Exploring new ways to bring games to people has been an important goal in the gaming industry, and game streaming is currently the trend at the forefront of that. Cloud streaming games is an ideal solution for many players. It bypasses the need to buy expensive console or PC hardware because games can be played straight from a server. As a result, almost any modern device with a solid internet connection has the potential to stream games to it. Google Stadia and Microsoft’s xCloud already provide this service, among others, and Nintendo is now getting in on the action too. We saw Nintendo playing around with this idea in the past, but with the release of Control Ultimate Edition and the upcoming Hitman 3, it feels like they are ready to dive in. If it works as intended, what could it mean for the future of cloud gaming on Nintendo Switch?
The signs that led to now
While the other big names in gaming have been playing around with the idea of cloud gaming for some time, Nintendo had been mostly silent on the subject. This was until, in 2018, Resident Evil 7 became abruptly available as a streaming-only title for Nintendo Switch in Japan. This was shortly followed by games like Phantasy Star Online 2 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. While it’s hard to say how this technology would have worked in the West at the time, we saw reports about just how well these games ran in Japan, and it seemed to vary from acceptable to underwhelming based on the conditions.
There was a considerable gap of time between these Japan-only streaming releases for Switch and the recently released cloud version of Control Ultimate Edition. I speculate that Nintendo simply wanted to test the waters with a few releases in Japan, before deciding if cloud streaming was a viable enough method to bring new AAA games to Switch in the West. Given the recent release of Control and the knowledge that Hitman 3 is coming, as well as rumors about other additional titles, it definitely feels like Nintendo is diving into the cloud streaming space with confidence. Yet, while it’s undoubtedly a positive method of bringing otherwise impossible-to-port games to Nintendo Switch, how well it works in practice is the elephant in the room.
Results may vary
The fact of the matter remains that not everyone has access to consistently high-speed internet due to factors like their network provider, location, and more. Therefore, the quality of a cloud-streamed game would vary from person to person. To put this into practice, members of the Nintendo Enthusiast team decided to test out Control, using both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections, and the results were unfortunately mixed.
Based on our experiences testing Control from a handful of different locations in both the U.S. and the U.K., we found that the game saw frequent stutters depending on the mode it was running in. Graphics mode was visually more impressive than performance mode (naturally), but as a trade-off it seemed to stutter more often. Also, despite being the more impressive of the two modes, graphics mode was still a noticeable downgrade from how Control can look on other, more powerful, platforms.
Our staff noted that Microsoft’s xCloud streaming service ran consistently better by comparison and that it was strange for a cloud streaming game like Control to have multiple graphical modes. In theory, running the game off an unknown server with high-end PC hardware should ensure that it’s the optimal PC version. It is hard to conclude if the differences in streaming quality experienced by NE staff was a result of our locations, connection type, internet provider, or all of the above. However, in my opinion, our mixed results were a sign that there is still work to be done for games trying to stream on Nintendo Switch.
So, depending on your internet connection, your mileage may vary. Though, supposing that most people had connections strong enough to make cloud streaming a viable alternative to traditional gaming, what could it mean for Switch? As next-generation consoles are now on the market, they’ll soon be followed by a rush of new AAA games that take graphical leaps forward, which, in turn, will make it more difficult for them to be downscaled to Switch. Cloud streaming bypasses this potential issue so that the Switch won’t suffer from a lack of third-party support from developers that might’ve otherwise left the console behind due to its technical limitations.
Popular third-party franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty would be obvious candidates to be brought to Switch this way. Based on Resident Evil 7’s cloud release and the potentially leaked Resident Evil 3, perhaps future Capcom support could be on the table too. Hypothesizing about the potential games that could be brought to Switch through cloud streaming is an endless task, but what about something that’s already been rumored like Xbox Game Pass? Nintendo is opening the doors to cloud streaming, and a partnership with Microsoft could mean a lot for both companies. Naturally, it would greatly expand the library of games available to stream on Switch, but could it also involve Microsoft aiding Nintendo with its online infrastructure?
We’ve already seen Sony working with Microsoft for access to its Azure cloud servers, so there is a precedent. Given how connection quality has been a consistent issue for Nintendo, this could be an ideal solution. On the other hand, based on various interviews Nintendo doesn’t seem too keen on this idea, so it remains nothing more than speculation for the moment. It feels like Nintendo is more eager than ever to use cloud gaming as a means to ensure continued third-party support for the future. However, looking at the quality of the experiences so far and Nintendo’s disinterest in partnering with Microsoft, it may be some time before cloud streaming reaches its true potential on Switch.
How do you see the future of cloud streaming on Nintendo Switch?