Nintendo has had huge success with the launch of the Switch. Selling over 2.4 million consoles worldwide in its launch month and continuing strong sales in the months since. Nintendo seems to have hit the sweet spot for gamers – A home console you can take on the go. But with every Nintendo home console innovation comes some sort of setback for gamers. Whether it be the 1.4GB disc limitation of the GameCube, the SD graphics of the Wii or the poor market penetration of the WiiU (causing poor 3rd party support) Nintendo has managed to bring to market some amazing (yet under-powered) tech before anyone else, and they always seem to do it right (minus the Virtual Boy).
When Nintendo announced that the Switch will require a paid subscription to play games online starting sometime in 2018, gamers were shocked. It was assumed that Nintendo was doing it just to follow Microsoft and Sony and seemed like just a money grab. After all, Nintendo hasn’t had the greatest online support in the past. With the convoluted mess that was friend codes (which somehow made it back into the Switch) and poor friend management, I can’t even remember if I ever was able to send a message to anyone on my Wii U or 3DS. With no solid price announced for the service, there was lots of speculation online of how much it would cost, what would be included, and what Nintendo was even thinking.
Paying for online services is something console gamers are used to these days. When Sony put their hand in the honey pot with their PlaystationPlus service, gamers knew it was just for the money. Although at the time the PS4 wasn’t yet released it was a given that Sony would require it for online play on their latest console. Microsoft and Sony have been giving out free games every month as an added bonus to subscribing to their online services so it was quite a surprise that Nintendo joined in on that when they announced their online subscription details. Costing only $20USD per year, the price was well accepted by everyone. Nintendo couldn’t ask for too much because they don’t have gamers complete trust to supply a proper online experience, too little and it shows that Nintendo isn’t confident in their service. But if games like Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon 2 connect via Peer-to-Peer for online play, what are we actually paying for? It’s no secret that gamers will pay for peer-to-peer online play but Nintendo could have really started a new trend by having dedicated servers AND a cheap online subscription. Maybe if we’re lucky they’ll eventually implement that, but P2P is the cheap and easy way out these days. But what about the “added value” that Nintendo surprised gamers with? With that $20 yearly subscription, you will get access to the “Classic Game Collection” which will allow subscribers to download and play classic Nintendo games on their console. This came as a big surprise because we’re used to Nintendo charging us $4.99 to download and play Super Mario Bros. What’s even better is that they’re adding online play for these classic games. So far the only games they’ve mentioned for this service is Super Mario Bros. 3, Balloon Fight and Dr. Mario. If they support this service fully and give gamers the games they want to play this might be worth the subscription price alone.
Nintendo seems to finally be fully supporting online play… And then they have to go and do something stupid. Making all matchmaking and game chat require a smartphone or tablet. The Switch doesn’t support headsets – wired or Bluetooth – which limits communication on the console, the Pro controller doesn’t have a headphone jack (but I’m sure Nintendo could patch it to support a USB-C to 3.5mm Headphone jack adapter) and Nintendo can be slow in listening to what their fans want. It’s no secret that the Switch OS is bare-bones. You can pretty much just see when a friend is online, purchase games and play games. Fair enough, I’m sure Netflix will come out for it soon. But in 2017 there is no excuse for online multiplayer and team chat to be so limited. Yes, everyone and their dog has a smartphone or tablet these days, but I personally don’t want to have to fumble with two devices just to be able to play a game online and talk to my friends at the same time. Even matchmaking is done through the mobile app. Nintendo, what were you thinking?
Now we don’t know if this was just a way to get the console to market faster without having to bog down the Switch OS development team too much. But I find that doubtful. The PS4 and Xbox One both launched with limited OS’s but everything that we have come to expect from our consoles has been implemented. Nintendo wants to keep things family friendly we get it. It is just becoming too difficult to play with friends on Nintendo consoles that I can’t see it becoming a competitive online system. If a second device is required to use voice communication there are a dozen better options that are used regularly – Discord being the one most people mention.
A mobile app to compare stats, get news on game updates and to plan play sessions with friends would be a welcome addition, but requiring a mobile app to set up multiplayer games and communicate with friends while playing a game on a separate device is just silly. Nintendo needs to realize that it’s not their responsibility to protect every child out there from the things they might hear or see online. It’s the responsibility of the parents to make sure their kids are safe online. By Nintendo trying to be Big Brother and control exactly how we interact with each other online, they’re severely limiting the appeal of their online service.
We can only hope that Nintendo is taking note of all the feedback they are receiving about their online setup and will eventually make the right changes in order to bring their system up to date with the other current gen consoles. Maybe when they release their next console they’ll have figured out how to listen to gamers.