Google made the surprise announcement on February 1st that it would be shuttering its in-house Stadia game development studios. But the news wasn’t just a surprise to Stadia customers; it was a bolt from the blue for the Stadia development team, which, just a week prior, had been told that the studios were making “great progress,” according to a report from Kotaku.
“[Stadia Games and Entertainment] has made great progress building a diverse and talented team and establishing a strong lineup of Stadia exclusive games,” said Phil Harrison, a vice president at Google and general manager for Stadia, on January 27th in an email to staff obtained by Kotaku. The email promised more news on the Stadia studios’ strategy and goals for 2021. But instead of new development objectives, Harrison announced just days later on February 1st that the studios would be shutting down entirely.
The biggest question — both from outside observers and Stadia team members alike — is what changed. Harrison’s blog post announcing the shutdowns cites “exponentially” rising costs of “creating best-in-class games” as a factor, for example. But given Google’s $1.4 trillion market cap, it’s hard to imagine that as the sole reason for shutting down the company’s game development studios entirely, especially when they were given so little time to prove themselves.
In a Q&A with staff on February 4th, Harrison reportedly admitted that Google’s execs already knew the shutdown was coming when he sent the email praising the team’s progress. Kotaku also reports that Harrison variously cited Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda and the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic as factors in the shutdown.
Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear: by shutting down its studios before they even managed to ship any major first-party exclusives for Stadia, Google has shown not only its staff but also the world that it isn’t as serious about its gaming initiatives as it once appeared. And ultimately, that’s a disappointing thing to see, both for Stadia’s future and for the industry at large.