So this is goodbye.
The writing was on the wall from the start. Stadia’s reveal at GDC 2019 was a clear sign of things to come, with a clumsy attempt at earning gamer credentials and a “dads on the dance floor” presentation from CEO Sundar Pichai and newly-installed head of gaming, Phil Harrison.
The accompanying retrospective of video game hardware gave undue emphasis to some of industry’s biggest misses. It was a sign of things to come.
The technology shone, however, and despite an equally clumsy launch, Stadia evolved into a surprisingly potent videogame service. My initial scepticism was firmly put in its place when I reviewed Stadia in 2020. The tech worked, and worked well. As a consumer fortunate enough to have a reliable, high-speed internet connection, the experience was fast, responsive, and seamless.
Stadia’s failure was perhaps more down to an understandable distrust of Google, and a business model that adhered to traditional retail pricing – despite a lacking a sense of content ownership.
“I don’t know why it would be cheaper,” snapped Phil Harrison in 2019.
Those failures have been dissected at length, though. Perhaps a far more interesting inquiry would be: as Stadia exits the stage are there any positives to take from it?
Streaming technology is here to stay in some form or other, that’s for sure. And, in my experience, Stadia comfortably beats Amazon Luna, GeForce Now, and Ubitus’ Nintendo Switch offerings. In my experience, it even bests Xbox Cloud play for reliability and picture quality.
Some of the platforms best features – State Share, Family Share, and native YouTube streaming – are also worth noting. Stadia as a product is gone, but the underlying technology and features surely have a future.
Google also knows how to make top-notch hardware. The Stadia controller – which neatly combats latency by connecting to WiFi – is one of the best game controllers available. It has excellent build quality, silky smooth triggers, and impressive rumble implementation that can purr like a cat or rumble like my stomach on a cross channel ferry.
Thankfully, the controller at least will have a life beyond Stadia. It works perfectly well as a wired device on Mac and PC, and Google has released a tool that enables Bluetooth.
And it’s also free. As part of Google’s volte-face, all Stadia users are receiving refunds on the price of purchased hardware and games. Combined with the cost of the Studio acquisitions, marquee hires, and exclusivity deals, Google’s dalliance with video games has certainly not come cheap.
As the Stadia dies, we’re left with the memories. The lost 72% completion save of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The nights spent riding the high plains of Red Dead Redemption 2 with one of the friendliest online communities I’ve experienced. And the undeniable magic of slinging a controller in my bag and playing Destiny 2 at the in-laws.
And we’re left with a controller. At least it’s a good one.