Stadia Leadership praised development studios for their ‘great progress’ just a week before firing them

Google Vice President and General Manager Phil Harrison announced Stadia on stage at the Game Developers Conference 2019.

Google Vice President and General Manager Phil Harrison announced Stadia on stage at the Game Developers Conference 2019.
Photo: Justin sullivan (fake images)

Developers at the game studios recently formed by Google were shocked on February 1 when they were notified that the studios would be closed, according to four sources with knowledge of what happened. The week before, Google Stadia Vice President and General Manager Phil Harrison sent an email to staff praising the “great progress” his studies had made so far.

The mass layoffs were announced a few days later, part of an apparent pattern that Stadia’s leadership was not honest and direct with the company’s developers, many of whom had changed their lives and careers to join the team.

“[Stadia Games and Entertainment] has made great progress in building a diverse and talented team and in establishing a strong line of Stadia exclusive games, ”Harrison’s Jan. 27 email read, according to sources. “We will confirm SG&E investment envelope shortly, which, in turn, will inform SG&E strategy and 2021 [objectives and key results]. “

Google declined to comment.

Five days later, Harrison seemed to change course completely, advertising in a public blog post that Stadia Games and Entertainment director Jade Raymond left the company and that Google “would not invest more in bringing exclusive content from our internal SG&E development team.”

The Stadia developers heard the news, first reported by Kotaku, about the same time as everyone else through an internal email and conference call with Harrison. The messy launch came after an already grueling year working through the pandemic. It was reminiscent of Stadia’s own launch, which appeared to be rushed and skipped many promoted features during the service reveal, only to be added months later. In this case, however, the Stadia developers themselves were the ones affected by the failed planning.

Launched in November 2019, Stadia initially struggled due to its monetization model and lack of games. The technology was solid, but it was lacking as a content platform. Perhaps strong first-hand games could have changed that. Google announced in 2019 the formation of game studios based in Montreal and Los Angeles, as well as the hiring of celebrities Assassin’s creed Jade Raymond, producer and eventual CEO of EA Motive Studios, to oversee its development. It seemed like Google was in it for the long haul, until it wasn’t.

“I am proud of the team we created at Stadia Games and Entertainment and the pioneering work on exclusive games for the platform,” said Raymond. Kotaku in a statement shortly after the closures were announced. “It was a difficult decision to take a new opportunity and I will be eternally grateful to this team for everything we learned and achieved together.”

The developers had to wait three days after receiving the news to directly share their confusion and frustration with Harrison in a second conference call on February 4. This call was followed by a controversial question-and-answer session in which the Stadia boss confronted his email from the previous week. which suggested anything but a total closure of the studies. Harrison expressed regret over the misleading statements made in his previous email, according to four sources with knowledge of the call. When asked what had changed from the previous week, Harrison admitted that there was nothing there and told those on the call, “We knew.”

One source described the Q&A as a ultimately unsuccessful attempt to extract some sort of responsibility from Stadia management.

“I think people really just wanted to know the truth of what happened,” the source said. “They just want an explanation from the leadership. If you started this study and hired a hundred of these people, no one starts it just to have it disappear in a year or so, right? You can’t make a game in that amount of time … We had peace of mind for several years, and not now. “

The source added that the question and answer session “was not pretty.”

It is still unclear exactly why Google decided to abandon its own studios that it began building less than two years earlier. In his blog post, Harrison referenced the rising costs of game development as a factor.

“Building best-in-class games from scratch takes many years and a significant investment, and the cost is increasing exponentially,” he wrote.

In his question and answer session Thursday with staff, he specifically pointed to Microsoft’s buying spree and the planned acquisition of Bethesda Software later this year as one of the factors that had prompted Google to decide to close the book on development. of original games. Google’s parent company Alphabet is a nearly $ 1 trillion company and roughly on par with Microsoft when it comes to revenue and profit. according to a 2020 survey conducted Forbes.

Elsewhere during the question and answer session, Harrison appeared to suggest that the ongoing pandemic was partly to blame, according to a source. The effects of Covid-19 have been devastating, including nearly half a million deaths in the US alone.. But it has also led many to find relief in games as they grow apart and boosted the bottom line of many large gaming companies as a result.

For some, the studio closures and the way they were communicated to staff was emblematic of the ways that game development on Stadia had been mismanaged, three sources said. Kotaku. This included a severe lack of resources, difficulty securing the necessary hardware and software, and a frozen workforce throughout 2020 following the onset of the pandemic, despite the goal of eventually shipping multiple original exclusives in the coming years.

As of now, the sources said, Google is looking to find work for displaced employees in other parts of the company. You have trouble doing this though, as Google traditionally hires generalists, and game development requires a very specialized skill set.

The developers hoped that Stadia gaming studios would survive their troubles, if only for the fact that Google, in theory at least, could afford to spend hundreds of millions trying to power a new gaming platform with exclusive content. Instead, it ended up burning the trust of some of the 150 or so developers affected by the abrupt change of direction. Now, the remaining Stadia employees have to put the pieces together while wondering how they can trust leadership and how anyone can trust Stadia.


Source link