Team Talk: Nintendo’s Paid Online Service
Team Talk is where members of the Switch Watch crew gather together to give their opinions on various different things; reveals, reviews or analysis.
With Nintendo recently announcing that their paid online service will be ready to launch in September 2018, our contributors, Brian, Juan and Jordan, decided to gather their initial thoughts on what they expect from Nintendo in this department.
With the announcement of the online service being slated for September, my initial reactions is mild disbelief at it being so late. A year and a half after the Switch’s release we’re finally getting a paid online service. Even at this point it feels like a bad idea to totally cut off online gaming unless you pay up and I suspect a lot of people will be annoyed, it may even kill some online games completely if the user base drops like a stone. I fear for Arms!
It’s clear that Nintendo need to offer something a little bit more special, they can’t just hide what they have now behind (an admittedly cheap) paywall. The connection needs to be much better and it seriously needs to implement features such as better friend integration, how to join people in games and so on. It needs to match what its competitors offer.
Then there’s the sweetener deal that Sony and Microsoft offer. Free games? With the cheaper price it seems highly unlikely you’ll be getting Arms or Bayonetta 2 for free and time soon. That’s just not Nintendo’s way. Instead, the Netflix-like retro games library seems a more likely one, and one that I’m very excited about. Sadly, I feel Nintendo’s longstanding ability to drip feed new retro releases means it will be far from my idilic situation. I can see just a handful of titles being added once per month, mostly NES games which would be sad from my point of view. Hopefully I’m wrong on this, but Nintendo has a lot to prove when it comes to an online service.
Until now, Nintendo has been the last vestige of free online play on the console market. It has been fantastic to buy a Nintendo console and be able to immediately play a game like Mario Kart online without needing to sign up for a paid online gaming service. However, this feature has not come without its faults.
While gamers on other platforms have enjoyed streamlined matchmaking, built-in voice chat, invites and more stable online servers, gamers playing on Nintendo have largely done without these things. Now that Nintendo is starting a paid online service, they have a chance to bring what they offer into the modern era. However, they have already displayed some missteps which could be rectified before the service starts in September.
Native Voice Chat
The first and most obvious change which needs to happen is native voice chat. It is now known that the Switch is capable of this after players discovered local voice chat through microphone headsets while playing Splatoon 2. The Switch desperately needs this feature to be activated across all games once the paid online service begins. Nintendo has to of noted the generally negative feedback the phone app has received. It is fine to have it as an extra option for voice chat. But if they want their online service to be well received, they must resolve the voice chat issue.
Dedicated Online Servers
If we are going to need to pay for online now, the servers need to match. Some games such as Splatoon, Arms and Mario Kart already work fairly well with their P2P servers, but anyone who plays Smash Bros online will tell you that it can sometimes be a nightmare trying to get a stable connection. Going forward, games like Smash Bros need to have dedicated servers that are given high priority and maintained to resolve this problem.
Native System-Wide Friend Invites
The Playstation and Xbox offers a way to invite friends to play games online with you. 3rd party developers are not required to concern their selves with building this feature into their games. As a result, we are finding that many games coming to the Switch lack any way to directly invite your friends. FIFA 18 is an extreme example which does not even offer a way to play with friends online. Doom is one of the very few games on the Switch currently which actually has an invite system built into it. And even then, you can only invite other players if they are actively playing Doom.
Nintendo will be integrating an invite system into their phone app, but this will likely only be received as negatively as the voice chat aspect of the app was. After all, most people do not actively have their phone set up constantly while they are playing games. I certainly do not want to be required to constantly be checking my phone while playing games to see if any of my friends are trying to contact me about playing or every time I want to invite someone. The phone app is a good idea as a complimentary service, but the Switch needs these features to be natively integrated for a paid service.
So September is the time when I need to get 20 dollars or whatever that will be in the equivalent pound sterling to come out of my bank account and pay for a service which is currently free. My question is always what value this is going to give me and what value is it going to give you? At the moment many of you who are gamers will probably own an Xbox One or a PS4 and many will have both. We know what these paid services offer and Nintendo has a lot to do in my opinion to compete with these online paid services. I am not bothered about free games because truth be told I never have time to play them but many of you will be and if so what are the quality of these free games going to be like? For me I am more bothered about being able to play games online with friends and for it to be easy! At the moment the whole thing is convoluted and just a pain in the bum. Which is completely at odds with the Nintendo Switch itself.
The switch itself is a breeze to use, the software is nice and simple and the system itself starts up quickly. If we can have an online paid service which allows me to start up a game, connect with my friends easily and doesn’t require me to have an external app to talk to friends online then I will be happy. Sorry, but the online chat is a complete waste of time right now and is something I will never use in its current format. Having a phone, cables all over the place is not how I envisage playing my Switch online with friends.
The other question is younger folk who want to play games online but will no longer be able too because their parents may not pay for the online service or may not be able to afford too. This has to be a consideration for Nintendo as this is a family console after all. I think we all have concerns but one of the good things is it’s not the most expensive online service and the costs seem reasonable but again it depends what we are going to get for that money. Some companies are saying that they will allow you to play their games for free through the Nintendo Switch. Psyonix being a key example saying that they intend Rocket League to be free for everyone to play. For a game which relies heavily on an internet connection, this is a very wise thing to do or they risk losing a huge player base. Let’s see if more companies take this route.