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“Deprioritized” Google Stadia to pivot to “Google Stream” white-label service

How much longer can Stadia stay aloft?
Enlarge / How much longer can Stadia stay aloft?

Google / Aurich Lawson

As Stadia continues to desperately cling to life inside Google, a new report from Business Insider‘s Hugh Langley sheds light on what the cloud gaming division has been up to for the past few months. As usual, it’s not promising.

According to the report, the “Stadia consumer platform” has been “deprioritized” inside Google and now only takes up an estimated 20 percent of the Stadia division’s time. After Google closed its only first-party studio last year (before it had ever produced a game!), a blog post hinted that a white-label service would be Stadia’s future. We saw a bit of what that would look like in October when AT&T released a cloud version of Batman: Arkham Knight that was secretly powered by Google Stadia. BI reports that service will be called “Google Stream” and that “the focus of leadership is now on securing business deals for Stream.”

The white-label Stadia service would work a lot like the way Google Cloud Platform works—companies that don’t want to run their own cloud gaming service could just use Google’s back end and distribute the game however they want. Like with Batman, presumably there are no branding requirements necessary and no need to plug into the Stadia store or the rest of the Stadia ecosystem.

Besides AT&T, the report reveals three more potential Google Stream customers: Peloton, Capcom, and Bungie. Peloton—the smart fitness equipment manufacturer—actually launched its Stadia game in closed beta last July. It’s a musical rhythm biking game called “Lanebreak.” Capcom is reportedly considering using Google’s technology to launch a demo site for new titles, which sounds like a great use of game-streaming technology. Game streaming has no download time and no need to clutter up your device with an installation—you just click a link and instantly start playing, which is ideal for trying out a new game you’re unsure of.

Bungie’s inclusion on the list raises a lot of questions. The company’s Destiny 2 is probably the flagship Google Stadia game—it was one of the first games on the platform and is free-to-play. Bungie was just the subject of a blockbuster $3.6 billion acquisition deal by Sony, though, and now nobody knows if the company will continue with its previous plans.

Post-acquisition, Bungie promised that Destiny 2 and future titles would not become PlayStation exclusives, which keeps the door open for a deal with Stadia. Sony’s years-old game-streaming service, PlayStation Now, has been very neglected and wouldn’t offer much competition today, but Sony is reportedly planning a revamp to take on Xbox Cloud Gaming. Assuming the new PSNow is not a PlayStation exclusive, Bungie might jump ship to Sony’s service.

Phil Harrison was brought on to lead the overall Stadia efforts, and as a veteran of the industry who worked for Sony and Microsoft, brought some respectability to Google’s upstart division. The report says Harrison was working at Google’s Mountain View headquarters on Stadia since he was hired in 2018 but now has moved backed to his home in London. This suggests that Harrison is less involved in the project lately. We’ll add that Harrison’s Linkedin curiously does not mention Stadia at all (he only chose to write “VP, Google”), and he hasn’t tweeted about Stadia since 2020. The report mentions that Harrison used to report to Google Hardware SVP Rick Osterloh, but after a reorganization, Harrison now reports to someone at least one level lower in Google’s org chart: VP of Subscription Services Jason Rosenthal.

Stadia has been shedding leadership and key employees for a while. Assassin’s Creed co-creator and SG&E leader Jade Raymond left in February 2021 when the game-development studio closed. Stadia’s VP and head of product, John Justice, and Stadia Engineering Lead Justin Uberti both left in May 2021. To this list, the BI report can add Jack Buser, Stadia’s former director for games, and Teddy Keefe, Stadia’s partnerships manager for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Google isn’t killing the consumer platform (yet), but one source told Business Insider that people are “working really hard to make sure it doesn’t die.”

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