At the start of February, we were shocked when Google announced the end of its efforts to run in-house game development studios, and as it turns out, the developers were just as surprised. Just days before the public announcement, Stadia General Manager Phil Harrison sent a mass email to Stadia Games & Entertainment (SG&E) employees, commending them for “great progress” so far.

A report from Kotaku today sheds light on an internal email sent by Harrison in the week before the closure of Stadia Games & Entertainment. In the email, Harrison commended the “great progress” made by SG&E studios to date, saying that Google would confirm the “SG&E investment envelope shortly,” which would inform strategy and objectives for the division in 2021. The email read in part:

[Stadia Games and 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 and 2021 [objectives and key results].

Making matters worse, Harrison apparently later admitted (three days after the public reveal) that he was aware of the imminent closure of the studios at the time of sending this email. Apparently, SG&E employees only learned of the studio closure at almost the same time as the public did. Looking back with some hindsight, one slightly harrowing tweet from an SG&E Creative Director from the day seems to confirm that detail.

Perhaps the most frustrating detail in this report is the impact the closure is having on the 150+ developers Google hired for SG&E. One source apparently said “we had multi-year reassurance, and now we don’t.” Google previously mentioned that it would find new positions for displaced employees in other parts of the company, but apparently, the company is struggling to do so as the employees hired have specialized skill sets that other positions can’t take advantage of. Google’s mismanagement of the situation doesn’t stop there, either, as sources also said that employees were met with a “severe lack of resources” including difficulty obtaining needed hardware and software and the company not employing more people despite its lofty goals. That hiring freeze was reported back in April.

A call on February 4 saw a Q&A between Harrison and Stadia employees that was described by one person as “an ultimately unsuccessful attempt at extracting some kind of accountability from Stadia management.” While Harrison didn’t provide the answers some were hoping for as regards why the studio was closed so early on, he did specifically point to Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethseda as one of many factors leading to Google’s decision. Another factor was apparently COVID-19, which is a head-scratcher given how the pandemic has boosted the gaming industry despite having some negative effects on development (delays, etc).

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Ben Schoon

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