The Pitfalls and Potential of Nintendo’s Cloud Gaming

Streaming-only releases make sense for the Switch, but have drawbacks

Key Takeaways

  • Cloud gaming allows the Switch to functionally ignore hardware requirements in order to run more intensive games.
  • With the only limits being licensing and internet speeds, Nintendo could offer an impressive library.
  • Between typical streaming problems like internet requirements and a sparse (but improving) selection, Nintendo’s got its work cut out for it.
Someone tapping on the screen of a Nintendo Switch.

Enrique Vidal Flores / Unsplash

Streaming versions of popular AAA games is a clever idea for the Switch that comes with a fair number of problems.

I think it’s fair to assume that nobody has gotten or will be getting a Nintendo Switch because it's a performance powerhouse. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my Switch, but it’s definitely not keeping up with the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One—to say nothing of the PS5 or Series X/S.

This is why Nintendo’s inclusion of streaming versions of more intensive games seems like such a smart idea. With the company going the cloud route, a game’s performance is tied to servers and internet speeds rather than hardware performance.

It allows the Switch to ignore system specs to let you play games like Control, Hitman 3, and (in Japan) Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It’s got some pretty significant downsides, though.

"I’m sure getting licenses to stream third-party games takes time and money, and I’d imagine Nintendo doesn’t want to risk either by moving too fast."

What Does Work

Despite my naysaying, I do actually think cloud gaming is an excellent idea for the Switch. It’s a clever way to give Switch owners games they might not get to play otherwise. Ideally, I’d prefer to get Switch ports instead, of course, but porting is a lot of work, and several newer games would need to be scaled back to run decently. It’s just not a tenable model for most game releases.

So, of course, Nintendo would turn to cloud gaming! It’s worked incredibly well for NES and SNES games so far. Granted, those games aren’t exactly memory hogs, but that’s the thing—your hardware memory is irrelevant when streaming.

Expanding the idea to bigger games makes perfect sense in that regard. So long as you have a strong and stable internet connection, you’re good to go.

I know the selection of AAA games is sparse at the moment (the titles I listed at the start are a not-insignificant percentage of the entire list), but think of the potential. We know cloud gaming is only held back on a technical level by internet speeds, so it’s not unreasonable to believe that the Switch could see some pretty big stuff in the future.

Obviously, first-party games are out, but we could (licensing notwithstanding) actually play games like Deathloop, Oddworld: Soulstorm, Psychonauts 2, and more. 

A screenshot from the Nintendo Switch.

What Doesn’t Work

This could be seen as nitpicking, since you still get to play the game regardless of whether or not it’s on physical media, installed on your hardware, or streaming. However, it’s possible (even likely) that the things we stream could disappear one day with little notice.

It happens with TV and movie streaming all the time, where licenses shift between platforms, and suddenly the thing you wanted to watch is gone.

Then there’s the issue of streaming, in general. Unlike most physical and digital games (giving Blizzard’s BattleNet the side-eye here), you need to have an internet connection for cloud gaming. If your internet goes down, starts running slowly, or if you’re in a place with no internet, you can’t play the game.

Sure this sounds circumstantial, but remember: one of the Switch’s big draws is portability. So if you’re commuting or traveling, cloud gaming is functionally useless.

Having a handful of games available (like less than 10 at the moment) certainly isn’t doing Nintendo any favors, either. On the other hand, I’m sure getting licenses to stream third-party games takes time and money, and I’d imagine Nintendo doesn’t want to risk either by moving too fast.

A screenshot from the Nintendo Switch.

The company has to make sure there’s enough of a market for it first. I get it. But the thing is, what’s there right now isn’t enough, and the games that would probably help are exclusive to Japan at the moment.

I’m hoping Guardians of the Galaxy and the future release of several Kingdom Hearts games goes well, because that might pull users in. Nintendo needs to offer more big games that are either beloved or new if it’s going to get its own cloud gaming off the ground.

And I honestly do want it to work out, because if my Switch could play almost anything, I probably wouldn’t even need my PlayStation anymore.

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