Sony caused a stir last week when it announced that prices would be rising for Playstation Plus membership, jumping from $50 USD annually to $60. While have some have brushed off the price hike as nothing more than a mere inconvenience (since it’s an annual fee), many others have voiced their disapproval for the move, some have even stated that they won’t be renewing their subscription.
Online fees for consoles really aren’t cool, no matter which way you look at it. Valve’s Steam service on PC is doing more than fine, all while being completely free. And that isn’t the only free online service. Even after the precedent set by Microsoft’s Xbox Live service, Nintendo still didn’t opt to charge for its Nintendo Network service when it launched with the 3DS and Wii U. Here’s hoping it stays that way for the NX.
Before you say it, I know that Nintendo Network isn’t as robust as PSN or XBL. Even so, the service is still great. The servers are reliable, regularly maintained, the speeds are good (depending on your Internet connection), and it’s certainly an acceptable improvement to what was being offered from Nintendo back in the 7th-generation. With a few more additions, the NN can very well be on-par with the other services feature-wise. Nintendo will no doubt take it a step further when the NX arrives. With that in mind, having free online could end up being a great selling point.
Again, Steam proves that success can be had even if the service is being offered for free. If Nintendo is able to emulate this, even if it’s in a limited fashion, that will be a natural advantage over the likes of XBL and PSN. Not every Xbox and PlayStation owner have an online subscription, so that means there are consoles out there in the wild right now that are segregated from the rest crowd. Meanwhile, the only thing stopping a Wii U or 3DS owner from connecting to the Internet and enjoying the service is if they lack their own Internet connection.
Nintendo filed patents earlier this year which had plans for what is being called a ‘Supplemental Computing Device’. According to the patent, one of the features of the SCD would be to boost the performance of other devices in the same family over a network connection. If this really as a core component of the NX, then perhaps this means that the online will be free after all, otherwise, this feature would be limited. This definitely falls under the category of ‘wishful thinking’, but it’s something to consider nonetheless.
If these patents are anything to go by, then online functionality may be a very big factor of the NX.
If the NX really does offer free access to the Nintendo Network, then Nintendo could simply make money via the sales from games and apps. Since more people will be likely to be online, then those profits should add up quickly—which is exactly what we’re seeing right now with Steam and the NN on Wii U and 3DS.
Sony and Microsoft’s approach boils down to nothing but unadulterated greed; the service isn’t really worth the value. It’s not inherently bad to have premium features behind a paywall (that’s why they’re considered to be premium), but something like online multiplayer should really just be free. Even if Nintendo does end up charging a fee, hopefully, a core feature like that will be left out of it, just like how it was with PSN on the PS3 and currently with PS Vita. Sony and Microsoft have tried to justify the absurd subscription by offering ‘perks’ in the form of free games. This would be alright if most of the games that were offered weren’t either insignificant or pretty much mediocre. Occasionally there are good deals, but those are few and far between. No matter which way you slice or dice it, it just seems pretty scummy.
Nintendo loves to do the opposite of its competition, so a move like this would pretty much be up its alley. It may not matter to some people, but to others online functionality is a very convenient and appreciated feature. Nintendo is on a quest to regain the trust and respect from the gaming community, and offering this service for free would be a great way to generate good feedback and also serve as a small slap in the face to its competitors. And if the system actually ends up being attractive in itself, then having this would be the icing on the cake.