of Steam and Epic games they already owned at no extra cost.
Even before more consumer-friendly options emerged, the stigma of the “Google Graveyard” — Google’s reputation for abandoning its projects, even those popular with millions of users — left the tech press wary and consumers hesitant to buy. games and streaming hardware. Despite a blitz of publicity and support from major publishers like EA, Rockstar, and Ubisoft, it seemed almost inevitable that Stadia would also hit the graveyard. The writing was on the wall as Google closed its in-house publisher, Stadia Games and Entertainment, without releasing a single exclusive title.
At the very least, Google isn’t letting the players it has managed to lure in pursuit of its ambitions. According to Harrison, the company will refund “all hardware purchases made on the Google Store and all game and add-on purchases made on the Stadia store.” Even with a small player base, this will run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Refunds are planned to be completed by mid-January, just as the service is winding down.
And what will Google do with all the technology it created for Stadia? Who knows. It has already branched out into offering at least some of that to partners like AT&T. And there’s certainly a market for high-end game streaming, if not Google selling it directly to consumers. Microsoft and Nvidia are still going strong (although Amazon’s similar Luna doesn’t look too hot), and game developers like Square Enix and Capcom are using cloud gaming technology to deliver high-end games to the Nintendo Switch’s limited mobile hardware. Google says it sees “clear opportunities” to apply Stadia technology to YouTube, Google Play and augmented reality and share it with industry partners.