Bonus Round: Stadia, I Hardly Knew Ye

Happy Friday, everyone! Welcome to Bonus Round, a look at some of the week’s biggest gaming stories. Here I was thinking that it was a slow news week, and then Google went and cancelled its entire gaming platform. Thanks, Google! Let’s get into it.

Google is shutting down Stadia

Google has a reputation for abandoning projects early into their lifespan. Just look at the Google Graveyard, which chronicles the hundreds of products and services that Google has cancelled. Now, Stadia is joining that list. Product manager Phil Harrison announced yesterday that Google will be ‘winding down’ its cloud gaming platform, with the service completely closing on 18 January. Harrison cited Stadia’s inability to gain traction with users as the reason for the decision.

Stadia offered a way to play console games without owning a console; you just bought a controller and then streamed the games to your laptop, TV or phone over the internet. The platform launched in November 2019 with big-ticket games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Destiny 2, but software releases quickly slowed to a trickle. It didn’t help that Stadia required you to buy games à la carte, as opposed to the Netflix style subscription offered by Xbox Game Pass.

Stadia’s tech itself was impressive, but ambitious features like Google Assistant functionality or slick YouTube integration were either delayed or never even released. Google also shut its in-house game development studios in February 2021, seemingly giving up on producing any original exclusive games for the platform. Is it really a surprise that Stadia failed when Google was so non-committal about producing content for the service?

Phil Harrison, I should note, presided over the infamously rocky launches of the PlayStation 3, the Xbox One, and now Stadia. I don’t presume to understand the complexities of managing a gaming platform launch but from an outsider’s perspective, his presence on a project seems to be something of a kiss of death.

Anyway, the silver lining is that Google will refund all hardware, software and DLC purchases made through its official storefronts. That’s a classy move, but I have to wonder how minuscule those sales numbers must have been. Google doesn’t have to give this money back, and it probably wouldn’t if Stadia had millions and millions of paying customers.

In many ways, Stadia was ahead of its time. Cloud gaming is definitely picking up steam, but many people simply aren’t ready to make it their primary way of accessing games. Xbox Cloud Gaming works really well but it’s a backup option for me, an added bonus to my Game Pass subscription. Given the choice, I would rather play a game that’s been downloaded to my console. Clearly, I’m not alone.

The Last of Us TV show trailer released

26 September is known in the fictional world of The Last of Us as Outbreak Day, the day where. Developer Naughty Dog usually marks the occasion each year by releasing wallpaper artwork or funny GIFs featuring the game’s characters. This year, though, we got something a bit more substantial: a first full trailer for HBO’s TV adaptation of The Last of Us.

The trailer reveals more about the tone of the show than it does about the plot, with moody shots featuring cast members Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey, Nick Offerman, Melanie Lynsey and more. We also get a quick look at one of the famous Clicker monsters, which I have to say looks pretty fantastic in live action.

I’m intrigued to see how this show turns out. I don’t love The Last of Us quite as much as most others; while I certainly admire the game, I personally found that its cinematic ambitions often got in the way of its gameplay. The story that The Last of Us tells is a good one, and I won’t be surprised if I end up enjoying it more in a different medium.

On the other hand, of course, once you strip away the interactivity, is The Last of Us really so different to say, The Walking Dead? There’s a real risk that without a controller in your hands, The Last of Us starts looking a lot more like the gazillion zombie shows and movies we’ve seen in the last decade. I guess we’ll see when the show begins airing sometime in 2023.

Disney wants two Star Wars games a year

Tom Henderson at Insider Gaming reported this week that Disney has ambitions to eventually be releasing a new Star Wars games every six months. That’s a lot of Star Wars! It starts to make sense, though, when you look at the list of games in development:

  • Amy Hennig’s Game – Skydance Media
  • Untitled FPS – Respawn Entertainment
  • Open World Game – Ubisoft Massive
  • Star Wars: Eclipse – Quantic Dream
  • Knights of the Old Republic Remake – Saber Interactive
  • Jedi: Survivor (Fallen Order sequel) – Respawn Entertainment
  • Star Wars: Hunters – Zynga
  • Untitled Strategy Game – Respawn Entertainment

As Henderson notes, those are just the games we already know about; there are probably many more in the works. I’m a big Star Wars fan, but this seems like way too much of a good thing. I’ve had my interest in the franchise dulled by a million Disney+ spin-offs, and this influx of games might kill my Star Wars love off for good.

You might say that I don’t have to play every one of these games. You’re right! I probably won’t play most of them, just like how I now pick and choose which Marvel movies and shows I watch. But there’s something to be said for the amount of oxygen big franchises like Star Wars and Marvel suck up. Star Wars used to be a thing that would go away for years at a time, giving you time to actually miss it and making it more impactful when it would come back.

But with two games every year, as well as movies and TV shows, there’ll come a time where you can’t leave your house without seeing a billboard for a new Star Wars project. I guess I’m just a bit sad that this prospect no longer excites me.