The viability of a streaming future on Nintendo Switch

Nintendo Switch - Xbox Game Pass - Streaming

Recently, my colleague discussed the possibility of Xbox Game Pass heading to Nintendo Switch consoles. The environment looks ripe for such a development. Nintendo and Microsoft seem to be taking their relationship to the next level with the recent connections the companies have made. Even in the latest Nintendo Direct, I was surprised to learn that Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is heading to the Nintendo Switch. Granted, this game came to PlayStation 4 before it’s development studio, Ninja Theory, was owned by Microsoft. But now, the release of the title on Nintendo’s platform after Microsoft’s ownership of the studio seems to signal the continuously budding relationship between the gaming giants.

A streaming platform with Game Pass as the gateway

If Xbox Game Pass were to make its way to Nintendo Switch, that would indicate a potential streaming future for Nintendo’s hybrid platform. The Switch may not have the raw power to realize Xbox One games directly on its own hardware, but streaming games is a whole other ball game. Nintendo has already experimented with streaming games in Japan, such as Resident Evil 7, from an external server.

Also, who says that Xbox Game Pass has to be the limit? If Nintendo can refine streaming on the Switch or any Switch successors, the barriers to what third-party titles are accessible on Switch can be eliminated. Nintendo could then decide to work with third-party publishers and developers to procure licenses for an exclusive streaming service of its own. Of course, this is all pure “what if?” speculation.

Does Nintendo really need streaming?

Nintendo has already gained a foothold this generation with the success of the Switch console. It’s only real failure is its inability to support visually taxing third-party titles on its platform.

But, here’s the real question: is that really a failure? Should Nintendo want to fully pursue fixing that? The company has created a bit of a niche market for itself separate from the rest of the gaming industry. The Switch’s capabilities and beloved Nintendo first-party titles are the very things that have driven the commercial success of the system.

Would a major investment in building out future streaming capabilities of third-party games on Switch actually pay off? Would players even care all that much? After all, Nintendo has separated itself from its gaming peers. Those that have purchased the system have already done so based on the merits of what constitutes the Nintendo brand alongside the Switch’s own appeal. The other arena of graphically impressive titles is something fans turn to Sony or Microsoft for.

The bad

Like anything, I think there will be pros and cons. Streaming doesn’t come without its set of hurdles. I’ve had great streaming experiences and disastrous ones. Streaming, of course, all depends on an uninterrupted internet connection. That’s not something you can always count on if you’re like me with very few options when it comes to a reliable ISP. In my mind, streaming offers more chances for lag and poor resolution.

Streaming capabilities on the Switch will also ensure you stay tethered to your home network in order to play games which is a bit antithetical to the idea behind the Switch’s mobility. If you’re locked down at home, then it makes even more sense to play big third-party games directly on your more powerful machines.

The good

The more thought you give this, the more it seems like a waste of Nintendo’s resources should the company ever pursue something on its own. But with an exclusive arrangement with Xbox, the service would be maintained by Microsoft and Nintendo fans would have access to many (originally) Xbox exclusive titles. This is, in effect, where the real benefit comes in. Players will be able to make a significantly smaller monetary investment for access to a wider swath of games. Gamers on a budget can forego purchasing the higher priced machines and instead play both Nintendo games and stream triple-A third-party titles on a Switch.

This prospect sounds a bit intense, I’m sure. Wouldn’t this cause problems for the Xbox platform? Well, not if Microsoft’s endgame is to eventually shift over to a streaming service available across multiple platforms. And if that occurs, what’s going to stop other big publishers like EA, Activision, Ubisoft or, heaven forbid, Nintendo from creating their own streaming services for their own games? Nintendo taking a stab at fine-tuning the streaming effort in conjunction with Microsoft could potentially put the company ahead of the curve should this be the destined path for video games. And, getting ahead is rarely a bad thing for business.

Change is never easy

The industry has evolved over the last three decades. There’s absolutely no question about that. Chances are small that any of us back in ’93 imagined a world in our near future where nearly picture perfect rendering and animation, motion controls, virtual reality, and high-quality mobile games existed. Streaming may be the next big evolution, and Nintendo can play a role in this next stage of accessible gaming. But, is streaming viable for the Nintendo Switch as it stands? As I’ve shared, it’s complicated and dependent on the angle you’re looking at it from. But my feeling is that despite widening the accessibility to a multitude of games, streaming could hinder accessibility to games in general for gamers without proper stable internet connections. In that regard, we’re not entirely there yet.

An all-digital or all-streaming future carries a bit of weight to it. Some gamers embrace the minimalist idea while others reject the notion for multiple valid reasons. But regardless if you’re on board or not, it’s getting harder and harder to deny that we’re inching toward that inevitability day by day. The ramifications mean that fans may have to move away from the benefits of owning physical media. But, it also could mean the reduction in costs for all with less investment in publishing and overhead and wider accessibility to all games. It’s a complex issue. But if Nintendo has any stake in this future, what better way to potentially walk down this path than with a big partner like Microsoft?

Chris Hinton
Accountant by day, video games enthusiast by night.  Somewhere in between all of that, I'm a husband, dad, and generally a giant man-child, too.  If a game is all about action, there's a safe bet I'm playing it.  I started laying waste to virtual worlds as a youngin' on the ol' Atari and haven't stopped since.