Much has already been said about Nintendo’s much-maligned online service for the Nintendo Switch. It handles cloud saving awkwardly; its voice chat only works through a mobile app and the real kicker is its disappointing library of online-enabled NES games. Nintendo’s eccentricity has kept them at the bleeding edge of the industry in many respects for almost the entirety of the company’s existence, but they just cannot seem to figure out how to do online properly. They struggled heavily with offering it on the Wii and Wii U, and they’re struggling again with Nintendo Switch Online. Their latest online service, however, isn’t a totally lost cause. It could be good, even great! All the necessary features are already there; it’s just a matter of developing them a step or two further.
With Nintendo Switch Online, Nintendo has the makings of a great online service. They have basic features everyone expects, they have a great price point at twenty dollars per year and they have an absolutely massive library of classic games they could potentially offer through the service. Nintendo Switch Online has two major problems, though: over-complication and a compelling reason to sign-up aside from online multiplayer. There’s also the issue of not offering dedicated servers for their games, but that’s small potatoes compared to these more fundamental problems. A lack of dedicated servers is annoying, but not frustrating. On the other hand, having to use a mobile app to chat with other players absolutely is.
Voice-chat has been a standard feature of online console services for well over a decade now. Microsoft was offering it all the way back with the original incarnation of Xbox Live on the first Xbox console, and some PC services enabled it even earlier than that. Just about everyone carries around a device capable of myriad functions aside from and including voice-chat, a device that’s much smaller than the Nintendo Switch by the way. Now, Nintendo has always liked trying new ways to do things and there’s no denying that it’s worked for them in the past. Even so, there’s no reason users playing through Nintendo Switch Online should have to break out their phone in order to talk to each other, especially since they can already talk normally while playing the Switch port of Fortnite.
Likewise, Nintendo needs to remove the technical barriers around cloud saves and follow the example set by Sony and Microsoft. Just let players hit a button and cloud save at will; don’t limit it to an automatic function and don’t make them crawl through a bunch of menus to do it. Cloud saves in Nintendo Switch Online are functional, but that’s all the good to be found with it. It’s frustrating to use and can be handled better. Once it is, then they’ll need to turn to the issue of Nintendo Switch Online’s classic game library.
Nintendo has actually got a great idea on their hands with the classic game library. There isn’t a Nintendo fan alive that wouldn’t pay for instant access to a large selection of their old favorites. That’s not exactly what Nintendo is offering here, though. Instead of a library of games from all the old Nintendo systems, subscribers are granted access to what amounts to little more than a pittance of ancient, slightly-upgraded NES games. There’s nothing wrong with NES games of course, but they’re hardly exciting when compared to the titles offered on the SNES, N64 or GameCube. Furthermore, Nintendo is currently rolling them out at a rate even slower than that of the Wii’s Virtual Console.
As it stands, Nintendo is taking all the potential inherent to a service like this and throwing right out the window. They could offer their users so much through it and yet they’re choosing not to. They’re not even acting like they’re all that committed to offering a great selection of NES games, which makes the whole thing come-off as a begrudging afterthought. The games are there and gamers are just waiting for Nintendo to see offering them as a worthwhile venture. If they do, they’ll quickly discover that fans are more than happy to hand-over their cash if it’ll mean easy access to Nintendo’s vast collection of classics.
There are really only two major problems with Nintendo Switch Online: poor user experience and untapped potential. If the service truly is something that Nintendo is committed to developing into a quality product, then these issues are where their focus should lie. All the company has to do is bring the quality of life features like cloud saves and voice-chat in line with their competitors and offer players a truly valuable library of classic games that gets expanded at a more frequent rate. Once both of these steps are taken, Nintendo will have an online service capable of rivaling PSN and Xbox Live in terms of overall value. The foundation is already there; all Nintendo has to do is build.