The announcement last year by Alphabet's (GOOG -1.60%) (GOOGL -1.61%) Google regarding its new Stadia cloud gaming platform was met with plenty of hype and anticipation. The actual release of Stadia, by contrast, was relatively subdued -- and was accompanied by a misstep or two, including delayed shipments and an anemic game lineup that was improved in the eleventh hour.
Still, Stadia seemed to have some promise. Google's Stadia launch looked a bit like a beta test in disguise, but the future was allegedly bright. Google promised huge numbers of games (though the company didn't say much about which ones), along with updates and expanded features for the platform itself.
And Google's most excited customers were enjoying three months of Stadia Pro for free, giving Google some time to operate before its customer base would have to decide whether Stadia's offerings were worth real cash. Our own Keith Noon argued that Stadia could still make it big, provided that Google took the right steps.
Three months have gone by fast. The day of reckoning (read: the end of three-month promotional accounts) is fast approaching for Stadia Pro and for Google's streaming video game platform more generally, and things are not looking so good.
Over the past two months, Google has been all but silent about its gaming platform, even as customers have begun to mutter and complain about the neglect. Now, Stadia is looking worse than ever, just a couple of weeks before customers will be asked to either pay up or cancel their Pro accounts.
Barely a beta
Google has been reluctant to say much about its platform lately, but plenty of others have been vocal. Take the temperature among observers and customers, and you'll find a pretty simple consensus: Stadia wasn't really ready when it was released, and customers ended up paying for the privilege of beta-testing Google's platform.
This was clear pretty early on. When the reviews for Stadia first began to appear in mid-November, they overwhelmingly agreed that Google's vision and technology were impressive, but the service itself was mediocre and inconsistent, and that the most important factor of all -- the games -- was the weakest part.
The lack of games is both the most glaring problem with Stadia and, in all likelihood, the toughest one to fix. Modern video games are rather hard to make. Moves like December's announcement that Google had acquired a video game studio are more likely to get the attention of future-focused tech investors than of disgruntled customers, who know full well that it could be years before they see a Stadia exclusive from Google's new studio (in fact, the latest game from the studio in question -- Journey to the Savage Planet -- can be played on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, but not, as of this writing, on Stadia).
Google's missteps have not gone unnoticed by Stadia customers. Video game fans are not known for taking this sort of thing lying down, and the tech giant is fast finding out what video game companies like Activision Blizzard (ATVI) have long known: Hell hath no fury like a gamer scorned.
A post from Reddit user u/Gizoogle was voted by fellow Reddit users to the top spot on Reddit's r/Stadia, a Stadia-focused subreddit with nearly 57,000 members. "Stadia has officially gone 40 days without a new game announcement/release, feature update, or real community update. It has been out for 69 days. It's time we demand better," u/Gizoogle declares -- and that's just the title of the post. In the body of their post, u/Gizoogle lays out Google's offenses in bullet points. As of this writing, the post has been upvoted by Reddit users nearly 9,000 times. (It's worth noting that u/Gizoogle's post and the vast majority of comments below it are quite civil. Still, the mood is far from chipper, and Google is very much in the crosshairs.)
What can Google do to make it right? One user, u/djpraxis, suggests that Google "extend the free Pro memberships until Stadia delivers all the features advertised almost a year ago." If that would satisfy enough customers, it might offer Google the best of both worlds by fending off a wave of cancellations that look otherwise inevitable. If Google extends the length of existing free memberships, it could buy itself more time to right the Stadia ship before a huge chunk of its customer base has to decide whether to pay up or peace out.
It's unclear if Google considers this to be a feasible or appetizing prospect. For now, the company is at least listening: u/Gizoogle's post has been left up on the Stadia subreddit (where several Google representatives act as moderators and would have the power to take the post down), and Stadia Community Manager Grace Yang has posted a comment assuring fans that their voices are being heard -- while admitting that no details on their concerns are available right now.
Action at last
A day after u/Gizoogle's post called further attention to Stadia's radio silence, Google finally piped up. The company announced two free games coming to Pro subscribers in February, including Gylt, a stylish (and Teen-rated) horror game that will become Stadia's only exclusive game.
There are still plenty of user complaints that Google hasn't addressed, though, including the ability to play on 4K within browsers, support for phones other than Google's Pixel, and the names of hundreds of games yet to be released for the platform.
Google will have to do more if it wants to rescue Stadia after a rocky launch. "We have no info, no news, nothing basically about games and absolute radio silence from them, and it's been a month since Christmas," complains Reddit user u/Ins0mn3ac in a comment on u/Gizoogle's post. "Feels like the project is already dead."
If that's how Stadia's earliest adopters feel just months after the platform's arrival, it's hard to imagine that a full-scale streaming gaming revolution is in the offing.