Yesterday Nintendo announced more about their plans for the Switch's online service and offerings. So let's break it down a bit and I'll explain why, in the long run, this will be a smart choice by Nintendo.
At this point in the console market you have to pay to play online, no matter the console. Playstation 4, Xbox One, and now Switch all force players to pay a monthly (or quarterly/yearly) to connect to their friends. We knew from the outset that Nintendo was planning on changing from the "Free Online" to a service right at the start, but they will continue to offer free online until the subscription service goes live.
All in all, a pretty good deal all around. Nintendo gets to constantly test it's online offerings with first and third party titles until they're confident they are offering a service worth paying for; while players get to enjoy those months of testing for free. Sort of like a "beta" in a way.
While I'll admit, the Switch's online service is bare bones and is full of issues, this is truly their first dive into something like this. Yes they've had online services before, but it was pretty much "per game" and not a whole network. And, before anyone says it, yes the "chat with friends" feature is pretty garbage and should absolutely be changed.
So what is Nintendo offering, and why is it "good"?
A paid for online service means money to make the platform better. Yes that means that you'll have to pay to play online with the games you've been playing for free...so no more Mario Kart, Splatoon 2, or ARMS online unless you fork over some cash. But that cash means the online service will become "profitable", and if the service goes down you'll have a better reason to complain. Think the early days of Xbox Live, they were rough, but now it's easily one of the best services as far as stability is concerned and that didn't just happen overnight. The act of paying for it will also make Nintendo more accountable for service delays and down times.
You'll finally have "Save Data Cloud Backup", and honestly I know a lot of people who live and die by their backup saves. I've never been a stickler for this, as I've only had very few instances of my saves getting deleted or my console being "beyond repair", but you really never can know when something will just stop working. So having the ability to finally back up saves, -then- send your Switch to Nintendo for repairs, and being able to restore your Switch back to how it was is something absolutely needed in this day and age. Yes, you have to pay for it, but you have to pay for cloud backups on PSN and XBL as well, so no big shock. Again, would be great if they had a way to do offline backups, but we're talking specifically about the online services here and not what firmware updates Nintendo should do.
This one is the only real point of contention for me...the "Nintendo Switch Online App". It's rubbish. Everyone knows it's rubbish. "Want to talk to your friends online while you play? Get this convoluted app! Then plug a horrible mess of wires everywhere and you're ready to go! Just pray your phone battery doesn't die in the middle of your gaming session!" It's silly, out dated, and I can't honestly see Nintendo keeping this around for the duration of the Switch's life. But, as I mentioned before, with the service becoming a "paid for" thing, outcrys from unhappy customers will easily sway Nintendo to change this if it starts dipping into profits.
"Special Offers"! One of the major problems I have with the Switch's online store right now is the fact that there arn't many sales. It seems, and this is such a simple thing, that when the online service launches folks who opt into it will be given discounts much like PSN and XBL. I can't tell you how many times I've picked up new games just because they dropped an addition 20%. More games at a cheaper price just because you're subscribed to a service? It's one of my favorite things about XBL and PSN so I'm happy it's coming to Switch.
Finally, the big one. Nintendo is turning classic games into something akin to "Xbox Game Pass". Now, lots of people are upset with the small amount of 20 NES games at launch, but there's some reasoning to this. These 20 games arn't just the same Virtual Console versions re-released. You'll be able to play games like Super Mario Bros 3, Ice Climber, Baloon Fight, etc ONLINE with your friends. Sure, it's not that big of a deal, but think about how this will change in the future. What happens when we finally get SNES, N64, and potentially Game Cube titles on the platform? If the concept is to bring "online play" to previously couch co-op only titles that means we could see Smash Bros, Melee, Pokemon Stadium, etc see the same functionality. Not to mention, these games offered through the service come at no extra cost, unlike Game Pass.
So what's everyone upset about? Well Nintendo mentioned that "Virtual Console" is going away. But that's not really the case. The branding and such of Virtual Console will be gone, but I suspect that any game that doesn't get the "NOW WITH ONLINE PLAY" functionality added will be simply re-released on the eShop, much like how we're seeing the "ACA NEOGEO" games hit the platform.
The wrap it up, Nintendo is taking a big step forward in providing a solid online gaming service complete with Netflix like game offerings that will rotate out every so often. Will it have some major bumps along the way? Absolutely! But so did PSN and XBL, and by thoroughly testing, communicating with the players, and of course "more time spent actually developing it", we can expect Nintendo to develop it into something we'll all be 'pretty happy' with. Because...let's be honest, we're never truly satisfied.
BONUS ROUND! Switch's online service is $20 per year (with the NESFlix like service added free), compare that to Xbox Live at $60 per year + $10 per month for Game Pass and PSN at $60 per year and PS Now at $20 per month...Nintendo's is a bargain, even with the (currently) smaller offerings.
What are your thoughts on Nintendo's online service? Will you be getting it or just waiting until the platform becomes more viable? Is there something Nintendo should change about it before launch? And while we're at it, what HARDWARE and FIRMWARE updates would you like to see happen that could make the online service even better?