Just over two weeks ago, Google announced that it was closing the doors of its in-house game development studios for Stadia. This was surprising to most of us, but probably wasn’t nearly as shocking as it was for the dev team, who, Kotaku reports, had been told a week earlier that Stadia vice president and general manager Phil Harris was impressed with the “great progress” they had made since Stadia’s launch.
“[Stadia Games and Entertainment] has made great progress building a diverse and talented team and establishing a strong lineup of Stadia exclusive games,” Harris had said in an email Kotaku managed to get a hold of. A few days later, mass layoffs were announced. Harris seems to be taking the ol’ “hot ‘n cold” play a little far.
Stadia’s mixed messages
According to Kotaku, Stadia staff were as blindsided by the news of their studios’ closure as the general public, particularly due to Harris’ praise. Additionally and (surely maddeningly), Staff were only able to talk with Harris about the matter three days later, in a conference call and then a Q&A that a source told Kotaku “wasn’t pretty”. Apparently, in the same call, when asked what had changed since the Stadia team had been congratulated the week before, Harris said nothing had, and that “[they]knew” the studio was closing when he sent the email.
It’s not entirely clear why Google pulled the plug on its game development studios. In the Q&A, Harris mentioned how the cost of game development is “going up exponentially”, and also pointed to Microsoft acquiring Bethesda as a reason for the closure. That and the struggles brought about by the ongoing pandemic. Which is fair, but I don’t think you’d be out of line if you believed that Google had the funds to keep their game studios afloat for even just one more year, pandemic or no.
Whatever the case, this calls Google’s staying-power as a games service into question, not only by its customers but also by its employees.