Over the weekend Capcom announced Biohazard 7 (aka Resident Evil 7) cloud version for the Nintendo Switch and it is quite possibly the worst and most horrifying thing I’ve ever heard of. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But, it’s pretty close. I really do believe it’s that bad. The whole concept being that instead of a straight port of the game running on the Switch’s hardware, you instead download a 43mb player that streams the game from Capcom’s servers to your home console over your local internet connection. You’re not really playing the game but instead playing the game on Capcom’s own hardware far away in Japan and the inputs are being sent over the internet.-
It’s not great. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of great. It’s a dystopian nightmare. Game preservation is already in kind of an awful place at the current moment in time with so much heavy reliance on digital downloads and updates to the point where physical media might not even be reliable when it comes to returning to these games in 20-40 years. Games like Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 and even newer Telltale games are being sold with a nearly blank disc only including an executable for the game and you have to download the rest. And then there’s the PC where newer games are being sold with no disc and a piece of paper with a download code. But now we have a situation where you don’t even own the game at all in any way, shape or form. You can’t even own RE7 cloud version, you have to rent it for roughly $20 and then you can play it for up to 180 days before the lords at Capcom take it away from you.
And of course, cloud gaming is something that despite having been an available technology for close to a decade now, leaves most consumers completely divided on and doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s market ready. Services like Onlive and PlayStation Now have popped up over the years but didn’t take off (and are now dead in the case of Onlive). You have to have a steady internet connection whether that be wireless or wired. Latency can and will be a big issue and fast twitchy inputs will either feel off or be near-impossible to do. Fluctuations in the connection can lead to the video quality worsening which means lower resolutions and lots of pixelation. All of this can get more confusing and frustrating when you take into consideration things like data caps and the Net Neutrality hullabaloo going on you then have to worry about paying extra to let your ISP let you access your online gaming at the same speeds your paying to access on top of already having to pay both an Internet bill and if you’re on a console you gotta pay for Xbox Live Gold or PS Plus or Nintendo Switch Online or whatever and AAAAAAAHHHHHHH STOP THE WORLD I WANNA GET OFF. (Though it seems we’re on a steady track to stop anti-net Neutrality laws from ever being put in place).
There’s a lot to take in and cover. And if I wanted to cover every little thing that instantly sets off a warning alarm in my head, this video would be an incoherent rambling mess. So I’m going to try and focus my efforts on organizing all these issues and try to carefully explain why this is so terrible and who exactly gets screwed over by this.
1. The Console
One of the reasons the Switch made such a splash when it launched last year was that it fixed one of the crucial issues with the Wii U. You were only given so much space to take that gamepad with you until the gameplay cut out altogether. The Switch is a truly portable console which means that you can take this thing anywhere and your games will still play regardless of your condition. And I have put this thing through its paces doing so. Whether it be playing Breath of the Wild in a Beijing airport, Doom on the New York City Subway, or playing Mario Kart 8 DX with other Nintendo Switch owners in a public space. The Switch’s ability to play full-featured AAA games on the go is what makes it so special.
As you may have guessed, all of this is thrown out the window once you throw an internet connection requirement into this. Granted, both private and public internet is something that’s been on a steady rise in certain parts of the world. Gigabit internet is becoming more and more common in American homes as well as public wi-fi. Now, something that should be mentioned is that right now, RE7 cloud is Japanese only. And from personal experience traveling there and from talking to a few folks who live there, it seems to be about the same as what’s happening in America. But the Switch isn’t exactly the keenest console when it comes to always staying connected. For one, the thing immediately drops connection when it goes into sleep mode. Sometimes it’ll even cut out just going into the home menu and back. And if you run into a Wi-Fi connection that requires logging in through a browser, forget it. It’s also important to note that the Switch’s dock doesn’t feature an Ethernet port; so without an adapter, a completely steady connection isn’t possible. On top of all of this, that public Wi-Fi I mentioned isn’t exactly as fast as home connections. They usually have low data speeds and signal strength and unlike games like Splatoon 2 where the online functionality is designed around sending as little data as possible to make playing at whatever fast food restaurant or cafe possible, with RE7 you have to worry about getting a full 720p video signal sent to you and you sending inputs to Capcom’s servers. It’s not exactly something that’s gonna work well in practice.
Of course, the Switch is very far from being the most capable system on the market. I expect as much from a system that’s half the girth of my current graphics card. Because of this, I do realize that not ALL games are going to be able to be ported to this thing. Though what makes this situation weird is that the Switch’s specs were beefed up specifically so Capcom could port RE7 to the console. Whether Capcom tried and couldn’t port the game to the console is unknown. I know a lot of people like to point at the ports of Doom and Wolfenstein 2 and say things like “well if those games can run than something with similar graphical fidelity should have no problem” which is a whole other discussion.
The same logic of “well if it can’t run on the console, let’s stream it” is basically the whole idea behind PlayStation Now. The PS4 doesn’t have any possible way of doing PS3 backward compatibility so Sony’s idea was that you could stream PS3 games to the PS4 instead. But there’s still quite a difference between that and what Capcom is doing for RE7. For one, you can still buy a PS3 and all of the games you’d want to play on it. Second, your PS4 is presumably going to be stationary and tethered to both your TV and your internet, unlike the Switch where the whole concept of the console is to take it anywhere. With having to stream the game, we’re just going back to the same problem the Wii U had.
This is not even the first ‘streamed’ game on the Switch as Phantasy Star Online 2 Cloud did something similar a few months before. Which is just as shady but a practice a few MMOs in Japan have used to allow larger games to be played on mobile devices. Though one could also say that the streaming is used as a passive method of geo-locking the game as the streaming latency for westerners trying to stream a Japanese game would be high.
2. The Developers
The fine people at studios like Panic Button, Virtuous, and Iron Galaxy Studios have done a pretty damn good job at resizing big budgeted games to fit on Nintendo’s hardware. As I said before, a lot of folks try to point out the Switch’s hardware power based on ports of games like Doom and Skyrim Remastered. However, a good chunk of those games running that well can come down to just how scalable the engine the games are running on are and how good the people porting the game can optimize it. RE7 cloud just seems lazy. Like they couldn’t bother to get the game working whether not being able to meet some sort of target or not being able to know which corners to cut to get the game working better. It kind of undermines the work of some of these porting devs. If Capcom couldn’t port the game themselves, they could’ve tried letting another company try doing so. Adam Boyes of Iron Galaxy recently tweeted at Capcom saying they were certain they could get Monster Hunter World (a game much more demanding) running on the Switch. But no, I guess cutting out any extra dev time or money to instead stream the PC version is easier or quicker? What makes it a bit stranger is that Capcom has always done a pretty good job at making scalable engines that are capable of running on very low-end machines. Look at the minimum PC requirements of any new Capcom game. Those things can run on toasters.
3. The Consumer
This is of course the most obvious one as, well, there’s nothing for the consumer. The $20 you pay lets you play Capcom’s copy of the game on Capcom’s hardware for roughly half a year. Regular and Gold Edition copies of Resident Evil 7 go on sale or can be purchased used for roughly the same price on all other platforms. So why pay the same price for a version that you don’t even own or can even play whenever you want. What happens when that 180 days runs out and you want to play the game again? Will you even be able to access your own saves? Let alone years down the line when you maybe get the hankering to want to play RE7 on your Switch again and Capcom has long shut down the servers. Then what?
Now to be fair (I guess), some people are going to find RE7 cloud to be perfectly reasonable on paper. If the game can’t run on the console, at least they’re giving us a way to play. Yeah, the game is streamed but $20 gets you the game and all of its DLC. They only give you 180 days but the average time to beat the game is 9 hours. It can’t be all that bad, right? It’s better than nothing! But…no. It’s not better than nothing. It IS nothing. But scamming you into thinking it’s something.
My biggest problem with all of this isn’t just “oh this isn’t how I wanted to play RE7 on my Switch” but more of the implications of releasing a game like this. If the game can’t run, why bother porting it when you can stream it. Which then leads to why bother porting any game at all if you can just stream it. It sets an uncomfortable precedent that any publisher could simply just forgo the porting process and instead stream the game so the end user can play and nothing else. They can’t sell it, trade it, lend it to a friend, borrow it, they can’t even keep the game. They can only play in one spot and under the publisher’s rules. This is the type of thing the gaming community as a whole pretty much was up in arms over when Microsoft announced the Xbox One with anti-consumer practices.
I’m a person who enjoys a lot of old media. Whether it be games, music, or movies. Because of this, I own a lot of physical media. Cartridges, CDs, even Laserdiscs. There’s nothing like popping in an old game or film or album enjoying the fact that I physically own the thing I’m partaking in. On the other hand, I also own tons of digital media as well. Sure the ever-growing threat of what happens when a service goes down looms overhead, but for the most part, digital media has breathed new life into a lot of older media. All those things I mentioned can be stored on a big hard drive or client for easy access. For some things like older PC games, the boom of the internet and digital downloads have helped make older games more accessible and work better/at all on newer hardware and software.
It’s especially strange that such a concept of a game only existing in the cloud is being developed for Japanese audiences. A country with a culture that still heavily emphasizes on owning media personally for yourself. Go to any Japanese city and the number of used bookstores is overwhelming and filled to the brim with used books, CDs, movies, and especially games. So I can’t imagine that having to pay for a game you don’t get to keep is something Japanese audiences will latch onto.
Plot twist: I’m not even against cloud gaming/streaming either. Well, to a degree. Products and services like Steam Link, Rainway, PlayStation’s Remote Play, and GeForce Now are all things that seem like genuinely awesome ideas to me. Instead of renting a game and streaming it from some server somewhere, you’re instead running YOUR games that YOU own off of YOUR own hardware. I’m much more excited by Valve’s announcements of Steam Link coming to iOS and Android as well as Rainway being all but confirmed for the Switch. If I’m gonna HAVE to stream RE7 on my Switch instead of playing a port, I’d much rather it be a copy I own and have access to whenever I please. Now like my comment earlier about how instead of PS Now you could just buy a PS3 and games instead, some may find the idea of having to buy a separate platform just to play these games instead of just going ahead and streaming them to be a bit unintuitive. But honestly (and this is totally a me thing), I’d much rather have the hardware or game locally. Sure you’re spending the extra money but, at least you’ll actually complete control and that hardware and software will be your properly. And all of it will still work than just streaming it.
In short, don’t buy Resident Evil 7 cloud version. Don’t download the launcher and play the 15-minute free trial. Don’t even look at the eShop page. Just don’t give Capcom the attention or the clicks. It’s not worth it. All it does is give them and other publishers the idea that anything about this idea is okay. None of it is okay.