What is Cloud gaming?
Cloud gaming, (not to be confused with subscription-based gaming), is the use of powerful centralized servers to render the game remotely rather than on the player's physical console and is currently being pushed by video game publishers as the new way to play video games.
The technology allows for things like better graphics, higher FPS rates, better lighting, all with minimal hardware requirements for the client. You could play the most recent, most graphics-heavy game at 4K 60fps from your two-year-old iPhone.
At least that's the idea. The problem is… It's still way too early for this to be technologically viable. And the recent release of the Kingdom Hearts Cloud versions proves it.
Square Enix and Nintendo decided to go against what most professionals have already said about cloud gaming and published a cloud version of the Kingdom Hearts series at nearly full price on a console designed to be used on the go with limited or no internet connection. This is actually pretty disappointing as a fan of both the Kingdom Hearts series and Square Enix themselves.
I think the best way to describe the problem is to compare it to traditional video streaming. When you watch a movie on Netflix, the movie is already rendered and ready to go on Netflix's servers and will be downloaded in real-time as you watch, with a few seconds of buffer to give you the most seamless experience.
What is a buffer?
In streaming, buffering means the platform gives itself a small head start. It starts downloading the content a few seconds (or less) before actually playing it. If the buffer runs out while watching, you might experience a short pause, a temporary drop in resolution, or both.
I think anyone that actively watched Youtube 10 years ago is all too familiar with this. As ISP's infrastructure gets better, the need for a buffer decreases, but it's still there in some capacity and is likely to still be there for the foreseeable future.
However, in cloud gaming, buffering isn't possible in any capacity. Since your console has to record your input, pass it on to the server, render the gameplay, then send it back to you all within a few milliseconds. There is no room for buffering, at all. Even just half a second of buffering means you'd be playing the game with a ping of 500ms. And I think most people would agree that isn't a great experience, especially when it comes to fast-paced games like Kingdom Hearts.
If the Cloud game you're playing has servers within a hundred-mile radius, and you have a good internet connection with low latency, you might be able to play it somewhat smoothly. But anyone outside of the most central parts in the most populated regions is out of luck.
If video game publishers keep pushing this technology too early, they risk taking huge hits to their image from their intended audience. I hope this outrage turns out to be a learning experience for Square Enix and for other publishers witnessing the outrage.
Maybe one day in the future, we'll have fast enough connections that most of the world will be able to experience and enjoy cloud gaming as it's intended, without having to live right next to the data center. But we're not quite there yet.