Google’s Stadia streaming platform went live today, and as is the way of things, so did the Stadia launch trailer. It’s quite a thing to see: Bright, loud, flashy, and not at all clear about what Stadia is, or who Google hopes will actually buy it.
The trailer begins by describing Stadia as “the newest, most logic-defying, mind-bending, absurd gaming platform on Earth,” and that’s about the most coherent thing it has to offer over its entire two-minute running time. Stadia is “electric air,” apparently, and unlike conventional consoles, it requires no space, makes no noise, and has no smell. I’m not sure what a console smells like; my PC occasionally gives off a whiff of burning dust, but that’s a self-inflicted issue.
Later on, our intrepid digital explorers climb into a guy’s ass, which is also a canoe, and take a tour of “gaming for free range humans.” They encounter a dimension-warping pencil, and then a scientist who explains, “Stadia’s streaming pipeline leverages decades of Google research.” The breakdown of how it all works then comes to an immediate halt, however, as the travelers encounter a dog in the strange, Tron-like world of connectivity.
It’s clearly meant to be a light-hearted promo for an amazing thing that you already know and love. The problem is that we don’t. It’s intriguing, even promising, but the system as it stands now just isn’t up to snuff: “Stadia’s core streaming technology is strong,” we said in our review-so-far, “but missing features make for a disappointing launch.”
The bigger issue, in the context of the trailer, is that it’s really not clear who Stadia is for. Is anyone who’s gone all-in on the supporting hardware—including a nice 4K TV and Chromecast Ultra—and the beefy internet connection required to feed this beast really going to be averse to springing for a console? It seems to me like the dedicated tech-and-gaming fans who comprise the most obvious core audience for Stadia are also the ones who’d be least interested in the “benefits” that it offers over conventional gaming hardware.
The statement that “Stadia has the games you’re looking for,” repeated multiple times in the trailer, struck me as particularly off-key, because no, it really doesn’t. Google nearly doubled Stadia’s launch lineup yesterday, but that still only took it from 12 to 22 games, all of which have been around for varying amounts of time on other platforms. I know the marketing has to say something about it—Stadia is a gaming platform, after all—but boasting about having the games when you don’t have the games maybe isn’t the ideal approach to take.
I’m eager to see how Stadia performs in the wild, and I do believe streaming has the potential to change in the way we consume games in the future. But the launch trailer doesn’t give me confidence that Google is quite sure where it’s headed at this point: Instead of taking the opportunity to address core questions that have been hanging around the system for months, it’s simple sound and fury, and I’m honestly not sure what it’s supposed to signify.