A proposed class action alleges Google has greatly exaggerated the streaming quality and display resolution of its Stadia cloud gaming service in order to juice subscription numbers prior to the platform’s release.
The 42-page breach-of-contract lawsuit alleges Google and developers Bungie, Inc. and id Software, LLC misled gamers by claiming in the run up to Stadia’s November 2019 release that the cloud-based, no-console-required service was more powerful than Microsoft’s Xbox-One X and Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro combined and that every game on Stadia would be playable at 4k resolution.
Directly prior to Stadia’s launch, Google quietly walked back claims with regard to the platform’s ability to play every game in 4k resolution, particularly for those with slower internet connections, the suit says. As a result of its false and misleading claims, Google was able to lock a large customer base into its subscription offerings through pre-orders, hooking gamers who essentially served as beta testers prior to Stadia’s wider free release in 2020, the case says.
“Google made false and misleading claims concerning the streaming quality of Stadia’s service in order to generate increased revenue for the Google Stadia division,” the complaint alleges.
The complaint, filed on October 22, 2020 in Queens County Superior Court and removed to New York federal court on February 12, alleges Google has violated consumer protection laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Through the lawsuit, the plaintiff looks to secure monetary damages for current and former Stadia subscribers and a court order requiring Google to publicly display the viewing resolution and frames per second of each game sold on Stadia.
A change of tune
Stadia marked Google’s entrance into the video game streaming market, the suit begins. On March 19, 2019, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced Stadia alongside the claim that it was more powerful than the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, the leading video game platforms, combined, and would provide fast, high-quality 4K 60-frames-per-second resolution gaming, the lawsuit says.
Per the case, the game Doom Eternal was held up prior to the release of Stadia as an example of what the service could offer, and a number of media outlets, including CNET, 9to5Google and IGN, wrote optimistically about the forthcoming platform. The game Red Dead Redemption 2 was another title advertised to be available on Stadia in “glorious detail in 4k/60fps,” the suit adds.
Around June 2019, consumers began to buy pre-orders for Stadia, which was to be released in November. Available to subscribers was the Stadia Founder’s Edition, which cost $129 and included a Stadia game controller; Google Chromecast Ultra, which was required to play Stadia games in 4k; three months of Stadia service; and a “Stadia Buddy Pass,” which allowed the buyer to gift three months of Stadia to a friend, the suit relays. When the Founder’s edition “sold out,” gamers could purchase the Stadia Premier Edition, which included everything in the Founder’s Edition except the Stadia Buddy Pass, or the Pro edition, the complaint reads, all of which preceded Google’s eventual release of the free Stadia experience.
At the time, Google “incorrectly claimed that the value of the Stadia Founder’s package was $300,” the case alleges.
Per the suit, boasts about Stadia’s display quality and resolution were repeated in the run up to Stadia’s release by, among others, Google Vice President and Stadia Product Manager Phil Harrison, and media reports shortly thereafter fortified the assurances. According to the case, Harrison assured all of the video games on the Stadia platform would support 4k resolution at launch.
“Google did not correct the false information contained in said reports,” the suit says.
Upon Stadia’s release, the lawsuit says, media reports began to surface that the gaming service’s streaming quality and display resolution were not as strong as Google represented, and that many of the games did not have 4k resolution. The case claims Google eventually deleted a Twitter announcement about Red Dead Redemption 2 on the Stadia platform, a tweet that claimed a player did not need high internet speeds in order to enjoy the title in 4k/60fps.
As the lawsuit tells it, Google’s removal of the tweet “shows that Google understood that it was intentionally misleading consumers and wanted to assure there was no direct false statements coming from Google regarding the Stadia service.”
Just prior to Stadia’s launch, Google, in what the suit alleges to be “an apparent effort to cover up the incorrect information that would soon come to light” over the platform’s inability to play every game in 4k, made a change to a description of the resolution of the service that Stadia provided depending upon a player’s internet connection, the lawsuit claims. More specifically, Google “quietly” tweaked the About section on the Stadia website to “obscure the indication that Stadia gameplay was less than 4k only if a customer had a slower internet connection,” the complaint says.
The truth emerges?
Shortly after the launch of Stadia Pro, reports began to surface that Google was lying about the service’s streaming quality and display resolution, as well as the fact that not every game was playable in 4k resolution. The suit highlights a November 2019 article from 9to5Google, titled “Google is exaggerating the quality of Stadia’s games, and it’s not okay,” that went into detail on the problems with Stadia and implored Google to fix the service’s shortcomings.
At one point, however, the article was titled “Google is blatantly lying about the quality of Stadia’s games, and that’s not okay,” the lawsuit says, noting that the plaintiff “will seek discovery from 9to5Google and Defendants to determine the cause for the changes.”
Google, in response to increasing numbers of online complaints from gamers and bad press, “failed to explain its false and misleading” claims and issued a statement that did nothing to correct its allegedly misleading public remarks about Stadia, the suit claims. To date, Google has left in place nearly all of the information the lawsuit claims is misleading about Stadia.
“As a result of Google’s actions, there are hundred [sic], if not thousands, of articles and reports across the United States and the world containing misleading statements originating from Google that consumers are making purchasing decisions based upon,” the lawsuit says. “Google has done nothing to correct the false information concerning the power and resolution of the games available on Stadia and does not disclose to consumers in the Google Stadia store the resolution of each of the games available for purchase.”
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff retained legal counsel once reports started surfacing about Stadia’s diminished streaming quality and display resolution. After months of settlement negotiations, the suit says, Google provided current and former Stadia subscribers with a $10 coupon that could be applied to the purchase of a game. The plaintiff claims to have attempted to resolve the matter through a private and confidential individual settlement with Google, yet the company “refused to provide Plaintiff fair and reasonable legal fees.”
The case says the legal fees offered by Google are only a “small percentage of the time that Plaintiff’s counsel spent on this matter.” Moreover, Google has not disclosed the resolution of the games that it sells through Stadia.
Who does the lawsuit look to cover?
The lawsuit proposes to cover all persons or entities in the United States who, at any time between June 6, 2019 and the date of the lawsuit’s resolution, bought the Stadia Founder’s Edition, Stadia Premier Edition and/or subscriptions to the Stadia Pro service based on information that Google Stadia was more powerful than leading consoles and/or that all games on Stadia would be playable at 4k resolution.
How do I join?
There’s generally nothing you need to do to “join” or be considered a part of a class action lawsuit. These types of cases almost always take a while to work their way through the legal system, usually toward either a settlement or dismissal (or sometimes to binding arbitration). This means it could be a while before people affected by the conduct alleged in the lawsuit—known as “class members”—need to do anything.
At any rate, it’s only if and when a suit settles that consumers would need to take action, such as file a claim online. You can find more information about this here.
To stay informed in the meantime, you can sign up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter here.