Somewhere in an alternative universe, we’re all playing video games on Google Stadia right now. The launches of the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X were miserable failures because nobody wanted them. Everyone had already moved on to streaming games through their laptops, smart televisions, tablets and mobile phones. We all signed up to Google Stadia, we all loved it, and a gaming tech revolution happened. What a remarkable world to live in that would be.
Of course, we don't live in that universe, and that's not how things panned out. Rather than being the roaring success it promised to be and bringing about the revolution Google hoped for, Stadia fell flat on its face. It’s been an expensive failure for Google, and it’s going to keep costing them money because now they have to refund people who bought hardware for the system. If you were an early adopter of Stadia, read on to find out how you can claim yours.
What went wrong with Google Stadia?
There's been so little coverage of Stadia in the past twelve months that some people might not even be aware that Google has called time on it. That's how badly things went wrong - the existence of the entire platform basically fell off the media map. People stopped reporting on it around six months after it launched in 2019 because it was already irrelevant. While Google continued to publicly insist that it was committed to making Stadia work, internally, the company was shellshocked. It couldn't understand how its experts had misjudged the public's appetite for the product.
The premise of Google Stadia should have worked. Ironically, services like PlayStation Plus and Xbox Game Pass prove that the premise works. We're well into the era where people are used to streaming entertainment products. The success of Spotify alone proves that. We've also known for a while that people are happy to stream gaming products because that's why online casinos exist. In fact, online casinos have taken off in such an enormous way that there are now thousands of them all over the world, and websites like sister-site.co.uk have had to be built to keep track of them and let players know which ones are safe to play at. If gamblers are willing to spend money at online casinos without touching a physical gaming cabinet, players should be willing to spend money playing games via the internet without touching a console.
The reasons for Stadia’s failure are complex, but there are a couple of major factors we can point to. The first is Google’s total lack of experience and expertise in the world of gaming. It made a few big-name hires from established gaming companies, but the company had never tried to do anything on this scale in the gaming world before. People trust Google as a search engine and may trust it with their email, too, but they’d never been given to trust them with games. The combination of a new name and a new format made the audience a little distrustful, and Google never overcame that.
The second factor that Google didn't think about hard enough is that not everyone has super-fast fibre-optic internet connections. It's one thing to say that Stadia's framework is capable of streaming AAA games with no lag when you're playtesting in Silicon Valley, but it's quite another to attempt to get online and play those games in a rural area where broadband speeds barely approach half of what you might expect in city centres. The slightest lag in a game like "Call of Duty," where timing is critical, is enough to make the game unplayable. Serious gamers were never likely to take the risk of that happening, so they stuck to what they saw as more reliable platforms. The result is that the PlayStation 5 is in so much demand that there are still shortages even two years after the console launched, and Stadia is dead.
We could point to other factors, too. Stadia never managed to persuade enough publishers and developers to come aboard, so the catalogue of games available to Stadia paled in comparison to what can be played via the PlayStation and Xbox subscription services. Google didn't even do a particularly good job of advertising what was there. For a company with such deep pockets, Google's marketing campaign for Stadia was miserable. It's conceivable that a significant number of people who might have bought or subscribed to Stadia didn't do so simply because they never knew it existed.
How do you get your refund?
There are two categories of refunds available for Google Stadia - one for people who only bought games through the Stadia portal but never bought any hardware and another for those who went the whole hog and bought Stadia hardware. Everyone who bought hardware is entitled to a refund, and Google is scheduled to begin processing them in the next two weeks. The process should happen automatically, and anyone who stumped up for the Founder’s Edition or the Premiere Edition will be at the front of the queue. If you haven’t received your refund by the end of 2022, you’ll want to contact Google directly via their Google Stadia shutdown FAQ, which can be found with a simple search.
The picture with software refunds is a little less clear. Most - but not all - people who bought games through Stadia will also get a refund. If you made fewer than twenty transactions through Stadia, you'll receive one email per purchase with details of how to claim your money. If you bought more than that, Google will send a single email with all of your information on it. However, there are a couple of catches. The first is that purchases made after September 2022 will not be refunded, as they were made (theoretically) in the full knowledge that Stadia was closing down. The second is that people who want money refunded to an account other than the one they made the purchases with will have to log in to pay.google.com to update their information, or refunds can't be processed.
As for Google Stadia itself, it closes down forever on January 28th of next year, but Amazon is still trying to push the same idea via the Luna platform. Stadia might be dead, but the fundamental idea behind it lives on.