Stadia shutdown shows Google's struggle to innovate
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.
- Stadia offered instant-on game play without downloads, a nice engineering trick — but failed to build momentum among players and developers.
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.
- If developers, business partners and customers lose faith in its willingness to stick with new ventures, Google will have an even harder time introducing new projects and product lines.
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.