When Google suddenly abandoned plans to create video games, over 150 staffers were reportedly blindsided by layoffs

FILE PHOTO: Google vice president and general manager Phil Harrison speaks during a Google keynote address announcing a new video gaming streaming service named Stadia that attempts to capitalize on the company's cloud technology and global network of data centers, at the Gaming Developers Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Google vice president and general manager Phil Harrison speaks during a Google keynote address announcing a new video game streaming service named Stadia at the 2019 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Reuters
  • After less than two years, Google suddenly closed its video game studios in early February.
  • Over 150 employees in Google’s Stadia Games & Entertainment group were laid off in the closure.
  • Just days prior, VP Phil Harrison reportedly reassured the team of Google’s ongoing commitment.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

When Google shuttered its game development studios early this month, over 150 employees were suddenly out of work.

It came as a shock to those employees, as the head of their division had just praised their work and confirmed Google’s ongoing commitment to game creation, according to a new Kotaku report.

The over 150 employees of Google’s game development studios, known collectively as Stadia Games & Entertainment, were reportedly told by vice president Phil Harrison that they had made, “great progress building a diverse and talented team, and establishing a strong lineup of Stadia exclusive games.” 

More critically, the letter reportedly said that the group’s “investment envelope” would be confirmed soon, and that would “inform the SG&E strategy and 2021.” Harrison’s letter to employees, which they reportedly received the week prior to the division’s closure, essentially confirmed Google’s ongoing commitment to game development – a notoriously expensive and complex endeavor.

Then, on February 1, Google suddenly shuttered Stadia Games & Entertainment with a public blog post written by Harrison.

“We’ve decided that we will not be investing further in bringing exclusive content from our internal development team SG&E, beyond any near-term planned games,” he said in the blog post.

As for the staff, Harrison wrote that, “Over the coming months, most of the SG&E team will be moving on to new roles. We’re committed to working with this talented team to find new roles and support them.” According to Kotaku’s report, former SG&E staffers are struggling to find new roles within Google given their background in game development. 

In a Q&A with staff, Harrison reportedly told employees that he knew the shutdown was imminent when he sent the previous letter. 

Google’s gaming project, Stadia, has floundered since being announced at the 2019 Game Developers Conference.

The service offers playable video games over an internet connection, a la Netflix. But rather than using a subscription model like Netflix, Stadia users must buy each game individually. 

At the same time Google announced it would shutter its game development studios, Harrison also announced a shift in Stadia’s focus: “We see an important opportunity to work with partners seeking a gaming solution all built on Stadia’s advanced technical infrastructure and platform tools.”

Though the company will still operate Stadia as a consumer service, Google’s future gaming ambitions are focused on selling the service’s infrastructure and tools to other companies.

Google representatives declined to comment on the report.