Google recently announced that Stadia was dead - or at least that they were finally going to stop artificially animating the corpse. As part of the announcement, the company also said that they would be refunding most user purchases, including game purchases and hardware. This week, Google has begun the process of refunding those fees - a process that will take months and cause headaches for Google and users.
The Stadia Saga
A year ago, we wrote about Google white labeling its Stadia service, starting with AT&T as a customer. As part of the article, we described the service as Google's "failed gaming ambitions." On YouTube, the response was that we were nuts and the Stadia wasn't failed. Of course, it had, or they wouldn't have tried a desperate move like licensing the technology. However, the company kept trying to make it work, including finally launching on LG webOS TVs.
Recently, the company announced that they had finally given up on the platform and were, instead, shutting down the service. We've seen similar services shut down previously, such as OnLive, which famously shut down before the technology was ready for prime time. However, when services like this shut down, you are usually out of luck. This includes most cloud services, including social gaming, cloud storage, and even podcast hosts.
Google took a different tact with Stadia, however, offering refunds to all gamers for most of their costs. These refunds include, but are not limited to, game and hardware purchases since their 2019 launch. The company has setup a shutdown info page revealing how the process and timeline will work for these refunds. According to the page, refunds began this week (November 9, 2022) and Google says they hope to have the majority of refunds processed by the platform's shutdown date of January 18, 2023.
While most purchases will be refunded, the thing that will definitely not be refunded is Google Stadia Pro subscription fees. The full refund description says,
We will be offering refunds for all Stadia hardware purchases (Stadia Controller, Founder's Edition, Premiere Edition, and Play and Watch with Google TV packages) made through the Google Store and software transactions (games and add-on purchases) through the Stadia store. Stadia Pro subscriptions are not eligible for refund, however you will be able to continue playing your games in Pro without further charges until the final wind down date.
You may notice that there are some interesting caveats in the rules. In addition to the lack of refunds for subscription fees, those who chose to purchase their hardware from another store, such as Walmart, Best Buy, or even a physical Google store, are out of luck, as only purchases through the Google Store are eligible. This is going to create a huge amount of confusion and anger from users who trusted Google's intentions with the service and lost.
It's possible that, with feedback, Google will change position on third party hardware purchases, but it's not guaranteed. This would produce a lot of extra chaos for the company. How do they verify purchases? What amount of money would be returned? What if there was a sale? It's a lot of trouble added to a process that is already going to be difficult and expensive.
The biggest headache and expense comes from the fact that Google is returning game purchases to gamers. On the surface this might seem like a simple task, but it won't be. Some gamers will have had credit or debit cards expire. Others might have used temporary or prepaid cards that are no longer active. Where does that money go? Is there a process for these refunds? All of this we still don't know. But, to add insult to injury, Google still has to pay the publishers for these purchases, even though they are being returned, meaning it is costing even more to the company to back out of this business.
This is far from the first time Google has sent a product or service to the graveyard, but it could turn out to be one of the most costly.