Report: Google told Stadia developers progress was great, began layoffs five days later

Google Stadia
(Image credit: Google)

Just over two weeks ago Google made the surprise announcement that it was abandoning all firstparty development plans, and moving its Stadia business plan completely. All internal Stadia development studios were closed alongside the departure of Jade Raymond, who had joined Google as head of development studios. Job losses were estimated to be in the region of 150.

A new report from Kotaku's Nathan Grayson reveals that, just five days prior to this announcement, Stadia head Phil Harrison was reassuring these internal teams that nothing was amiss. On January 27 an email was circulated, from Harrison, that read in part:

"[Stadia Games & Entertainment] has made great progress building a diverse and talented team and establishing a strong lineup of Stadia exclusive games. We will confirm the SG&E investment envelope shortly, which will, in turn, inform the SG&E strategy.”

Five days after this email Harrison would announce the volte-face: "Given our focus on building on the proven technology of Stadia as well as deepening our business partnerships, we’ve decided that we will not be investing further in bringing exclusive content from our internal development team SG&E, beyond any near-term planned games."

The developers found out this news shortly before the public announcement on February 1, though were not able to question Harrison until a conference call on February 4. On this Q&A Harrison was confronted directly about his prior internal email of reassurance and, as multiple sources told Kotaku, said he regretted the email, and admitted "we knew."

Phil Harrison doesn't come out of this smelling of roses, to say the least. However the failure of this incarnation of Stadia, and Alphabet's decision to cut its firstparty studios, can hardly be put at one man's feet. The publicly announced plan for Stadia's future is that the platform will continue to operate as it has, with both a free basic service and subscription-based Stadia Pro offering, but the focus going forward is on helping external developers and publishers take advantage of the technology.

In the context of Amazon's travails trying to get into games, Stadia is part of an ongoing cautionary tale: one about these two giants with little experience in gaming trying to build internal studios that can develop AAA-quality titles from a standing start. So far it's not going well, and the victims here are the developers who believed in Google's commitment to Stadia and, less than two years later, are out of a job.

"We’re committed to the future of cloud gaming," wrote Harrison on February 1, "and will continue to do our part to drive this industry forward." But check back next week, and he might be saying something different.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."