When Nintendo went public with plans for their new gaming console, the home-console/handheld hybrid known as the Switch, many were wondering how the company would make amends for the disastrous Wii U. A particular topic of discussion centered on whether or not the house of Mario would roll out a proper online platform, one that embraced the sense of camaraderie shared among gamers who enjoy the thrill of competition that online gaming can provide. The company took notice, and responded in a manner that could best be described as being “very Nintendo.”
When the Switch is released worldwide on March 3rd, 2017, it will provide online services during a free trial period for all users, one that is set to expire at some time in the fall of 2017. It’s then that a paid model will be instituted, and according to Nintendo’s own website, “most games will require a paid online service subscription from Nintendo in order to play online.”
Charging a premium for online capabilities isn’t an idea that’s foreign to the gaming industry, as Sony and Microsoft have been doing it for years, with annual fees hovering around $60. For that price, gamers receive an assortment of game downloads, the ability to play against and chat with others, as well as special promotions and discounts. As of this writing, Nintendo has yet to divulge how much their service will cost, and details about the program itself have been very sparse. Of what has been released, however, seems to serve more to dissuade potential buyers rather than entice them.
The biggest concern seems to be levied at the rather odd decision to incorporate use of a smartphone app to allow for in-game chat with others. While Nintendo themselves have defended the decision, stating that opting for a traditional headset wouldn’t fit in with current plans for the new console, many detractors have questioned just how easy using a smartphone while gaming could be. “How am I supposed to hold a controller and be on the phone at the same time?” seems to be the question on the lips of the interested. It can be argued that the simple answer would be to pair a Bluetooth headset with the user’s device, but it still seems like an unnecessary step. It’s also worth noting that not everyone owns a smartphone. As it currently stands, those without one would be unable to chat with other gamers, an idea that seems absurd when the competition provides other options.
Another hotly-debated issue is Nintendo’s announcement that every month, paid subscribers will be entitled to a download of either a free NES or SNES game, which will include new features such as online play. Once the month is over, though, gamers will be required to purchase it should they wish to continue playing. Sony and Microsoft both offer a bevy of free games for their platforms every month, with the only caveat being that you maintain a paid membership in order to enjoy them. Even if your membership should expire, you’ll regain access to the titles you’ve already downloaded once a paid membership is renewed. Much like the competition, Nintendo also plans to offer discounts and promotions to those who maintain a paid membership.
Nintendo has never been known to embrace the online culture of gaming, and while online services were available with the Wii, the Wii U, and the 3DS, it’s always been a completely different experience than what other companies were offering. Functionality was limited at best, and players would require the use of “friend codes,” or unique numerical identifiers in order to play with others. Friend codes would eventually be removed, but Nintendo would still be known as the company to avoid if you planned to spend weekends mowing through the undead in four-player romps of Call of Duty Zombies.
The Switch will sell well at launch, as already evidenced by many retailers exhausting their initial pre-order allocations. Many die-hards, reared on the golden age of gaming that Nintendo was at the forefront of, continue to hold onto hope that every new console generation will see the company return to its former glory. But while they oftentimes seem to take a step forward in terms of innovation, they also manage to take two steps back in providing the things that players want, as is the case with their current online plans for the new console. And while Nintendo has always maintained they are unlike their competition, maybe online gaming is where “more of the same” is just what the public wants.