Nintendo first made mention of Switch Online all the way back in January 2017, before the Switch itself had even launched. This new service was supposed to release later in the year but was pushed back up until now. Within that period of time, Nintendo has drip-fed information to the public. Several gamers seemed a bit annoyed about its existence due to it appearing to be far less impressive than that of PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. I decided to wait until Nintendo fully unveiled the service before casting true judgment, and that happened earlier this week during the Sept. 13 Nintendo Direct. The result? It looks like the naysayers might be right after all—Switch Online is a mighty disappointment.
While the actual launch of the service is still a few days out, I don’t think its true arrival is really going to change things. In the Direct, Nintendo didn’t even announce anything that had not already been mentioned before. Online performance of existing titles is more than likely not going to just suddenly improve once the launch occurs either. The only big change that will come is that many of these games’ online functionality will now be locked behind a paywall. Considering how lackluster the service as a whole looks to be, I now officially feel miffed about having to cough up any cash at all.
Considering that the service is essentially launching a year later than planned, one would think Nintendo would have something really nice to show off. However, that’s simply not the case. The list of features is barebones, at best. The biggest incentive that Switch Online has (other than online multiplayer, which is now behind a paywall) is just cloud saves. But even that has proven to be upsetting since not every game is going to support cloud saves. This issue doesn’t exist on PS4, Xbox One, or PC. So it’s baffling that Nintendo has ended up with this result—especially since it’s the only form of data backup that (legitimate) Switch users currently have access to.
Despite the vast majority of the user base complaining for the past year about the social features of Switch Online (voice chat, lobbies, etc.) being exclusively tied to a smartphone app, Nintendo has still stuck behind it. Not only that, but the app will now begin playing an even bigger role as its list of supported games will grow once the service has launched. And that’s yet another head-scratcher—there are still only a few games that will actually make use of it, rather than all of them. This makes the requests (read: demands) for the smartphone app to be scrapped and replaced with an on-system portal even more logical. There’s just nothing about it that seems beneficial to the user. PS4 and Xbox One also have their own companion apps, but they simply allow users to access functionality that can also be done on the systems themselves. If anything, that’s how the Switch app should also be.
Anything beyond the NES selection?
Nintendo has had the confidence to consider Switch Online to be the successor to the long-running Virtual Console service. Yet, it’s not really looking like a worthy follow-up. So far, only a selection of NES titles will be available to subscribers for “free.” This model is actually quite nice since it allows folks to enjoy a variety of games for one flat fee, but it’s incredibly limited considering these are so far just titles from a single platform. The fact that Nintendo labels the feature as “Nintendo Entertainment System — Nintendo Switch Online” also seems to suggest that this is it for now. With Nintendo’s massive backlog of retro titles, surely it won’t only stick to the NES, right? Logically, it would make sense to expand upon this. However, the rest of this service seems to lack logic, so my hope in that prospect is admittedly quite low. Meanwhile, PS4 and Xbox One subscribers get a monthly selection of “free” full titles from the modern age. Sure, it’s not a blowout of the best games each month, but it’s still better than just a handful of retro games.
Now, I will acknowledge the fact that there is a chance that Switch Online will get better with time. Most services tend to do that. But I just find it hard to use that excuse in this situation. Nintendo has had a lot of time to put this together. I’m talking as far back as when Xbox Live launched nearly two decades ago. Since then, there’s been a model for Nintendo to follow. Yet, generation after generation, the company has taken a very low-and-slow approach to building a proper online infrastructure. Switch Online was supposed to be a big step up from the likes of Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and the Nintendo Network, but it honestly seems like the company is doing this just for the sake of cashing in on consumers. That is, it’s been observing Sony and Microsoft generate revenue all these years on network subscriptions, so now it wants a piece of the pie too.
While Switch Online is still far less expensive than that of XBL and PSN, I believe that officially the only reason this is the case is that Nintendo realized there’s no way it would get away with charging $60 per year like the other services due to its own being so lackluster. So, the $20 per-year membership now represents not value or competitive pricing, but rather an excuse. Effectively, it’s Nintendo’s subtle way of saying: “We hear your feedback, but the service is only a mere $20.” This really does feel like a “you get what you pay for” type of situation. I now would really like to know what the company has spent the last year doing as it was putting the service together. Sure, building a network infrastructure doesn’t take a day. But again, what we’re getting just seems far too little after such a long period of time.
For now, the best-case scenario seems to be that after the service launches, Nintendo will then seriously start considering user feedback and build upon Switch Online with the requests that come in. However, I still don’t see that happening for a simple reason: money. What I mean is, Switch Online is still likely to garner a lot of subscribers due to it being nearly essential. The folks that read articles like this are in the minority compared to the casual consumers that make up the vast majority of any platform’s user base. And it’s those people that will make up the bulk of the subscriptions, so Nintendo might not feel any incentive at all to do better. At least the like-to-dislike ratio of the Switch Online trailer sends a clear message—Nintendo, you have to do better.
Having been introduced to video games at the age of 3 via a Nintendo 64, A.K has grown up in the culture. A fan of simulators and racers, with a soft spot for Nintendo! But, he has a great respect for the entire video game world and enjoys watching it all expand as a whole.