Stadia was doomed from the start by putting ownership prices on something that never seemed like ownership

Some consoles just reveal different. I remember queuing in the sunny, weedy streets around San Francisco’s Moscone Center to take part in the big Stadia show at GDC 2019, the wild rumors swirling in line for events like these – maybe it was the effect of that thick smoke in the air, but someone told me Google paid Sega a lot of money to get a new OutRun exclusive, and I was kind of convinced – soon pierced by the bizarre reality.

Outside the room, in an ominous display of patience as well as an example of how some of Google’s ideas were poorly conceived, assembled some of gaming’s most famous chess, with four plinths displaying a Dreamcast, Nintendo’s Powerglove and Atari’s ET with the final display left blank with a simple “Coming Soon” for the Stadia that will be soon to be announced. Amid all the bluster that would follow, that was the only thing about this event that would ring true.

It’s easy to be cynical about Stadia, and there was a lot of skepticism when it was revealed. Google’s track record of product launches is spotty at best, with a rich history of great ideas being introduced before being tossed aside out of apparent boredom. The level of investment with Stadia, however, was just insane. Millions have been poured into securing big blockbusters like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Cyberpunk 2077, while exclusives have been secured from such talented studios as Q-Games, Splash Damage and Tequila Works. It seemed, for a short while, that Google was taking this all very seriously – and how exciting it was to have a genuine new player in the game.

And above all, it worked! As a proof of concept when Cyberpunk 2077 suffered from its infamous launch, with substandard performance on latest-gen hardware, the prospect of getting your hands on one of the new consoles nearly impossible, Google Stadia was your best bet for an affordable experience. Here’s a next-gen experience, tailor-made for Stadia (at little cost, I’m sure) and delivered straight to you.

The problem was that Stadia was doomed long before that, thanks to a business model that ensured it arrived dead in the water. Charging full price for games was, to put it politely, weird, and Stadia’s big problem was putting ownership prices on something that never really felt like ownership (something that will unfortunately be pointed out when the plug is removed next January, with the likes of exclusive titles such as Pixeljunk Raiders, Gylt and Outcasters seem to be lost forever). Stadia chief Phil Harrison’s justification for that cost rang hollow from the get-go, ensuring its fate was sealed before it even hits the market and making yesterday’s news of its folding – the seeing them join Google’s ever-growing pile of abandoned projects – inevitable.

And yet, despite this, streaming still seems like an inevitable part of the future of gaming – but if Google, with all its might and millions, can’t get a streaming service off the ground, then who exactly can? Perhaps part of the problem was that Google expected everyone to move to a whole new ecosystem, when changes in gaming habits are never so big. Just as we have all slowly moved away from physical media towards digital media, the path to success for streaming surely makes it part of a larger ecosystem.

Xbox has the perfect solution in place, of course, by adding streaming to an existing subscription and giving it as an option that people can try out at no hassle or extra cost, on their own terms, and with GamePass you’re part of something. something much richer that gives the impression that it is not going to disappear.

When – and I’m sure it’s when rather than if – streaming finally goes mainstream, I wonder what we’ll think of Stadia. It was doomed by bad choices and dwindling support from Google, but like those curious pioneers like Sega’s Dreamcast and Nintendo’s powerglove it lined up at GDC all those years ago, it offered a little flawed insight of a future, even if it was a future that was not yet to come.