Google’s announcement that it would be shutting down its Stadia game development studios shocked the industry. It was just two years ago that Stadia announced the actualization of these studios, meaning they haven’t had much time to put together their first games. The decision from Google has left many questioning why, though the Stadia team has offered little in reply. One apparent reason, according to reporting from a Stadia internal Q&A, was Bethesda.
This past Thursday, Google Stadia GM Phil Harrison did a Q&A with Stadia staff regarding the decision to shut down Stadia’s game development teams. Kotaku has reported on some of Harrison’s responses. While Harrison was said to be very coy regarding the reasons for the decision, one specific thing he mentioned was Microsoft’s ongoing acquisition of ZeniMax Media, which includes Bethesda, id Software, MachineGames, and other subsidiaries.
How Microsoft’s Bethesda acquisition factored into Stadia’s game development efforts wasn’t explained, it seems. All Harrison is reported to have said is that Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda and its ongoing “buying spree” of other studios was a factor in Stadia’s decision. Kotaku doesn’t provide any further context for Harrison’s response. It doesn’t even provide a direct quote. Yet if Harrison was willing to say it, then it must have been important.
A key detail to acknowledge is that Microsoft’s xCloud game streaming service is perhaps Google’s biggest competition for Google Stadia. While Google Stadia wasn’t explicitly creating games to offer a competitive selection of exclusives, it’s almost certainly a factor. After all, Microsoft has a diverse range of platform-exclusive games that will be available on xCloud, making it that much more attractive to potential cloud gaming subscribers.
As for how Microsoft’s acquisitions played into this competition between the companies, one can only guess. Perhaps Google was also pursuing the ZeniMax Media/Bethesda acquisition and missing out severely impacted its plans for first-party game development. Perhaps the Bethesda acquisition made Google believe it couldn’t compete based on exclusive games. Or perhaps Google believed getting Bethesda itself was the only way to bring its in-house game development to a level of success worth supporting.
Whatever the reason, Google has already pulled the plug on its Stadia game development teams. There’s no reversing course now. And what that decision means for the future of Google Stadia and cloud gaming in general remains to be seen. But at the very least, there are now hundreds of former Stadia developers with uncertain futures who believed Google and Stadia would be there for them. The entire situation is unfortunate.