Oct 3, 2022 - Technology

Stadia shutdown shows Google's struggle to innovate

Illustration of the Google "G" logo turning into a stop sign.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Google is increasingly looking like a giant that has a hard time innovating.

Driving the news: Google's decision to shut down Stadia, its three-year-old cloud-based gaming service, marks the company's latest failure to turn a technical breakthrough into a growing business.

Why it matters: Google faces a long-term fight with the rest of Big Tech's giants — Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Meta — for talent and revenue.

The big picture: From its earliest days Google built a culture that embraced bringing experiments to market fast — and shutting them down just as fast if they failed to take root.

  • This "throw everything at the wall to see what sticks" strategy helped jump-start several of the company's long-term hit products, including Gmail and Google Maps.
  • But the sheer volume of projects Google has shut down over the years — there's a website that tracks them all — also makes it that much harder for partners and customers to commit to the company's new ventures.

Flashback: Google's long roster of shuttered failures includes a bevy of efforts to catch up with Facebook and other rivals in the social-networking field.

  • That list starts with Orkut, launched by a single Google engineer in 2004 even before Facebook's launch, and culminates in the company-wide push behind Google+, which started in 2011 and was shut down in 2019.
  • Other prominent failures included Google Wave (2009), which pioneered a variety of document collaboration features, and Google Glass (2013), an augmented-reality breakthrough that failed to gain traction in the consumer marketplace.
  • Google has sometimes even shut down products that worked well and retained a vocal customer base because they stopped growing — like Google Reader, shut down in 2013.

Our thought bubble: Since the late 2000s the only big new businesses Google has been able to grow — including the Chrome browser, the Android mobile operating system, and its cloud service — have been knockoffs or reactions to competitors' breakthroughs like the iPhone and Amazon Web Services.

Between the lines: Big companies typically use a recessionary period like the one the industry now faces to prune failing projects. If they're having trouble inventing new products they spend cash to acquire startup talent and ideas.

  • Yes, but: Google and its rivals now find their ability to buy up smaller, more innovative competitors hemmed in by a more activist regulatory machine in Washington.

The bottom line: Google has an enormous research unit and regularly refines and fine-tunes its core search and advertising services, but the company keeps flubbing efforts to add big new revenue streams based on bold new technology plays.

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