Online gaming on consoles has been locked behind a paywall for over a decade now. When Microsoft launched the Xbox 360, they also began the policy of making Xbox Live a subscription service that prevented gamers from playing with one another without paying a fee. Sony followed suit not too long after, and much to everyone's chagrin, Nintendo eventually caved in and made Switch Online a paid service as well. It's always been a pretty crummy deal.
Recently, the internet has been buzzing about what Microsoft is going to show off at their Xbox Games Showcase. One of the most popular rumors is that the company is finally going to abolish Xbox Live's fee and make the service free for everyone. It would be a huge move, one that could cause serious ripples across the entire gaming industry.
And if that happens, there will absolutely no way Nintendo can justify making Switch owners pay for their shoddy service.
Time To Switch It Off
Despite the bum deal of having to pay for a subscription to play on a console you bought and owned, Microsoft and Sony have at least tried to make both Xbox Live and Playstation Plus more appealing over the years. Monthly free games, special offers, and a handful of other goodies have been given out. It's still not great, but at least there's a little bit of value.
When Nintendo launched its own service for the Switch in 2018 everybody was wondering what would make it stand out from the others. There are some benefits to being a Switch Online subscriber aside from online multiplayer. There's cloud saving, voice chat, and you can play a whole bunch of NES and SNES games. They also gave out Tetris 99, a fun battle royale version of the game that was almost universally loved (except for people who are bad at Tetris.)
That does seem like a solid package, except for the fact that most of those features are all busted in some shape or form. The cloud saving only works on a select few titles and the saves could vanish if your subscription runs out. The voice chat requires some convoluted set-up involving an app on your phone. There's only a small portion of games from both the NES and SNES libraries available right now and new ones are added sparingly and randomly. Plus, you can't always play them on the go as they require a Wi-Fi connection to access them with no option for any kind of offline functionality. Even Tetris 99 added a paid single-player mode which means it's not even entirely free anymore!
Xbox Live is a much better service in just about every way. While it doesn't let you play Super Mario Bros. 3 on your handheld, it at least offers dedicated servers and frequent updates. In comparison, Switch Online doesn't remotely stack up to either Microsoft or Sony's console service. This means that if Xbox Live is truly going to go free, then Nintendo is going to have a hard time convincing Switch owners to keep subscribing.
What Could Make It Better?
Nintendo has always been bad at the online gaming scene. This has continued with the poor quality of Switch Online. Despite that, it wouldn't be surprising if Nintendo sticks to its guns and insists on people paying for a service that's not really worth the money. After all, they were (and still are) behind the curve in setting up an online service, so failing to keep up with the other big dogs of console gaming would be pretty typical.
So if they are to going to keep charging for it, what could be done to beef up Switch Online significantly? More NES and SNES games would be a good start, maybe even bust out some N64 titles. Every other major console has figured out voice chat so they need to work on a better solution than an annoying phone app.
Also, they got people excited when they dropped Tetris 99 for free. It actually seemed like an amazing bonus for subscribing. However, it was the only bonus we got. Tetris 99 came out last year and there haven't been any other surprises on that level since. Releasing a special new game like that every once in a while for subscribers could be a major selling point. What if they had released Cadence Of Hyrule as a Switch Online exclusive? Or another hot indie title that was related to one of their franchises? What if they just went and got a developer like Yacht Club Games to make something just for the service? Paying $20 a year and receiving a game that you can't find anywhere else could potentially make it totally worthwhile.
Freedom For Online Gaming!
Honestly, if the age of online gaming subscriptions is coming to an end, it would be best if Nintendo just gave up on Switch Online. Heck, even if the rumors turn out to not be true, Switch Online is still a pretty lousy service. It was only barely tolerable because the other consoles were pulling the same stunt, but if even Microsoft is willing to give something away for free then Nintendo doesn't really have a leg to stand on here. It'll look bad for them to continue charging their customers for something that's not that good to begin with. They could attempt to justify it with the classic gaming libraries or exclusive games, but that's about the only thing that could be used as a selling point.
Nintendo tried their hand at this but online gaming should have always been free from the start. Hopefully, Microsoft will correct the mistake it made so many years ago. Because if Xbox Live, a service that's better in almost every way is now free, then Switch Online is as good as dead in the water.
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