Insider sources have told news outlets of dozens of Google Stadia games being cancelled; including a horror game by Hideo Kojima, and being “hundreds of thousands” short of subscriber targets.
Bloomberg reports – citing “two people familiar with the matter”– that the targeted sales for controllers and monthly active users are hundreds of thousands short. Bloomberg also mentions the missing features at launch, an underwhelming library, and still requiring to buying individual titles for as much as full price; all possible reasons for the failure and tepid launch reaction.
Those familiar with the matter also told Bloomberg developers were concerned about Google Stadia’s launch in Fall 2019, and that it (in Bloomberg’s words) “wouldn’t allow them to deliver what players expected.” Some had argued the launch should have been another beta test.
While the money offered by Google was surprising to developers like Ubisoft and Take Two Interactive- deals of tens of millions of dollars- this did not help gain exclusives.
There were reports of developers and publishers lacking incentives to make games for the system, and Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick stated there was “some overpromising” on what streaming technology could do. There has even been a recent a lawsuit regarding the Google Stadia’s claims of 4K graphics; something the company insisted was true shortly after launch.
Concerns only magnified when Google announced they shut down Stadia Games and Entertainment on February 1st. Wired reports from sources familiar with Stadia’s operations believed that after the high price of courting two developers, and Stadia’s low subscriber numbers, Google could not handle the development of “high-caliber” video games.
One Google Stadia employee told Wired “I question how much the execs above Stadia leadership understand what they got into—the commitments made and overcommitments and the inability to keep those commitments.”
Hiring developers later when compared to those developing the console also contributed to a breakdown of trust, as it made them feel Google’s priorities were not on the games. “Google is really an engineering and technology business,” another Stadia employee told Wired. “Making content—it requires types of roles that don’t typically exist at Google.”
Google’s typically slow hiring process also hindered veteran developers; with their goal being 2000 people being brought on over five years. It also took time for Google to broaden the standards that they were looking for. Three sources also told Wired development was held up by Google refusing the use of certain development software, citing security issues.
These sources claimed a first-party “hyper-polished” Google Stadia title would have taken three to five years of development, and it was impossible to develop those games in time for launch. The titles were also being developed to push Google Stadia’s features first and foremost. In Wired’s words “Google wasn’t funding games to sell games; it was funding games to sell Stadia.”
Despite the promise of less crunch-time, better pay, and more security than traditional games development; the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic caused hiring to be frozen in April 2020.
An internal message from Google CEO Sundar Pichai stated “Now is the time to significantly slow down the pace of hiring, while maintaining momentum in a small number of strategic areas where users and businesses rely on Google for ongoing support, and where our growth is critical to their success.”
Four sources told Wired this did not include gaming and Google Stadia; with one source saying the development team was not even fully staffed.
“If the company was OK putting us on a hiring freeze, they were also OK with damaging our ability to build content. The studio was not yet fully formed and ready to produce games. That put on the brakes, and was a statement. We interpreted it as a lack of commitment from Google to make content.”
A performance review that came after judged the prototype games based on benchmarks for UX or visual designers; no assessment of fun or process-based workflow. Vetran developers would lobby for Google to adjust the work culture to something closer to a traditional game studio, including the tools needed, better review criteria, but no additional employees.
Five days after emailing employees that there would be “high-level platform budget and investment envelope” thanks to the great progress made, Google Stadia product manager Phil Harrison told employees on February 1st that they had shut down Stadia Games and Entertainment. Those with the relevant skills had the chance to find employment elsewhere at Google.
Two sources told Wired that Google are seeking to acquire studios, rather than starting over.
VGC also joined in, with their sources stating Google cancelled dozens of projects. This included third party licencing deals, and a sequel to Journey to the Savage Planet. The sequel would have been grander in scale, and with animated cut-scenes. The developers learned of its cancellation along with the public announcement of the closing of Stadia Games and Entertainment.
Another game was lead by Francois Pelland (Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate), working on a multiplayer action game codenamed Frontier. Sources told VGC the developers on that game was told of the cancellation in February 2021.
One game still in development is allegedly by Harmonix, which was almost complete. While there is a chance it will still release, licencing issues with music has caused disruption. Harmonix CEO Steve Janiak told VGC “While Google has shifted its strategy, we remain incredibly excited about what we’ve been working on for Stadia and if the project isn’t released for Stadia we will take it to other platforms.”
Google have also reportedly backed out of proposals for exclusive games by Hideo Kojima and Yu Suzki. The Kojima project would have been an episodic horror game; no doubt bringing back memories of the cancelled Silent Hills and the P.T. teaser demo. In May 2020, Kojima discussed how he was “pretty pissed” about a project he was working on being cancelled.
Uzumaki author Junji Ito had also previously apologized for comments he made during an interview, explaining that the offer to work on a horror game by Kojima was more casual.
This is not the first piece of bad PR this month for Google Stadia. The Google Stadia version of Terraria was cancelled, after Re-Logic’s founder Andrew Spinks stated his Google account was disabled with no warning. He had attempted to resolve the issue for three weeks straight, to no avail.
Google staff also recently fixed a game-breaking bug in Journey to the Savage Planet on Google Stadia; after users made outcry over the lack of help, and perceived concern the game would not be fixed as Stadia Games and Entertainment was shut down.