Nintendo’s Game-Streaming Strategy Is Not Having One

Let's hope this works.

Via Megan Farokhmanesh @ The Verge:

Remedy Entertainment’s critically acclaimed supernatural thriller, Control, is arriving on the Switch, Nintendo announced during a Mini Direct presentation. Control Ultimate Edition — Cloud Version is available today.

In order to play the game, you’ll need a Nintendo Account to access cloud service and “a persistent high-speed internet connection to play the game.” (It includes similar technology to Stadia and Luna, but Control’s cloud game will be handled by Ubitus.) Any interruption in the connection will cause it to disconnect in minutes. In order to buy the game, players will be required to use a launcher application to test that their connection can handle its requirements for five minutes. It will also require buying an Access Pass, priced at $39.99.

If you’d given me thirty minutes to guess what the most shocking announcement of today’s Nintendo Direct would be, I don’t think “Nintendo joins the game-streaming landscape by telling developers to just handle it themselves” would have been on my radar. I probably would have said “it’s finally Mother 3, but it’s a gacha game” or something equally dumb.

Anyway, as of today Control is on the Nintendo Switch. If you head into the eShop right now, you’ll see it’s available as a free download and requires an internet connection at all times because it’s been labeled as a “Cloud Version.” These Cloud Versions of games aren’t exactly new to the Nintendo Switch, as a few people on Twitter and Discord pointed out to me this morning, but they are new everywhere outside of Japan where Resident Evil 7, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Phantasy Star Online 2 have all been released using this technology. That said: Still a wild announcement!

On the surface — and assuming the tech works as advertised — releasing Cloud Versions of games that are too graphically intense to run on the Switch means more experiences available to more people, and that’s always going to be great. I downloaded and booted up Control’s cloud version in about three minutes and was presented with a fully playable rendition of the game, somehow complete with ray tracing — something not even my PlayStation 4 Pro can handle. Latency-wise, I didn’t notice any input lag whatsoever, but I would also categorize my internet as “above-average” so your mileage is absolutely going to vary.

So in the right conditions and given my extremely brief test, Cloud Versions seem to accomplish what they set out to accomplish, which is pretty outstanding given we don’t know a whole lot about how they even exist in the first place. One of the more interesting bits of information here is that the tech is being provided by a third party company called Ubitus, as noted in Farokhmanesh’s piece. While Microsoft continues to push xCloud and Google Stadia continues to… exist… and a multitude of other corporate entities compete to build out infrastructure capable of making game streaming The Next Thing, there’s something kind of refreshing about Nintendo’s “why don’t you do it yourself” mentality leading to a third party company like Ubitus just swooping in to make it happen. If there’s one thing we can all agree on regarding Nintendo’s ability to make coherent choices re: The Internet, it’s that their ability is frequently nonexistent. Saying “you do it” to publishers and developers when it comes to game streaming — something I’m sure Nintendo had no plans to build out themselves any time soon — almost feels like Nintendo agrees as well.

The thing I find most fascinating about game streaming to the Switch is how antithetical it feels to the way Nintendo markets the device itself. The Nintendo Switch is a home console you can take on the go! Games can be played on your TV or on the train! But not always? The more publishers decide to use companies like Ubitus to provide game streaming instead of building real ports, the more the eShop begins to flood with great looking games that can only be played at home. Yes, you can still swap between TV and handheld, but the actual freedom of the device’s portability fades away when a persistent internet connection is required.

To be clear, I don’t think this negatively impacts the Switch’s value as much as it broadens the capabilities of a console some believe to be hitting the end of its lifecycle (where’s that Switch Pro, Nintendo?). The Switch and Switch Lite were already my go-to options for anyone looking buy just one console, but now that cloud versions allow it to play games punching far beyond its graphical weight-class, the family of devices are inching ever closer to “no brainer recommendation” status to anyone with even a passing interest in video games as a whole.