Outside of the 2019 Game Developers Conference, before anyone had ever heard the phrase “Google Stadia,” sat a small display outlining the history of gaming. Dates and bullet points marked some of the major events, and on three pedestals sat a few of the industry’s most notorious flops: Atari’s E.T., Nintendo’s Power Glove, and Sega’s Dreamcast. A fourth pedestal was empty except for a card that read “coming soon.” Just over three years later, Stadia, Google’s cloud-based streaming console, has finally earned its place on that fourth pedestal, and the curator who made the original exhibit is now getting ready to auction it off.
“Remember when Google Stadia had that GDC display where they sat it next to three of gaming history’s most famous failures?” Video Game History Foundation founder and co-director, Frank Cifaldi, tweeted yesterday, shortly after Google announced the end of Stadia. “Now you can recreate this display in your own home! I provided the originals for the display, and now I’m selling them for charity.” The current bid on eBay is $1,525, with just six days left until the end of the auction. All proceeds are going to the Video Game History Foundation.
“Truthfully, I put these items aside in their own bin in storage right after GDC just for this purpose,” Cifaldi told Kotaku over email. “I had the idea for this auction during the show, and waited patiently. Okay, I’m a vulture, but at least it’s for a good cause?”
Does it come complete with a Stadia controller? No, and Cifaldi is tired of people asking. “I don’t have a Stadia, no one has a Stadia, if they did then we wouldn’t be here cashing in on their misfortune,” he tweeted.
It was never quite clear what message Google intended to send with the odd display. Atari helped crash the gaming industry in the early 1980s and E.T. was so bad it became the stuff of legend for getting buried in the desert by the truckload. The Power Glove was a classic (and literal) case of reach exceeding grasp: a neat idea ahead of its time with no real application other than as a cool moment in 1989 movie The Wizard. And then there was the Sega Dreamcast, an over-designed but wonderful system with some amazing games that only sold 10 million units and unfortunately ended the Sonic maker’s console manufacturing business.
“[The exhibit] went through what felt like several committees and decision-makers who all disagreed with each other, they changed direction completely with like a week left before the show, and by the end it was a mish-mash of two entirely different concepts, ‘a timeline of video game console innovation’ and ‘collectibles people will take a selfie next to,’ Cifaldi explains in the eBay auction’s description. “The details don’t really matter, what really matters here at the end of the day is that it was not my fault.”
While that process was one of many bad omens, the exhibit certainly grabbed people’s attention. “No clue where this is going but I’m intrigued #GoogleGDC19,” gaming insider Nibel tweeted when the exhibit was revealed at the time. In the years since, pictures of the display have occasionally resurfaced as an evergreen gaming meme, especially as it became clearer that the only thing matching Google’s ambition was its hubris.
“When they finally unveiled [Stadia] at GDC (I wasn’t briefed as part of helping with this exhibit) it seemed to me like a solution in search of a problem,” Cifaldi said. “Like, their customer is a hardcore gamer who will buy a $60 AAA game that requires significant time investment to complete, and they pay for high-speed internet, but they won’t buy a Switch or a Series S? Who is that person?”
But the gaming historian was quick to point out that while Stadia remains the butt of a lot of jokes, his heart goes out to all of the game developers now reeling from the platform’s abrupt shuttering. “I have a friend whose entire business is in danger because he made financial plans around the income that Stadia promised him for when his game was supposed to launch,” Cifaldi said. “He invested time and money into the game with that in mind, and now it’s just not going to happen.”
He continued, “I hope that they take care of the partners they’re burning but, if not, I hope the industry remembers how this went down when Google inevitably tries to enter the games business again in three or four years.”