The Nintendo Switch just might be the greatest game console the company has ever produced. Launching with the stellar The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild certainly helped the system receive recognition early on, and what the Switch has managed to achieve as a machine is just as impressive – its Joy-Con controllers provide an excellent gaming experience on the go, its docking feature allows for players to enjoy the benefits of a full-fledged console at home, and its user interface is simply and easy to navigate.
However, there is one issue that could pose a much larger problem if it isn’t fixed quickly: the Switch’s online service. Barebones to the point of being laughable, if it isn’t improved significantly by the time Nintendo begins charging for it later this year, it could become a fault that will be too substantial to overlook.
Basic messaging functionality has been a staple of internet-connected video game consoles for more than a decade. The Xbox 360 worked to perfect it with both text-based messaging as well as in-game voice chat, and in 2008, an update added support for private, eight-person party chats, allowing users to continue shooting the breeze with their friends, even when they ended up on opposite teams or even decided to play separate games. Voice chat and parties have remained a staple of game consoles ever since, with robust options available on the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, and though Nintendo’s last console, the Wii U, didn’t feature the exact same thing, it allowed players to voice chat in select games and included a video application for one-on-one chats with friends.
These services are a crucial component of the modern online gaming ecosystem. Friends no longer need to play the same game at all times in order to connect with each other, and with a growing focus on online multiplayer in place of “classic” split-screen, in-person gaming, it enables friends to stay connected from a distance. The Nintendo Switch currently features no messaging system. No text messaging. No voice chat. There isn’t even a good way to alert your online buddies that you’re ready to race them in a few rounds of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Instead, I’ve found myself hopping onto Twitter, posting a status on Facebook, or simply text messaging my friends to see if they’re interested in a race. During each match, the game provides no way to trash-talk your friends – a crucial part of any Mario Kart game, of course – and instead forces groups to quickly message each other outside of the game after matches are completed, hoping that the other players happen to glance at their phones.
Nintendo’s proposed solution to this issue isn’t to implement a dedicated voice chat application on the Nintendo Switch at a later date. Instead, a “dedicated smart device app” will launch in a limited version for free this summer, giving players access to game lobbies, scheduling, and voice chat through their phones.
The benefit of providing dedicated voice chat services on game consoles is that it allows users to easily connect with each other without having to use another service. On Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, it’s as simple as inviting someone to your party in the game. If you have a headset or a camera peripheral attached, you’ll be chatting with them in a matter of seconds. The Switch’s solution instead provides, essentially, a Nintendo-branded Skype service – something that few players need, and even fewer have expressed any interested in.
This smartphone-centric system will technically provide a way for players to communicate with their friends while playing Nintendo Switch games like Mario Kart or Arms, but it ignores another use of voice chat that will become quite important when Splatoon 2 releases in July: coordinating with teams. Even if Nintendo’s phone application enables strangers to talk together in compatible games, it’s one more hoop that players have to jump through, which will inevitably cut down on the number of people using it and, as a result, the number of people working with their teammates to play the game effectively.
Nintendo won’t just be playing “catch up” with Microsoft and Sony’s messaging applications, however. Both Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus provide subscribers with several free games every month as an extra incentive for players to keep coming back to the console. These games are typically a few years old and no longer selling particularly well, but a number of new releases such as Outlast and Resogun have also been given away through the programs.
Nintendo’s online service is expected to cost less than half of what its competitors charge, and will offer one Nintendo Entertainment System game or one Super Nintendo Entertainment System game per month. These consoles both have deep, acclaimed libraries of classic games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Mario Bros. 3, but the program comes with a catch that makes the reduced price much less enticing. Each game will only be free for one month before it is switched out for another game, even if subscribers continue to pay. To continue playing the game after this point, you will need to purchase it from the Switch’s as-of-now unreleased Virtual Console.
Some of these games are more than 30 years old. They can be found at garage sales for the cost of a Big Mac. Nintendo’s unwillingness to actually reward its fans for their loyalty, instead of assuming that they will remain loyal even when faced with an objectively bad deal, must end, and soon.
Nintendo has the potential to create one of the greatest game landscapes players have ever seen – truly console-quality games available both in the palm of your hand and on your television screen. We’ve already seen indie developers begin to make this dream a reality. Its online infrastructure and features must be up to the same quality standard set by the games, and this begins with competent communication and a lineup of games that will make the Switch’s most dedicated fans feel appreciated. The time for Nintendo to prove that it has truly “figured out” the internet is now, and the company might not get another chance if it messes it up again.
Disclaimer : The following article was written freely based on the author's opinion, and it may not necessarily represent Inven Global's editorial stance.