How Nintendo Switch Online Can Compete With PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold

While Nintendo Switch Online has some neat features, the service built in right now is pretty underwhelming despite its low entry price.

Nintendo is rolling in the dough right now. With the release of the Nintendo Switch in 2017, the handheld/home console hybrid has made most of the right moves to put itself in the position that it is currently in. Released with one of the greatest games ever made? Check. Put out not one, but two of the best-selling Nintendo franchises in the console’s first two years with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? Check that box as well. Become the go-to indie platform for many developers and consumers? Check. Yet, even though the Big N has been pulling off most of the right moves with the Switch so far, there is still one glaring hole in its Switch ecosystem, its online system. Or, its lack thereof.

As most of us know, the Nintendo Switch Online app launched late last year on the console. The subscription service costs $20 dollars a year; however, you can bundle a family plan together for up to 8 people and it will only cost you $35 total, which is much less compared to the $60 a year price point for PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold. The online subscription will give you access to play your games online, with the exception of Fortnite and some others (mostly free-to-play games). You will also receive access to the NES Online App that has a growing library of NES titles you can play from. Owners of the service can utilize cloud saves and voice chat with other players, though it’s through the mostly terrible and useless Switch mobile app. Finally, subscribers can also take advantage of “special deals” on the Switch eShop, which is laughable because of how expensive Nintendo keeps their titles years after release. If this sounds underwhelming, don’t fool yourself; that’s because it is.

Right now, I don’t believe that the Switch Online service is worth it. Unless you are a big Splatoon 2 or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe player, there aren’t many online titles that will have you itching to subscribe to the service. I am not including Smash because if there is not a great online connection yet; the game is almost unplayable in my opinion due to the latency. The list of NES titles are good, but let’s be honest: how much time are you really going to play any of them?

So, how can Nintendo fix these issues with the Switch Online service in a realistic way? It is easy to say they just need to throw all the Virtual Console games on there, but that isn’t just by a flip of a switch (no pun intended0. That takes time and much more money. So I am going to try my best to not pull the Virtual Console card and suggest other ways that Nintendo can improve the service. It might take a bit of time, but by the end of the Switch’s lifecycle, I believe that they can right the ship and turn this subscription service into a must-have for all Switch owners.

More Classic Games

Ok, I lied. I am pulling it. I mean, it is right there for the taking, Nintendo! They are sitting on a mountain of some of the greatest video games ever made, and they finally have a system that is universally loved (at least compared to the Wii U). Now is the time to bring back what the Wii had, but in a more modernized way. I am not going to sit here and say that it is possible for the NES Online app (they would certainly need to change the name) to include SNES, N64, Game Boy, and GBA games while staying at a $20 price point. I do not believe that it would be financially possible.

However, even if Nintendo raised the price of the online service, the classic games would still draw in a huge audience. If I had to pay $40 to $60 a year to get access to a Nintendo Classics catalog I most certainly would, and I believe many others would follow. I can already imagine the commercials: “play your favorite games anywhere,” or something like that.

Now, even though I hope that there would be a huge dump of games at one time, that will never happen. Nintendo will release games one after another then eventually lead into bigger consoles, such as they did with previous iterations of the Virtual Console on the Wii and Wii U. It would give the subscription model the appearance of a thriving system that is continuously evolving, which I can sort of get.

There is hope on this topic, however. Recently, data was found within the NES Online app that represented the SNES Classic emulator. Since the NES games within the app use the same emulator built into the first rendition of Nintendo’s classic systems, we can fairly assume that this is hinting toward a release of SNES titles coming to the service sometime in the future. On top of that, two additional emulators were buried within the app as well, but we do not know what the specifications of these two entail.

Restructure the Online App

Nintendo’s approach to their mobile app is baffling to me. When it was announced that all voice communication would have to go through the app, I didn’t know how to react. Back last year, Nintendo Everything pointed out that Reggie stated:

“What we see is a situation where we know that Nintendo Switch is being played in the open, at a park, on a metro bus. We believe the easiest way for you to connect and have a peer-to-peer experience with voice chat is with your mobile phone. It’s always there, it’s always with you.”

This is something that I just couldn’t believe was real. I mean, of course your phone is going to be with you. Do you know what else is? The Switch! Why add an extra step rather than just using the one right in front of you? We also know that the Switch is capable of supporting voice chat because Epic Games straight up said “Nah, we’re not using that” and implemented their own in-game voice system within Fortnite. Plus, I am pretty sure everyone is just using Discord instead of the app, anyway. There is a reason there is only one non-first-party title even using it.

Matchmaking being a part of the app is incredibly frustrating. It is another step we do not need, and it makes it feel that Nintendo is not confident enough in their own console to use it to its fullest capabilities. Why add all of these extra steps onto another device? It makes no sense to me. Everything should be built right into the Switch itself.

The app needs a serious overhaul because it is still incredibly barebones and lacks all of the features of its competitors. The PlayStation and Xbox apps are wonderful and let me browse each store, personalize my home PS4 and Xbox One settings, and a whole lot more. Yes, you are able to browse and download games through Nintendo’s official website. However, the handiness and flexibility of having everything contained in one ecosystem is much handier.

Give One Free Indie Game A Month

I don’t think that this could happen alongside a more packed service that contains a multitude of classic Nintendo games. Though, say that those rumors of more emulators coming to the Switch are false; I couldn’t think of a better system to have a monthly free game on, especially with the huge collection of indie games on the Switch. Now, that is a pretty opinionated statement, but I think the indie success stories we are seeing on the system could fully support the service. People who own a Switch are buying lots of games and many have made it their primary way to play indie titles such as CelesteHollow Knight, and most recently Wargroove. I know I have. Since you already have such a big audience that loves indies, I believe that one free indie game a month could push a lot of people into subscribing to the service.

This isn’t the Wii U era for Nintendo: they need to stop trying to be different in everything they do for their audience and maybe do something a little more conventional rather than being the out-of-left field company that they are. We have seen how successful PS Plus and PSN has been for Sony, and I believe that’s because they give their audience what they want: free games and good deals. Now it is a lot easier said than done, but the Switch is many people’s go-to console of choice now. The number of times that I have heard people say “oh, I am waiting for it to come to Switch” is uncountable. If Nintendo invests in giving people even one free game a month through their Online subscription, people will buy it.

It is a bit hard to state what I truly believe could help the Nintendo Switch Online service without it just sounding like a wish list. Sure, I do wish that the Virtual Console Netflix-style subscription model we have all dreamed about comes to fruition, but I really do think that would be what is best for the system and could bring in a lot more subscribers, even if they did have to increase the price. Nintendo has shot their way back into the mainstream gaming family with the Switch, and if they want to stay there, they have to get with the times. The question is, will they? Not many improvements have come since the online service’s launch, and we are slowly getting drip fed more NES titles each month. With only rumors and speculation to go off of, let’s hope that Nintendo is restructuring some things with its online offerings.

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Grant Huff

Grant Huff is a writer at DualShockers located out of Houston. He is a computer science graduate from Texas State University. When he is not playing or covering video games, he is most likely eating pizza.

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