Stadia died because no one trusts Google


Google Stadia graphic but it's glitchy.
Image Credits: Google / Devin Coldewey

There’s a lot of chatter right now about the “surprise” shutdown of Stadia, Google’s game-streaming service. While it’s true that rivals like Geforce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming presented entrenched competition and that Google knows next to nothing about gaming, the main trouble — as with most of its products these days — is that no one trusted them to keep it alive longer than a year or two.

It really is that simple: No one trusts Google. It has exhibited such poor understanding of what people want, need and will pay for that at this point, people are wary of investing in even its more popular products.

The technical implementation certainly wasn’t to be faulted. I will admit to being a skeptic when they said they could hit the frame rates and response times they advertised, but by Jove they did it. At its best, Stadia was better than its competitors and almost magical in how it fulfilled the promise of going from zero to in-game in one second.

The business side of things was never quite so inspiring. There is now a great remembering of the much-mocked pre-launch hype display for Stadia: the doomed Dreamcast, pointless Power Glove and E.T. for Atari, the game so bad they buried it in a shallow grave, followed by an empty pedestal on which Stadia would soon sit.

Though it’s clear this was a hilarious misunderstanding of … just about everything, it turned out to be quite apropos. Stadia was doomed, pointless and destined for an undignified death.

The last first; it was only two months ago that Stadia’s Twitter account assured a concerned user that the service was not in fact shutting down.

Image Credits: Google / Twitter

In fact the wheels were probably already in motion, but the higher-ups just hadn’t yet told their social team, developers or pretty much anybody this was the plan. It has been reported that a lot of people close to the service were blindsided by the decision — and who wouldn’t be, after the company publicly declared that everything was fine?

For some the writing was on the wall earlier, when the first-party development team put together by Google to create exclusive games was shut down before it got a chance to do just about anything. The company may have miscalculated how long it takes to develop a game from scratch. At least as long as a Google Doodle.

Google shuts down its internal Stadia game studios

Still, it could have succeeded even without exclusives if it offered a compelling product. Unfortunately Google Stadia was as pointless and showy as the Power Glove: “It’s so bad,” as the meme has it.

As impressive as its execution was, I couldn’t quite figure out who it was for. A huge, huge proportion of gamers who want to play the latest hit, say Deathloop, will already have either a console, a gaming PC or both. Why would I buy Deathloop for Stadia instead of for my PS5 or on Steam? It will play and look better natively (though Stadia did look surprisingly good), and of course they’ve already invested hundreds into those platforms.

Sure, you could play on the go or on your laptop or something. But … not only do services to do that already exist, but the experience isn’t really great. Full-price games these days are immersive, major affairs where you sit down for an hour or two on the couch and get into it with the surround sound system blasting. Sure, I wouldn’t mind doing a little inventory management on my laptop during a coffee break at the office, but beyond that, having persistent access to AAA games isn’t much of an advantage.

Meanwhile games like Genshin Impact hit AAA levels and are natively portable — played by millions on phones. Again, why was Stadia a better deal?

It might have made sense if the proposal was you pay $20 a month and some Google sorcery let you play your PlayStation, Xbox, Switch or PC games all wherever you want. A real platform-agnostic bridge builder type thing, and Google would probably be paying millions behind the scenes for the privilege. Kind of like what Samsung is attempting:

Samsung’s cloud gaming hub brings Xbox, Twitch and more to newest smart TVs

But no. You couldn’t access your existing games — couldn’t even use your own controller! It cost you a bill to get in the door plus the monthly fee, then you had to buy games on top of that, full price.

And here’s where it was really doomed. Because while people will happily drop a couple bucks here and there for a Google service, no one is going to pay hundreds for something they have a sneaking feeling is going to be completely worthless in short order.

Google’s legacy of killing products is infamous. Its twists and turns on priorities, branding, standards and everything else have made it clear to everyone that they cannot be trusted with anything beyond their core services, and they even like to screw those up now and then.

I still have my original Super Nintendo, which plays as well as it did the day I brought it home. My Mario Kart and Super Metroid cartridges have been working for … my god, 30 years now. I have games on Steam I bought a decade and more ago that I can load up and play as easily as I did then. There are digital copies of games on my PS3 that would boot right up if I felt like digging it out of storage. These companies and services have built trust over decades to show that they either can’t or won’t pull the rug out from under their customers.

Why do you think the whole P.T. drama was so disturbing? It was truly unexpected: An aggressive and unnecessary destruction of a digital product that people thought they owned. Gamers felt a betrayal.

But with Google the shoe is on the other foot. Google has built nothing but mistrust, outside a handful of products no one wants or needs to change. For me (and dozens more of us) the turning point was the assassination of Google Reader — for which I will never forgive them, and try to regularly exert a small vengeance by mentioning it like so — but plenty of other products have been extended, embraced and then extinguished (to repurpose the idiom).

God Damn It, Google

Google couldn’t betray me now if they tried — because there’s nothing to betray. To be honest I would be relieved if they screwed up Gmail so badly that I had no choice but to switch — I can’t work up the volition otherwise.

And although there is no doubt that the people for whom Stadia did make sense for whatever reason (and I was happy for them) do feel betrayed, the millions more who squinted and smiled and said “not this time, big G!” are feeling validated. I will say that I’m surprised Google is doing the right thing by offering a truly robust refund. It’s the least they could do, and god knows they have the money.

I don’t think Stadia could ever really have been a success. Its entire model was probably doomed to failure from the start. But even a long shot can be molded into a successful product with a few pivots if the core is solid and it develops a large, invested community. That was never, ever going to be the case for Stadia. Google has built a case against itself so strong that, whether it’s creators on YouTube, coders and scientists on Colab, or media and advertisers in Search, no community will ever truly trust it again.

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo