Streaming services: the new frontier of gaming

A big part of the modern gaming industry is evolution, and that’s not just in games design and new technologies. We’ve also seen a rise in subscriptions and game streaming services that offer large libraries of games to players for one monthly or annual fee. 

The marketplace is now flooded with services based on your preferred platform of choice including Playstation Now, Xbox Game Pass, EA Play, Uplay Plus and even Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass on mobile devices. In the case of Nintendo, they had an online service similar to PS Plus and Xbox Live that came with access to a small library of NES games, but no set subscription service in the same vein as competitors. 

Until recently anyway. Back in late October, Nintendo finally released what is arguably their response to the other services mentioned above with their ‘Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack’. Billed as a separate extension of their existing online service, the pack comes with a library of Nintendo 64 games and an Animal Crossing: New Horizons DLC and a promise of more content to come in the near future.

Now, this should’ve been incredibly exciting news for all Nintendo fans and an easy win for Nintendo themselves… The chance to revisit some of the company’s most-loved games and play them handheld or on a TV with ease? Should be a knock-out. But from the moment the expansion was announced, in the middle of an Animal Crossing update with no price point announced, concerns started to grow about the cost of the service. 

Eventually, that price came as part of the Nintendo Direct series and led to one of Nintendo’s most disliked YouTube videos ever, as the service was revealed to cost £35 ($30 USD) extra on top of the Nintendo Switch Online subscription that is already £18. Overall, it costs less than Xbox’s £132 Game Pass and is similar in cost to PS Now, but with a much smaller selection of games and no calendar for future updates, it’s easy to understand the concerns. 

Then came the launch of the Expansion Pack. Subscribers soon reported a raft of issues with the emulation including low frame rates, input lag, delayed sound effects, texture problems and more. As of writing, Nintendo have responded to these concerns by saying further improvements and updates are still to come for the Expansion, but it still highlights something.

As the gaming industry moves towards more subscription based offerings that bolster up longer development periods in which less big titles release, the services offered need to be able to stand their ground and offer value for the cost. Gamers have proven that when required, they’re unafraid to speak out and demand a better service for their money and especially in gaming, great reputations are hard to earn and easy to lose. 

Arguably, a contributing factor to the anger towards Nintendo is the wealth of successful and smooth services already available from competitors that are good value with a high-quality stream. Compare these services to Nintendo’s patchy emulation filled with issues and a small library of games at a price point that players aren’t happy about, and this stands out in the market in a quite negative way. 

All of this is important because with the launch of Google Stadia in 2019, a cloud-based gaming console and heavy rumours that Netflix will begin to offer games streams as part of their offer, it appears the market is starting to shift towards a future based on streaming. There are great examples in these early adopters and Nintendo could’ve been one of those if they had a more family-friendly price point and a high-quality package. Fortunately, there is still time for Nintendo to bring the service into favour with players. If the future is truly in streaming and cloud-based gaming, the benchmark for quality is currently with Sony and Microsoft in which price and product are balanced and keep players coming back for more.