One aspect of the Nintendo Switch console that many people were keeping an eye on was how the company would tailor its online services. After falling way short with its Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Wii U; Nintendo had a lot of ground to make up. So it’s with some awkwardness that the company has announced its Nintendo Switch will come with a premium online service. It’s the ultimate leap of faith for Nintendo fans, who will likely find themselves questioning if they can trust the Japanese gaming giant enough to stick the landing with such a venture.
Perhaps Nintendo themselves saw this and made the somewhat bizarre decision to not talk about it beyond the initial announcement. Of course away from the show lights and streamlined presentations, Nintendo was keen to push out details to the press. Here we got the facts and there were some interesting notions being passed around. Chief among them – the promise of free NES and SNES games each month. It’s an alluring temptation – but worded in such a way that you seemingly can only keep them for one month. Classic Nintendo – adding a bizarre spin to an established idea.
It’s not that Nintendo can’t do whatever they fancy with their service, it’s their baby. But by creating a pay wall around the online services and telling gamers to pay up, they are now directly competing with Sony and Microsoft for gamers money. Up to this stage gamers were fine with Nintendo’s shoddy online attempts. It cost nothing extra and to those who had PlayStation or Xbox’s, there was always an alternative. But by asking for a price of entry, Nintendo is asking gamers to dig into their pockets and invest in their experience – which in the past hasn’t been all that grand.
It’s for this reason Nintendo may have a problem come Fall when it finally begins charging for this service. It’s core audience of hardcore fans will either already have this kind of subscription elsewhere or not be used to having to make such an outlay. Put simply, it’s a hard sell when your competition’s been doing it so well – so there’s no room for Nintendo to mess it up out the gate.
I also can’t really imagine how Nintendo’s going to balance this out in some of their games. Titles like Animal Crossing, which are pretty reliant on that online component to fulfill its potential, will struggle to tempt in Nintendo’s more casual audience. If the games major features are being ring-fenced off behind a pay wall, it ruins the seamless experience of that title. The joy of Animal Crossing is that you can pop over to a friends village and ruin their flower beds when you fancy. The online is just kind of there. But if I have to make sure my friend has his subscription paid up before I can visit his town – then it’s going to create a very jarring experience. I can’t imagine Tom Nook slamming the town gate shut and telling me my friends town is closed because they didn’t pay their online taxes.
Likewise where does it leave Splatoon 2? Mario Kart 8 Deluxe? The inevitable Smash Bros game? These are the titles that will be hit hardest by this service, and likely will be the ones that lose community over it. When Nintendo’s trying to sell its device as a console powerhouse, it’ll be needing these communities to help convince outsiders that Switch is worth the investment. It fragments these communities and also limits their potential to grow.
Indeed, this discussion would be mute if it weren’t for the fact that the company effectively shut down discussion of it before we learned anything. Instead talk is now of gamers being forced to use their mobile phones in order to chat – a wildly baffling scenario that shouldn’t have ever left the concept phase.
There is hope that Nintendo can turn this around – deliver the kind of service gamers have been begging for. But this just doesn’t seem like it – just yet another stepping stone in the ever further race to play catch-up with Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo has every right to charge for online features if it chooses – but I feel that the whispers and facts presented do nothing but raise questions about the long-term viability of this service. Where are the Nintendo 64 games? The Gamecube games? The Wii games? NES and SNES titles are a nice offering – but they don’t offer the same value as Microsoft and Sony’s offerings.
If it sounds unfair to compare all these services, that’s on Nintendo right now. Many gamers see their online subscriptions as a necessary evil – but in recent years they’ve at least begun to offer the quality of service that justifies their cost. Nintendo though doesn’t appear to be doing this, and I hope that the company can work towards better explaining what exactly this service will be doing to earn my money.