It wasn’t that long ago that Sony and Microsoft informed console gamers that if they want to keep playing games online, they’re going to have to pay a yearly subscription fee. At the time, the idea of paying to play online struck many people as being pretty absurd. After all, they had been playing online games on consoles for years at that point without having to pay an additional fee. Why should they accept having to do so now?
Microsoft and Sony heard those complaints and offered a couple of compromises. First off, they would give subscribers multiple free games every month. That alone helped ease the pain of a subscription fee, but Microsoft and Sony also promised that they would use the subscription fees to expand the stability, offerings, and overall usability of their online services. For the most part (there have certainly been exceptions) they’ve been true to their word.
The holdout in all of this has been Nintendo. Nintendo has rarely been big on online gaming in the first place, so they never really saw a need to charge people to play the few online games they supported on their consoles. That has changed with the Switch, though. Soon, you will have to pay a yearly fee of $20 in order to play Nintendo Switch games online (which is about $40 cheaper than the competition). On top of that, you get access to a growing number of NES game, cloud saving features, and exclusive online content.
It sounds like a good deal. However, it’s by far the worst online deal we’ve seen from a major console manufacturer.
First off, $20 is only a cheaper price if you’re getting a similar quality level of service for your money. Given the relative quality of the Switch’s online service up until this point, you’re not getting that from a technical standpoint and you’re not getting it from a feature standpoint. The Switch’s online play quality isn’t nearly as robust or reliable as what you get from the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live. Nintendo’s free NES games are nice, but if the choice is between an odd selection of NES games we’ve played many times before and a two free (often modern) games every month, we’re taking those two free games.
Besides, we now know that if you don’t check-in to the Switch’s online service at least once a week, you lose access to that collection of NES games. That’s the kind of move that service providers were being crucified for online years ago.
It gets worse. Cloud saving is nice, which is why Microsoft offers is to users for free and Sony offers it to PlayStation Network subscribers with a guarantee that they will preserve your save for about six months even after you cancel your service. On the other hand, it seems that Nintendo will remove your cloud saves after you cancel your online service or shortly thereafter. It’s a real slap in the face disguised as a banner feature.
What’s truly tragic is that you arguably get less with the Switch’s online service than you do with the free one offered with the Wii U. At least the Wii U allowed you to access a large collection of classic Nintendo games via the Virtual Console. You still had to buy them, but the simple fact that they existed to be purchased is arguably more generous than some token free NES games.
Make no mistake: if you pay $20 a year for the Switch’s online service, you’re doing so just to play games online. That’s fundamentally true of similar services, but the fact that Nintendo is making the bare minimum effort to disguise that fact shows how far behind the times they still can be.