Google Stadia is dead, and the funeral is on January 18th, 2023. For now, it’s a walking corpse that users can continue to play on to finish out their games… and then it’ll be gone. Forever. Users will take little solace in the fact that at the very least, they’ll get all of the money they spent on games and hardware refunded to them. If it was the best way for you to unwind in the evening and play some games, that kind of gesture is paltry. What makes it even worse is that ultimately, the fear of Google killing the service is exactly what killed it.
Stadia was proclaimed dead before it was even given a chance
Ever since its inception, naysayers have been trying to make out that Stadia’s days were numbered. After all, Google does have a fairly packed graveyard of messaging applications, a whole social media network that was integrated into YouTube, and several hardware outings such as Google Glass. There’s even a website dedicated to reading about all of the services that Google has laid waste to — aptly dubbed “Killed by Google“. For Stadia, this meant that a lot of people stayed away from it and did not take it seriously, thinking its days were already numbered, which in itself became a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.
All of this is indicative of a wider problem — Google wants to be taken seriously, but users can’t trust the new products that it launches anymore. If Google plans to launch a new service, people will instantly jump to pessimism. Even in our article covering the launch of Google Stadia, one of the top comments simply states “Can’t wait for this to be sent to the Google Graveyard in a year and a half.” It lasted about twice as long, but the point remains — people just assume new Google services are doomed from the very beginning.
Changing Google’s brand perception on ambitious projects
Google’s biggest issue is that its own brand is now associated with killing services that don’t start on the right foot. If people are afraid to invest in Stadia (for fear of it shutting down), then it’s only going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Obviously, people wouldn’t want to invest in a service that everyone sees is doomed to fail. It’s clear that Google needs to find a way past that perception. The problem is: how?
One of the best and most consumer-friendly actions that Google has undertaken in this entire debacle is the refunding of all games that users have paid for on the service, even if they’ve played through them. On top of that, all hardware will be refunded too — and that includes the packs which included the likes of a Chromecast. In other words, you still get to keep using some of the stuff, and you basically got it for free.
While I’ll leave it up to the marketing teams to decide how to get this kind of message across, I think a commitment to consumers saying that if it didn’t all work out, they’d get their money back, would have been a good first step. Stadia was seen as a gamble at launch, and I think that users would have been understanding and less fearful if Google did both of the following:
- Acknowledged that sometimes business decisions don’t work out.
- Committed to refunding users should that business decision not work out.
A common thread of fear I saw interwoven in the discussion of doubt about the now-defunct cloud streaming service specifically pertained to the games that users had paid for. We now have our answer to what those users are getting, but I can’t help but feel that making the commitment early on to that (while acknowledging that some businesses are a risk) wouldn’t have done any less damage than the people who were already expecting canceled projects to be a part of Google’s core. While guaranteeing a refund as an exit strategy isn’t always possible and definitely not the right messaging for any optimistic business, Google needs to be aware of the uniquely negative position that it finds itself in. Showing its hand for an exit strategy may have actually invoked confidence in consumers rather than doubt, as when you’re at rock bottom, reputation-wise, the only way left to go is up.
As for what else the company could have done, I think shutting down SG&E, its first-party games studio, tolled the death knell for many. It was a huge part of the company’s push for cloud streaming, though even at the time Google acknowledged that its white-label service that it offers to companies like Capcom and AT&T for demo purposes was important to its operation. The optics were never good once its own games developer shut down, no matter how many commitments to gamers it made.
Only Google could fail at creating an online gaming service that can play AAA titles and indie favorites during a global pandemic forcing people to use online forms of entertainment, all while a silicon shortage worsened over years and prevented gamers from building high-end computers.
Looking to the future
The more immediate problem for Google is damage control. Projects sometimes don’t work out, and companies all over the world have had to cancel them in order to protect themselves financially. For some reason though, Google has managed to earn its own reputation as one of the worst, and it just keeps getting worse. Microsoft has its own “Killed by Microsoft“, but nobody assumes that Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is currently on a long journey to the morgue.
Somehow, someway, Google needs to put a stop to the perception that it happily kills services left and right if it ever wants to do anything mildly ambitious. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be ambitious — if Google tries to make another messaging app, it’s going to be dead on arrival. Guaranteed. That’s how terrible the Google brand is for messaging apps, and that reputation will only spread to its other divisions if the company lets it.
Where can Google go from here? It seems the company is damned if it tries anything new and damned to stagnation if it doesn’t even try.