A Google Stadia executive insists everything is “alive and well;” despite the Head of Product and six other employees leaving this month.
The Information (via VGC) Vice President and Head of Product at Stadia John Justice left Google on May 4th. This was later confirmed in a statement to 9to5Google via a Google spokesperson. On May 5th, GamesIndustry.biz reported (as discovered in a ResetEra thread) that six employees had left Stadia Games and Entertainment, and joined former Stadia Vice President Jade Raymond’s newly formed studio Haven.
These include Sebastien Puel (former General Manager of Google’s Stadia Games, now a Haven co-founder), Corey May (former Head of Creative Services & Publishing, now Haven World/IP Director), Jonathan Dankoff (former Staff UX Researcher, now Haven Insights Director), Pierre-Marc Bérubé (former Graphics Programmer, now Haven Software Engineer), Erwann Le Rouzic, and Francis Denoncourt (former Game Designer and Concept Artist respectively, now both Haven Concept Artists).
In February, Google announced they were shutting down Stadia Games & Entertainment, alongside the end of internal investing towards exclusive content. Later that month, a Bloomberg report citing “two people familiar with the matter” claimed that dozens of Google Stadia games being cancelled; including a horror game by Hideo Kojima, and being “hundreds of thousands” short of subscriber targets.
Anonymous employees speaking to other outlets claimed management had a lack of experience and knowledge regarding game development; including slow hiring, lacking the proper internal review steps, refusing to use certain essential software over security issues, and little time to meet the launch deadline considering the standard Google wanted.
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.
In 2020 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.
While some have claimed the writing is on the wall for Google Stadia being abandoned by Google entirely, Developer Marketing Lead Nate Ahearn told GamesIndustry.biz that everything is “alive and well.” Despite prior reports, Ahearn stated Google Stadia would have 100 new games launching in 2021.
“We’re well on our way to over 100 new games launching on Stadia in 2021, and we’re continuing to make Stadia a great place to play games on devices you already own. I’d tell any non-believers to take notice of how we’re continuing to put our words into action, as we grow the Stadia Makers program and partner with AAA studios like Capcom, EA, Square Enix, Ubisoft and others.”
As he was pressed for more information, Ahearn only stated Google was “focused on delivering value for our partners and on behalf of our players;” such as recent releases like Resident Evil Village, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order (via the Stadia Pro subscription), and adding new features.
When asked about the recent departures, a Google spokesperson reiterated that when they announced the studio would be closed staff would find new roles within Google. They stated they were “happy they [the six who left for Haven] were able to find new opportunities.”
The spokesperson stated that the Stadia product team is now being led by “long-time Googler and Stadia founder” Dov Zimring. “Dov has been instrumental as a senior leader in the product development for both Project Stream and Stadia. He will be leading the team toward our goals of creating the best possible platform for gamers and technology for our partners.”
It was also stated that the Stadia Makers program would aid in supporting studios making Unity based games for Stadia; from development to marketing. Five indie titles have already been produced via the program, with 20 more in development.
“We’re not shifting pressure onto the independent studios we work with in Stadia Makers,” Ahearn insisted. “The whole point of the program is to support their addition of Stadia as a launch platform for their game, not add any pressure or make anything harder for them.”
GamesIndustry.biz spoke to two indie studios who produced Stadia Makers, who supported the claim. Soedesco Community Manager Marten Buijsse said the closure of the internal studio “has not had any impact on the support we received, or our relationship with Stadia.” They recently brought Kaze and the Wild Masks to Google Stadia.
“It’s actually very interesting to see the demand for a cloud service like Stadia,” Buijsse added, “and you can clearly see that it’s filling a certain gap in the market. I’ve seen a lot of people saying ‘I wish this game was on mobile,’ and Stadia makes it possible for these mobile players to play the game.”
Akupara Games Senior Producer Alyssa Kollgaard stated “Google has been doing some internal reorganization that has impacted developers in some ways, but they have been transparent about their restructuring and working with us directly on ways to ensure we are supported to the same level we were when we signed on to the Makers Program.”
Kollgaard also showed her support for Google Stadia; as its users were “very hungry for titles and are engaged, vocal players.” She also compared cloud gaming to the early adoption of VR gaming, though admitted it had not reached the Early Majority phase yet. “It’s not something that will happen overnight – it’s a slow burn.”
“The perceived barrier to entry is still a little bit high for new players — they just don’t know a lot about cloud gaming and how it works, and traditional consoles have been a mainstay of our industry since the beginning; players are a little reluctant to consider alternatives. It’s always challenging to do something innovative, but everything is innovative before it becomes commonplace. If anyone is going to do it, it will be Google.”
While some of these Stadia Makers titles are timed exclusives, Ahearn stated Google is keen for their developers to reach a wide audience; including to other platforms.
“An important distinction about Stadia Makers to highlight is that by design, we don’t expect any studios to exclusively publish their game on Stadia. Rather, the program is designed to support studios in bringing their Unity-based games to launch on Stadia in addition to other platforms.
That translates into more games for players to enjoy from diverse voices, that tackle themes like mental health, dystopian realities, and the human mind. For the independent studios that are part of Stadia Makers, 2021 will bring more players to experience their games instantly through the cloud, and we think that’s a great opportunity to continue to build upon.”
Ahearn also stated more studios are continuing to sign onto the program, and the partnership with Unity “has paid off” in helping already released games reach new players. He states the aim moving forward is to work even closer with these developers, and needed due to Google’s reorganization.
“I’d say that one of the lessons we learned from our close relationships with Stadia Makers studios is that they wanted a closer relationship with our partner engineering team to walk through different technical resources and provide more direct support to shipping titles on Stadia. That’s a change we made in February 2021 — carving out more resources for our partner engineering team to work more closely with developers when necessary.”
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