Nintendo is hopping head first into the realm of a subscription based online services later this year (essentially when those services are ready to go). Unlike others, I am not wholly opposed to Nintendo doing this. Given how lackluster their online services have been compared to the competition, them charging gives hope for a renewed focus on online functionality, given it becomes a revenue stream for them that they have to care about to keep flowing, assuming it’s comparable or even cheaper than what the others offer.
However, what worries me is that they are taking a questionable at best approach to online gaming with one of the biggest features (that is, frankly, standard everywhere else) – communication. Nintendo has been seriously lacking in this day and age when it comes to making gaming lobbies and having online voice chats while you game (or even, across games). They do have a solution to this this time around, but instead of going with an industry standard, instead they are doing this through an app on your phone. Here is what President of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aime, said about this part of the service:
“The bigger vision is that we are going to provide an overall online service, subscription-based, that not only will capture the multiplayer opportunity, but also the voice chat capability that we’re going to provide through a global app. We think that that’s just as important as access to Virtual Console content.
The reason for that is, it continues to reinforce our commitment to online, and do so in a way that will enable the consumer to enjoy their Nintendo Switch and to still be able to play those connected experiences—like Splatoon, like Kart, like fill in the blank—while they’re on the go. Instead of having some sort of bulky gamer headset, you’ll be able to do it right off your smartphone, put in your earbuds that you use for your standard mobile device. We think that’s a pretty sweet solution. That’s part of the overall opportunity that we see in a subscription service.”
Read that carefully. There are many questions this raises, including one very important one: How does someone listen to the game while voice chatting? Are the phones going to be magically streaming the game sound through them? How is that going to work when people get notifications and everything else under the sun – won’t that interrupt chats and game sound (assuming game sound even comes through the phone?)? Nintendo, with this solution, not only creates more problems, their reasoning for it shows a complete lack of understanding why people want this feature in the first place.
It’s cute to say “enjoy these experiences while on the go”, save the fact that unless you’re hot spotting your phone and chewing through data, the Switch doesn’t have internet while on the go, meaning you’re not really playing online multiplayer on the go, meaning that the likelihood you even care about online voice chat in those situations is silly.
Take his additional remarks on “bulky headsets”. They don’t have to be bulky. In fact, they can be ear buds with a built in microphone on the strap. The reason some choose to use bulky headsets is for superior immersion, noise cancellation, and better quality microphones and noise feedback. Your phones don’t do a great job blocking out background noise with the default mics, and typically people can have a hard time hearing you unless the microphone is close to your face. Hence the reason there is headsets that are “bulky”.
Of course, some of this can be a moot point if you can indeed do all this stuff natively on the Switch, but Nintendo’s wording on this essentially confirms that’s not the case. And yes, you’re paying for this functionality, which at the end of the day relies on you not only owning a smart phone, but wanting to use it as a voice chat gateway that potentially makes it so you can’t hear your game anymore.
They are over-complicating something that everyone else has made extremely simple. You see, the situations where people want to game with voice chat are typically at home, and what they are doing is counterproductive to the actual environment people want to voice chat in.
This is a major sticking point here with Nintendo not understanding the online market, and while it might seem I’m too focused on it, that’s because of the immense importance to get this right, especially when you are going to charge me for that inconvenience.
Beyond that, Nintendo confirmed that the “free game” you get each month from the NES or SNES library with additional online functionality is temporary. You can only play that game for a set amount of time and then that’s it. You have to buy it.
Many years ago, this might have been an acceptable approach. However, Xbox Live and PSN now offer multiple free games each month that as long as you’re subscribed, you can always play. You want Halo and it’s with games with gold through their subscription program? Download it, play it for as long as Xbox Live is a thing on that device. Nintendo’s approach, yet again, misunderstands how other companies made similar programs work. Where they added value, what Nintendo is doing is still sales focused. Charge for online, then let people play something for free for a small amount of time… then charge them again to keep playing.
Where is the value?
You could argue it is worth paying for the service just to play games online against others, but again, look at what Reggie said above. He used two games as an example… then said fill in the blank. Well, what do you really put in that blank? Fifa? NBA 2k18? Fine, but after that? You see, the other platform holders are essentially built around games that require online multiplayer. Nintendo isn’t, and given the wonky way voice chat works, how is this suddenly better than the Wii U service and now worth paying for?
Of course, Nintendo still has many months left to prove the value, but initial impressions are not faring well. For every step forward, Nintendo is taking giant leaps backwards. Finally, voice chat and lobbys? Yes! Charging? Eh, okay maybe. Wait, only through my phone?
Just… for all the listening Nintendo continues to say they do, they create new problems where solutions have already existed. They now want to charge to gain access to these problems.
I’m getting a switch day one with Breath of the Wild and possibly 1 2 Switch. I’ll probably try out their paid service for a month this fall. I just hope concerns like mine can reach their ears, because I don’t want them to get this oh so wrong.