Google Stadia’s biggest feature was its community

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The Google Stadia subreddit was aware of the service shutting down just shortly before the official announcement. Users had already posted about changes to the Stadia store UI that day when someone posted a screen they saw in the app about how the Stadia store was “now closed “. Within minutes, the entire internet would know that Google had decided to shut down Stadia by January 18, 2023 and refund all hardware and game purchases.

Stadia had a rocky launch and was never able to recover. So while the Stadia’s official Twitter account attempted to quash shutdown rumors a few months ago, it couldn’t stop what people considered inevitable. However, it still came as a huge shock to many in the Stadia community. Although Google is offering refunds on purchases, it can’t fix what had become a close-knit community of people who needed the failing platform to play.

“It’s easy to look back now and say, ‘I knew it’, that he was dead on arrival and the people who invested deserved it. Most people who say this are lucky enough to afford alternative platforms. They don’t see that Google has provided a solution to a problem they probably didn’t know existed,” said the ColourTV streamer, who has dedicated nearly 6,000 hours to red dead online on Stadia, explained.

Now they are left with only questions. Will Google unblock Bluetooth on its controller so it doesn’t become a paperweight? Will the games allow you to transfer your saves? More importantly, is there anything like Stadia?

Who plays Stadia?

Dedicated Stadia players fall into one of two categories: the service was either their secondary gaming platform or their primary platform. One user I spoke to, Bunion L on Twitter, said it’s not his main way to play, but he uses it when he’s not home. Streamer ColourTV has a powerful PC but liked to use it to play games like Red Dead Redemption 2 between classes on its university campus. Since Stadia can be streamed to your phone or PC with no additional software required, as long as you have an account and a decent internet connection, you can access it from almost anywhere.

Rich Shibley / Digital Trends

Other users like Ricardo Batho, a Stadia streamer who also co-hosted the Chat Stadia podcast, used it as their main platform because it allowed him to play games in 4K without taxing his PC.

“I could go to my PC, but space is limited and I have to deal with updates and downloads,” Batho told Digital Trends. “I find the gameplay taxing on my PC and GPU, unlike Stadia, which lets me run 4K without my PC sounding like a powerhouse.”

There were plenty of good reasons to invest in Stadia, even though it’s not the primary way to play. Stadia was an easy and inexpensive way to play AAA titles, whether you wanted to play on the highest settings with Stadia Pro or you didn’t mind the lower performance with the free tier. It also didn’t require any additional equipment or software to run. Users have praised Stadia for letting them play games without waiting in endless queues for out-of-stock consoles or having to spend hundreds of dollars on PC components. Stadia Pro also offered hundreds of games to subscribers. That meant you could play $60 games for just $10 a month.

Rich Shibley / Digital Trends

“I had 200 games clicked to play without storage, and I never had to wait for updates,” Batho explained. “Stadia runs in a window on a browser versus an app on my computer. A PC also taxes my CPU and GPU just to run a 4K game, whereas Stadia lets me play hours of 4K gaming without taxing at all my CPU.

Many Stadia players also liked how the service allowed them to play in a more relaxed way. Many users I saw on the subreddit were parents or other seniors who couldn’t afford games or didn’t have time to play hundreds of hours in Assassin’s Creed, for example. ColourTV, which has more than 5,000 YouTube subscribers, said many of the people it met were older.

“Getting to know the community, I learned that it’s not the same as what I’m used to as a gaming community. Most of the players are older than me, have families, lead a full life, etc. I found it unique and interesting, and perhaps an even less toxic experience with a more mature player base,” he says.

Many people I spoke to said they would just take their Google refund and simply buy the games elsewhere. For others, it’s not so simple.

Stadia players are looking for answers

Ever since the news broke on Friday, Stadia users have been wondering what’s next. For one, can they continue to play Stadia games on other platforms?

It’s in the air at the time of this writing. Some developers like Ubisoft — Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was available as a demo when the service was simply called Project Steam and the studio has had a close tie with the platform ever since – quickly assured gamers that they can bring their Stadia games to PC via Ubisoft Connect. Bungie is exploring “next steps” for its Destiny 2 Stadia players.

However, many studios don’t have answers yet. Cyberpunk 2077 gamers beg CD Projekt Red to open cloud saves (one Reddit user said he cared “more about my save than a game refund”). In one of the more extreme anecdotes, ColourTV contacted Rockstar to transfer their character with thousands of hours on it and received no response from support. “It was of course planned” he tweeted.

No, you don’t understand how seriously pissed off I am pic.twitter.com/UZ157WLmru

— Color (@ItsColourTV) September 29, 2022

ColourTV can just use its PC to play games now, and other users are discussing where to go once Stadia is officially offline. Fortunately, since Stadia, other cloud-based video game services have hit the market, from Xbox Cloud Streaming to Nvidia GeForce Now and Amazon Luna. However, neither is a perfect alternative. For example, Luna isn’t available outside of the US, and Xbox Cloud Streaming, which comes with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, costs $15 per month, which is steep considering you can use Stadia for free if you don’t need 4K, 60 frames per second (fps). Additionally, some like Batho say Xbox’s cloud streaming software has higher latency and more bugs than Stadia.

Thanks to the refund, many can buy a console (if they can find one) and purchase these respective services for cloud gaming. However, there is one thing that something like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate cannot replace.

Stadia wasn’t just a gaming platform. It built the community

A Stadia user who goes by Original Penguin has created the Stadia Game Database, a comprehensive breakdown of every game on the service. It includes everything from maximum possible resolutions to storage links and even pixel counts. This is a project he took on after interacting with the community and realizing there was no hub for this information. Since Stadia’s announcement, it has also created a spreadsheet to help users track which games they need to repurchase after the service shuts down.

“What kept me in the community was the community itself,” OriginalPenguin said. “We started out as a very tight-knit group, with everyone supporting everyone. Over time the group fell apart, but the support was still there.

Google Stadia
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Everyone I spoke to for this article pointed to the Stadia community as one of the reasons to stick around despite all of the service’s flaws. It was small, but it meant many people formed lasting relationships. Stefan from German podcast Cloudplay said that even when the number of games released on the platform started to dwindle, he could count on the community to keep him interested.

“Until a few months ago, Stadia was my number one. But the fewer titles released or the fewer games I’m interested in…so you’re looking elsewhere,” Stefan told Digital Trends. No other service comes close to the community and simplicity of the platform. This is also part of the truth.

Batho, who came in at launch with the Founders Edition, helped run a small community on Stadia, where he played a lot of Destiny 2 but tried all the games he could. He met his podcast co-host through those interactions during the pandemic and even attended his wedding.

“Last year, the Stadia community was so strong,” he said. “The Stadia community was a family. We all knew each other through Stadia and through #stadia, especially through Twitter and YoTtube… We are all heartbroken. We are all grieving and the main loss is the bond we felt with the community. We knew we were a small town.

Every video game platform has its community, and Stadia’s was obviously much smaller than Xbox’s, for example, but ColourTV noted that’s pretty positive. He attributes this to an understanding between the players.

“Of course, every community has its own bad apples or people you don’t share the same opinion with,” he explained. “But overall, they thought Stadia provided them with a good solution. And the community shared that belief.

What happens next?

Stadia users still have a few months before the servers go offline, and a lot can change during that time. Hopefully Google unlocks the controller’s Bluetooth and studios enable cloud saves or other solutions.

But Stadia as a service had been on the way out for a while now. Once it stopped investing in first-party games, it was only a matter of time before it followed the path of other Google experiments like Google Plus. Thomas Meyer, who covered Google Stadia for Android Central (full disclosure: I worked for Android Central), noted that this was no shock given the lack of reviews of Stadia-specific game releases. His Saints Row The review in August was Stadia’s first critical rating on Metacritic in about seven months.

Like other dead services, the community is expected to accept it, at least to some extent. In the meantime, they can go to Reddit or streams to figure out what happens next.

Interview responses have been edited for grammar and clarity.

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