Stadia vs. xCloud: Cloud Giants May Be Ignoring Their Fiercest Competitor

There's a cloud gaming dark horse with huge potential.

Cloud services like Microsoft’s xCloud and Google Stadia promise gamers limitless access to titles on any device. But there have also been questions about whether either cloud giant is ready to deliver. They’d better hurry up.

That’s because the gaming giant with the least exposure to the cloud gaming market may also be the best-equipped to take advantage. After all, Nintendo has already given Japanese Switch owners a taste of its cloud gaming vision, making a handful of AAA titles available over the Switch eShop in Japan.

This early foray into cloud game streaming has been promising. In May 2018, Capcom’s Resident Evil 7 became the first AAA game that became streamable on the Switch, a title which wasn’t available on the device before. And in April, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey also became available in the Switch eShop in Japan. Piers Harding-Rolls, the Director of Research and Analysis for Games at IHS Markit, tells Inverse that Nintendo is, in effect, already the second biggest player in the space.

nintendo switch assassin's creed odyssey
Playing 'Assassin's Creed Odyssey' on the Switch would have never been possible without the power of cloud gaming.

“Nintendo Switch was actually the second biggest platform for cloud gaming in 2018. Games, such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which would not otherwise have been on the Switch, were able to be streamed to the device in Japan,” he said. “Cloud was helping the Switch compete more strongly with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Its experiments in partnership with Ubitus in Japan means it is building some strong expertise in cloud gaming and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this extended to other countries in due course.”

Cloud gaming could effectively make the Switch the console to own if Nintendo is able to partner with more AAA game studios and publishers. Owners could play all of Nintendo’s exclusives, while streaming big-name games that would traditionally require a pricer console or PC. This could soon become a reality. Company president Shuntaro Furukawa has alluded to more cloud gaming products in the past, saying during the recent annual shareholders meeting on June 5 that the tech was pivotal to Nintendo’s future.

nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa
Nintendo’s current president Shuntaro Furukawa (left) shakes hands with former president Tatsumi Kimishima in Osaka on April 26, 2018.

“We see a future where cloud and streaming technologies will develop more and more as a means of delivering games to consumers,” reads a translated transcript of the meeting. “We must keep up with such changes in the environment.”

The Switch is Nintendo’s ticket to the cloud gaming party. The $300 hybrid gaming system is more affordable than the other major consoles, and it also offers portability, as users can play at home on a TV or on-the-go using its build-in screen. It’s sold 34 million units as of March 31, giving Nintendo easy access to a global network of gamers. Plus, cloud gaming would solve the console’s biggest issue: lackluster graphics.

Nintendo Switch Smash Bros
The Switch could be Nintendo's ticket to cloud gaming dominance.

The current Switch can barely churn out 1,080p resolution, while consoles like the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X can run in 4K. Cloud gaming will level the playing field. Cloud servers will run games on top-of-the-line hardware and their output will be streamed to devices, like the Switch, and in whatever resolution your internet connection allows.

This couldn’t happen overnight. Harding-Rolls says Nintendo will need to pen deals to overcome “infrastructure and service delivery” hurdles (problems that Microsoft and Google Stadia, with their massive cloud networks, do not share.) But Nintendo’s early test of a streaming service has made it out to be the dark horse in the multi-billion dollar cloud gaming race.

Nintendo’s devices are already cheap, its games are already optimized for lower resolutions cloud gamers will likely endure at first, and it’s already beamed AAA titles to the Switch, at least in Japan. By making AAA titles more widely available, cloud gaming will also hurt the more expensive consoles’ allure. A happy Switch customer could stay a happy Switch customer for life.

The most formidable gaming company in the cloud gaming race still be waiting on the sidelines. But it won’t for long.