Google Told Stadia Developers They Were Making ‘Great Progress,’ Then Fired Them

Gaming
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Google’s decision to kill Stadia’s game development and shut down its studio came as a surprise to everyone, especially its employees. A leaked email shows that that the VP of Stadia and general manager Phil Harrison sent an email on January 27 lauding everyone for the ‘great progress’ Stadia had made thus far. Five days later, Harrison announced Google would no longer be developing its own games, effective immediately.

Kotaku reports that Harrison held a contentious conference call with Stadia developers several days later. When pressed to explain the difference in tone between his January 27 email and the Feb 1 announcement, Harrison admitted nothing had changed between those two dates. “We knew,” Harrison said.

Officially, Harrison claims that Google quit the game development business because Microsoft bought Bethesda and because the cost of game development continues to rise. Sources claim Harrison also referenced the difficulties of working during the pandemic as one reason why Google shut down development. These answers strain credulity. Are we to believe that Google launched itself into game development without bothering to read a single article on the difficulty of launching into the console space? The cost of making games is literally always going up. Here’s the data:

Adjusted for inflation, the price of making games goes up roughly 10x every decade and has for the past 26 years. This is not new data.

I found this in under five minutes. The idea that Google launched Stadia without conducting some minimum due diligence is insulting. Furthermore, Stadia only launched 14 months ago. Google’s game development effort is reportedly under two years old. That’s not enough time for any game studio to create a brand-new AAA game. There are reports that developer headcounts were frozen all throughout 2020, indicating someone at Google had misgivings about Stadia from the get-go. It sounds as if Stadia never had Google’s full support, which is exactly the kind of half-baked effort everyone was afraid Stadia would turn out to be.

There is a profound and growing disconnect between Google and the concerns of actual humans who use its products. Google’s customer service has been infamously nonexistent for years, but things came to a head earlier this month when the developer of Terraria, a game with tens of millions of Android customers, announced he’d canceled the Stadia version of his game because he couldn’t get in touch with anyone at Google who could explain the total account ban affecting his company.

Getting locked out of your Google account without any known reason or apparent recourse isn’t just something that happens to little people. It happens to developers who partner with Google to sell software. Now, we know it happens to developers who trust Google as an employer, too. The company makes a lot of noise about wanting ethical AI experts on-staff, only to fire them the first time they raise questions about ongoing projects.

Google is not honest with the public about its own goals, motivations, or priorities. At times, it’s self-evidently not honest with its staff, either. The company repeatedly pledges to support projects like Stadia, then drops the entire concept of developing its own games with zero warning to anyone, even its own employees.

This isn’t just a question of shading the truth in a self-evidently favorable way. Every company does that. Consider: When Apple announces new hardware, speculation revolves around cost. When Microsoft announces a new feature, speculation revolves around how well it’ll work. If Facebook announces a new product, the discussion revolves around privacy.

When Google launches a new product, speculation revolves around how long it’ll be before the company kills it.

It’s unfortunate to learn Google treats at least some of its employees with the same disdain it treats everyone else, but it certainly isn’t surprising. Google used to be known for what it built. Now, it’s mostly noteworthy for what it quits.

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