While gaming service Stadia shuts down on January 18, Google has announced plans to keep its controller alive. It may not seem like much in light of a whole catalog of cloud streaming games becoming inaccessible, but the controller really was the quiet highlight of Google’s first major step into gaming.
While it’s not revealed the full details yet, Google said on Twitter that it will “be releasing a self-serve tool to enable Bluetooth connections on your Stadia Controller.” Google has promised to share the specifics in time for the shutdown.
Currently, the Stadia gamepad can only connect to Google’s platform. Until these recently announced plans, when the service shuts down on January 18, the controller would have become a useless hunk of plastic, nickel, and silicon destined for landfill. Now it appears you will be able to use the controller with other Bluetooth-enabled devices – PC and Android, most likely; maybe Apple devices and even the PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch.
We've also got Bluetooth news: next week we'll be releasing a self-serve tool to enable Bluetooth connections on your Stadia Controller. We'll share details here on release. pic.twitter.com/6vYomngfmAJanuary 13, 2023
Beginning of the end
In a post, last September, Stadia’s general manager Phil Harrison announced that: “while Stadia's approach to streaming games for consumers was built on a strong technology foundation, it hasn't gained the traction with users that we expected so we’ve made the difficult decision to begin winding down our Stadia streaming service.”.
The news came out of the blue, not because Stadia had been a roaring success but because Google appeared to have the money to ride out its stumbling infant years. Perhaps Google could have made Stadia a success just through sheer bullheadedness, as Epic has done with the Epic Games Store. Instead, in the face of competition such as Microsoft Xbox Cloud Gaming and Nvidia GeForce Now, Google chose to shut up shop.
Harrison also confirmed in the post that Google would refund “all Stadia hardware purchases made through the Google Store, and all game and add-on content purchases made through the Stadia store.”
Other good news for players was that games like Orcs Must Die 3, which had originally launched as a Google Stadia exclusive, had ventured onto other platforms, so we weren’t going to lose access to everything Stadia had brought.
Best of a bad situation
While it was good news Google wasn’t going to leave Stadia’s early adopters out of pocket, buyers would be stuck with perfectly good hardware that wouldn’t be usable anymore. As our own Rhys Wood put it at the time, “Google clearly poured a lot of resources into researching and developing a controller for Stadia. It's all effort that now, sadly, may have been wasted.
“At a glance, the Google Stadia controller doesn't look special. It has a similar silhouette to the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, or a slightly slimmer Xbox 360 pad. But, in my hands, the Stadia controller just feels... right.
“It's a wonderfully comfy controller to hold. Its buttons and sticks are high quality to the touch. And I love the robust collection of shortcut buttons at the center of the pad that let you easily capture screenshots, access Google Assistant for voice-based navigation, and more.”
It’s excellent news, then, that the controller will get a new lease on life. However, I doubt Google will start restocking the gamepad to simply sell it as a third-party controller. The device will become a strange ergonomic relic of the dangers of launching a cloud gaming service in competition with Microsoft and Sony.
Into thin air
The slight rise and rapid fall of Google Stadia is a stark reminder that we have less control over the games we buy, as the videogame market shifts to digital-first. It’s great that Google could refund everything it had earned through Stadia’s early adopters, but it was under no obligation to make good.
Google could just have easily switched off the servers and walked away, doing none of the work to make its controller usable on other services, or failing to work with developers to let players transfer their game save files from Stadia to Steam – as it has done with Gearbox’s Borderlands 3.
Steam, the Xbox Marketplace, PlayStation Store, Nintendo’s eShop, and Epic Games Store all look too big to close down, but there is no guarantee that one day those digital store owners won’t hit financial straits and switch off the servers. On that day, you could lose access to every game you’ve bought over the years, with none of the security that owning a physical copy of a game affords. Although, admittedly, as games rely more on online features, even a physical disc doesn’t guarantee long-term ownership of a game.
Well, this good news about the Stadia controller has really led me down a dark and dreary path. What can I say other than hug your loved ones and back up your save files?
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Julian's been writing about video games for more than a decade. In that time, he's always been drawn to the strange intersections between gaming and the real world, like when he interviewed a NASA scientist who had become a Space Pope in EVE Online, or when he traveled to Ukraine to interview game developers involved in the 2014 revolution, or that time he tore his trousers while playing Just Dance with a developer.