For years, Cloud Gaming has existed as little more than a novelty. While some ventures would find moderate success for a few years, most notably OnLive, such services were generally held back by two things: a lack of the infrastructure for the backend, and the user's own internet connection. For cloud gaming to finally catch on and be seen as a viable alternative to dedicated hardware, you'll need a company that can supply answers to both these problems, as well as wield the money (and insanity) required to enter the video game industry with the intent of competing with "The Big Three." Naturally, at the end of the 2010s, there was only one company that satisfied all of these requirements; Google (or rather Alphabet).
Google Stadia was Google's entry into the gaming industry, competing with Sony's PlayStation Now and Microsoft's xCloud services. As a cloud gaming service, games played on Stadia were processed and rendered on Google's servers and sent to player's chosen device, with the players only requiring an Internet connection and their devices to support the Google Chrome browser or run ChromeOS. Any USB controller worked with Stadia, though there does exist a dedicated Stadia controller that would connect directly to the data center where the players' game was running, thus helping to reduce input latency.
Stadia had two tiers: a "free" level that limited streaming to 1080p resolutions, and a subscription-based "pro" tier that allowed streaming rates up to 4K resolution, access to library of free and reduced price games. Starting in April 2020, new Stadia users received temporary access to Stadia Pro features.note
Stadia was quickly met with skepticism by the public. Google's history of abandoning products and services that aren't instantly successful raised questions about the platform's long-term prospects, especially since breaking into the video game industry as a platform holder demands a large amount of investment. And while the technology to make cloud gaming work had vastly improved since its introduction with the launch of OnLive in 2010, it was still a largely unproven system with its own unique issues, especially the fact that the service worked best with exceptionally high internet speeds, something not everyone has easy access to. The business model was also heavily criticised; over a decade of Netflix had conditioned people to expect any streaming service to only ask for a subscription fee, so having to buy each game piecemeal, and at full price, was not appreciated. Poor communication with the marketing didn't help, as many people thought the Stadia Pro subscription was mandatory to access the service, when that was never true, on top of the need for individual purchases.
The fact Stadia games were also revealed to be region-locked, and the service wasn't made available in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, which limited its scope in those areas, quickly raised further questions regarding Google's willingness to fully commit to investing in the platform in the long-term.
Stadia also had a crippling lack of exclusive games, with only five games ever made as full exclusives for the platform (not including timed exclusives), with pretty much all of the games shown in advertisements being multiplatform releases, meaning the platform never had a true Killer App. Google attempted to build confidence in Stadia by founding two of their own in-house development studios, collectively known as Stadia Games and Entertainment. They also hired two industry veterans — Jade Raymond (known largely for work on Assassin's Creed) and Shannon Studstill (former head of Santa Monica Studios) — and placed them in charge of the new studios. However, in February 2021, Google announced the closure of Stadia Games and Entertainment and their shift in focus to securing more third-party support for the platform. The studios were active for less than two years and were unable to announce, let alone release a single game in that time. This put even more doubt on Stadia's viability and Google's general ambitions in the gaming market.
On September 29th, 2022, following months of rumors that the service would be abandoned, the final nail in Stadia's coffin was hammered into place, as Google announced the shutdown of Stadia. The store was shut down immediately following this announcement, and the service itself went offline on January 18, 2023, with Google offering refunds for all Stadia-related purchases in the interim, for both software and hardware. The news did come with a silver lining, as several developers and publishers, notably IO Interactive, Ubisoft, and Rockstar Games, pledged to allow for saves to be transferred from Stadia to their respective games before Stadia shut down, and Ubisoft went even further to allow for their games to be kept on their Ubisoft Launcher. Additionally, a downloadable update released on the service’s second-to-last day added Bluetooth connectivity to the Stadia controller, allowing it to be used with other platforms.
In spite of this, Google has continued pursuing the cloud gaming marketplace. Almost two weeks after the announcement that Stadia would shut down, Google announced a line of Chromebooks which come preinstalled with GeForce Now, a cloud gaming service which formerly competed with Stadia.
Games exclusive to Stadia:
- Hello Engineer
- Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle
- Pixeljunk Raiders
- Worm Game - a Tech-Demo Game used to test the service’s features, released publicly during the final five days of the service.