After Google shut up shop on developing in-house games for Stadia, is Microsoft's massive Bethesda deal really to blame for the studio's closure?

16:31, 18 Feb 2021

While Google's first foray into the emerging market of cloud gaming was tipped to be the next big thing, it's not exactly been smooth sailing for Google Stadia. Hoping to compete with the like of Sony's PlayStation Now and Microsoft's Xbox Cloud Gaming, Stadia has the tempting offer of a free-to-play base system that also comes with a monthly subscription service for those who want to play in 4K and 5:1 surround sound. As well as just churning out other people's games, Google had been working on its own in-house development with the Stadia Games and Entertainment division.

The decision to shutter game development comes as more and more developers make their mark on the market. In recent memory, we've seen tiny Indie developers like InnerSloth, Mediatonic, and Iron Game AB decimate the competition with Among UsFall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, and Valheim. Added to this, major franchises like Star Wars have helped resurrect Lucasfilm Games, while Microsoft has added the might of ZeniMax Media to its own catalogue. Apparently, Microsoft's acquisition of Bethesda played a part in Stadia Games and Entertainment shutting down. 


Why would Bethesda be responsible for the Stadia studio closure?

According to Kotaku, Google Stadia Vice President and General Manager Phil Harrison has shed some light on what went wrong. The news that Microsoft had bought ZeniMax for a jaw-dropping $7.5 billion was another house on the Monopoly board of video games. With Bethesda holding the keys to everything from The Elder Scrolls to FalloutDOOM to the upcoming Starfield, the concept of all of the above being Xbox exclusives is a terrifying concept.

Although Microsoft has implied it won't make Bethesda game's Xbox exclusives, it reiterated that the company's console will be the go-to place to make the most of these titles. We're guessing Stadia was supposed to be the same for Google's own in-house games, but unfortunately, it never got that far. In a Q&A with staff after Stadia closed studios in Los Angeles and Montreal, sources claim Harrison "pointed specifically to Microsoft’s buying spree and planned acquisition of Bethesda Software later this year as one of the factors that had made Google decide to close the book on original game development". 



Is Bethesda responsible for the Stadia studio closure?

Despite Stadia Studios and Entertainment limping through to February this year, the writing could've been on the wall since the tail-end of 2020. The Bethesda deal was announced in September 2020 and sent shockwaves through the industry. It's unclear why Harrison has linked the two, however, it's possible he thought Stadia's internal teams wouldn't be able to compete with the goliath union of Microsoft and ZeniMax media. 

It's unfair to put the blame totally at Bethesda's feet. One of Stadia's first big gambles was Cyberpunk 2077. Before CD Projekt Red's troubled game even launched, it was tipped as a make or break title for Stadia. We all know how that panned out, with Cyberpunk 2077 being slammed and a slew of issues causing the game to be pulled from a number of storefronts. Even if the likes of Bethesda could be the first steps toward Stadia pulling out of the development market, Cyberpunk and a number of other contributing factors were the final nail in the coffin.


In general, the messages from team Stadia seem confused. In the Kotaku report, Harrison apparently sent an email to employees reassuring hem everything was fine. This was just a week before they were laid off. As well as Bethesda, Harrison threw blame at the coronavirus pandemic and "the rising costs of game development". Even if Stadia dabbling in developing games was a short-lived experiment, Google is looking forward to a bigger and brighter 2021 with the announcement of over 100 Stadia games coming this year. Unfortunately, we'll never know if the Stadia Games and Entertainment team had the next big hit waiting in the wings. 



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