At 11:59pm PT on January 18, 2023 Google shut down its cloud gaming service known as Stadia. The Stadia team had high hopes for its innovative cloud technology but didn’t see the service quite take off with players during the three years it was available. Fortunately for Google and Stadians (Stadia players), at least as of the date of this post the shutdown appears to have been a fairly smooth process, and Google has even earned praise from players and the press for its sunsetting practices. In this article, we recap Google’s approach and break down the lessons that video game companies can take away when thinking about sunsetting online games and services.
1. Notify players…
While Stadia hopefuls expected the service to continue indefinitely, Google was transparent about its sunsetting plans and made the announcement of its shutdown well in advance and by multiple modes of communication (Google blog post, Stadia social media posts, community pages, emails to players, etc.). Google sent reminder messages and updated its pages and posts throughout the sunsetting process. It’s important for a game company to show that it made all reasonable attempts to contact affected players when a game is being sunset.
2. …well in advance of the shutdown.
Google first notified players of its sunsetting plans on September 29, 2022 when it announced that it would be winding down its services up until the final shutdown date of January 18, 2023. The sunsetting period was just shy of 4 months, and Google provided about 16 weeks’ advance notice to players. This gave players a solid amount of time to continue to use the services and understand what to expect leading up to the end. Provide early and repeated notice to players so it should not be a surprise to players when a game is eventually shutdown.
3. Inform players about how they can access and save game and player data during this period.
The Stadia shutdown announcement also provided instructions for players to export profile data and save files with a notice that all data would be deleted after the shutdown. Players were informed about what services they would still have access to during the sunsetting period and how gameplay might be affected. Instruct players what they will have access to and how to access it, and confirm that player data will be handled in compliance with privacy requirements and any applicable privacy policies.
4. Determine what will and will not function after the shutdown date.
Even though Google decided to stop the Stadia services, it released a self-help tool that allows players to make Stadia controllers Bluetooth compatible with other devices. It may not be possible for game companies to provide access to online games after servers are turned off, but enabling even a partial use of features or functionality can provide some continued value to players. Consider providing added value to content or products that may otherwise be obsolete after discontinuation of services.
5. Be prepared to respond to refund requests.
When Google notified players of the shutdown it also proactively announced that players would be refunded for Stadia hardware purchased through the Google Store and game and add-on content purchased through the Stadia store. Additionally, players who subscribed to Stadia Pro were refunded for any charges after Sept. 29 and were not charged for the remaining months while the Stadia service was still available. Purchasing capabilities through Stadia were turned off at the time of the shutdown announcement and Google disclosed when players could expect refunds. If issuing a refund to a player’s original payment method was unsuccessful, Google would contact the player and provide them with a link to choose a different payment method. Disable additional purchases to facilitate accounting for and processing all refunds.
6. Provide additional resources for customer support.
Google provided helpful information in its initial and reminder notices to players and created a designated Stadia Announcement FAQ to address additional questions. Topics covered refunds, what players could expect for gameplay during the sunsetting period, links to third party developers’ plans for transferring cross-play progression, and hardware compatibility. Even now, all of Stadia’s communication channels direct players to Stadia’s Help Center. Prepare to address an influx of requests during and after a sunsetting period.
7. Provide bonus content and make-goods if possible.
As a thank you to its team and the community, Google released the Worm Game for all players to enjoy before the shutdown. The Worm Game was an internal game used by the Stadia team for testing, and in the version released during Stadia’s final week, a credits section listed team members who worked on Stadia. It was a final farewell with an added benefit for players. Consider making bonus or all content available to players to enjoy as a final sendoff.
As with any difficult decision, it is important to have a plan. The final months for Stadia illustrate how taking a measured and thoughtful approach to sunsetting can mitigate risk from a consumer protection standpoint, and it might also generate some goodwill during the process. It’s not always possible to make everyone happy, but having a sunsetting plan can help game companies prepare for (and hopefully avoid) consumer claims and regulatory scrutiny when shutting down online gaming services.