Cloud-Gaming on Switch is a Neat Idea, but Not Ideal

The Switch has one undeniable shortcoming: it’s simply not as powerful as the other consoles. Since the Switch is a hybrid console, it had to be designed to handle console-quality games even when running on a battery, all while being housed in a portable form factor. It’s amazing what Nintendo has been able to achieve, but sacrifices still needed to be made for this to happen. This creates a challenge for developers. Capcom has found an interesting way to work around this though: cloud-based gaming. While it’s a neat idea, this really isn’t an ideal solution that other studios should be quick to follow.

The flexibility of the Switch’s hybrid functionality is a real benefit to gamers, but it does give developers extra work on top of already having to deal with the lower-powered specs. When in docked mode, the Switch can utilize the full extent of its Nvidia Tegra processor due to the battery constraint not being an issue. When undocked, the processor is downclocked in order to spare the battery which is now also powering everything else (screen, speakers, radios, etc.) Clearly, there are some hoops that need to be jumped through when developers bring their games over to the Switch. It’s a modern device, it just has some limitations. This has what’s led Capcom to try an experiment with cloud-based gaming.

This sort of technology isn’t anything new. A few years ago, the now-defunct OnLive service tried to usher it into the mainstream, but that didn’t work out. In recent times, however, we’ve seen services like Steam Link, PlayStation Now, and GeForce Now come into the picture. Thanks to modern technological advancements, cloud-based gaming is actually now pretty decent. But, it has one glaring limitation—the gaming experience is completely reliant on the player’s Internet connection. If it’s not fast enough, then the gameplay will either be very choppy or won’t work at all.

I’ve written about my qualms with cloud-based gaming multiple times in the past. What it really all boils down to is that while this might be a viable option for some, that doesn’t apply to everyone. I’ve been living in South America for nearly two years now. Having traversed through different cities across two countries (Ecuador and Peru), it’s made me realize that despite us being well into the 21st century at this point, the whole world is not at the same level when it comes to the “digital age”. Sure, you might argue that these are “third-world” nations, but even bigger countries like the USA with more advanced infrastructure is not yet able to provide nationwide high-speed Internet access. In fact, the US is well-known for the huge disparity in Internet speeds across the country. Some areas have a good system, but quite a number of them don’t. All-in-all, this creates an issue when it comes to cloud-based gaming. Since it doesn’t benefit everyone, that makes its market penetration potential very limited. On top of that, doing this with the Switch undermines the console’s major selling point: being a hybrid system.

 Streaming requires a really fast and stable Internet connection. Globally, this leaves a lot of folks out in the dark.

If someone’s enjoying a cloud-based game on their Switch at home thanks to having a good Internet plan, what happens when they have to leave? If they don’t have a connection as good as their one at home, then that pretty much means the game that they’re playing can only be done so at home. Sure, this may not be a big deal to some, but it still takes away from the Switch’s unique ability to be an “anytime, anywhere” gaming system. And before you bring up phone tethering, yes that’s an option, but if you don’t have an unlimited data plan then that probably won’t take you very far.

I will admit that the idea of cloud-based gaming on the Switch is still a neat idea. It does legitimately alleviate the issue of developers having to downscale their games to run on the system natively. But still, this is more of a ‘band-aid solution’, so to speak. The best case scenario is still for devs to either try their best to port their games properly until a more advanced system comes down the line. Whether that’s an upgraded version (a-la New 3DS/PS4 Pro/Xbox One X) or a successor, we have yet to see. But, one way or another it’s going to happen and should make having to find quirky solutions like cloud-based gaming a moot point.

In any case, this situation does show that the Switch has some hurdles to overcome. It’s been doing great for the past year it’s been on the market, but it still remains to be seen how it will turn out in the long run. There are games skipping the Switch that are coming to the PS4 and Xbox One. Sure, it can be argued that these games have been in development for multiple years, but it still mostly has to do with the process of downscaling being rather complex. With E3 just a few weeks away, it will be interesting to see to what extent this trend of Nintendo fans having to ask “Where’s the Switch version?” has to continue. There will no doubt be announcements that will create this question, but I do wonder if it will be any more than what we saw at last year’s presentation. We’ll find out soon enough.

Still, credit should be given where credit is due. While the Switch may not be a powerhouse, it can definitely punch above its weight. It’s just a tad bigger than the very controllers of the other systems, yet it is capable of running current-gen titles with some tweaking. As more time passes and developers get more adept with the hardware, we should see an increase in the number of games making their way over. If more studios decide to take the Capcom’s “shortcut” of offering a cloud version, then it will be harder to see just how far the Switch can really go. Again, it’s a clever solution but leaves many gamers behind. We need more studios like Panic Button who have the resources to dedicate their sole attention to porting over Switch games. That is the far better answer to this problem.

The Switch is at a technological disadvantage, but it can still hold its own. Developers just have to be willing to put the extra effort into taking advantage of that.

A.K Rahming
Having been introduced to video games at the age of 3 via a Nintendo 64, A.K has grown up in the culture. A fan of simulators and racers, with a soft spot for Nintendo! But, he has a great respect for the entire video game world and enjoys watching it all expand as a whole.