Poor Google Stadia; the service seemed like a slow-motion trainwreck from the moment it started. The service’s launch, life, and death played out exactly how the “nobody trusts Google” naysayers (your author included) would have predicted, but we were all forced to go through the motions anyway. When Google killed the service, the narrative from the company was that Stadia’s technology would live on in Google Cloud, but, according to Stephen Totilo of Axios, even Stadia’s white-label game-streaming service is now dead.
Stadia was supposed to be Google’s big foray into AAA gaming, with a cloud-based game “console” that actually had no console—the console was the data center, and it streamed the video game to you, just like a YouTube video. The service launched in November 2019 to sales that were much lower than Google expected, and manufacturing dates on the boxes suggest the company never sold out of the initial run of controllers. The first signs that Google was getting sick of its gaming experiment came 14 months in, when it shut down Stadia’s only first-party studio, relegating the service to third-party ports only.
Two years in, the news broke that Stadia would be “deprioritized” and pivot to a white-label streaming service. Later, Google confirmed it was salvaging the service as a new Google Cloud offering called “Immersive Stream for Games.” This meant that Google would resell Stadia’s technology to various companies, allowing them to offer game streaming on their own platforms without any Google branding. This is a normal thing for Google Cloud, which offers a ton of cloud services to companies like Apple, and you’ll never see a Google logo. Immersive Games saw three main customers—AT&T offered Batman: Arkham Knight to its subscribers, Peloton launched a biking game called Lanebreak on its exercise bikes, and Capcom launched a Resident Evil Village demo on the web.
When Stadia’s shutdown was formally announced, Stadia VP and General Manager Phil Harrison made a big deal of the continuation of Stadia’s technology, with even the title being called “A message about Stadia and our long term streaming strategy.” The post read: “The underlying technology platform that powers Stadia has been proven at scale and transcends gaming. We see clear opportunities to apply this technology across other parts of Google like YouTube, Google Play, and our Augmented Reality (AR) efforts—as well as make it available to our industry partners, which aligns with where we see the future of gaming headed.”
All that “gaming” stuff seems to have been killed, and all of the Immersive Stream for Games partners have shut down their projects. AT&T’s Batman link now redirects to a free trial for another cloud-gaming service, GeForce Now, while the Resident Evil link just 404s. The only surviving “Immersive Stream” mentioned on the Google Cloud site is “Immersive Stream for XR,” which renders an augmented reality view in the cloud. Rather than the do-anything Linux boxes of Google Stadia, this is limited to Unreal Engine. Google’s Immersive Stream for XR examples include one education scenario and a bunch of advertising use cases, like walking around a new BMW, testing kitchen renovations, or trying on an outfit. You’ve got to wonder how much runway the XR project has, and so far, the promised Stadia offshoots for YouTube or Google Play have never materialized.
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