Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In today's article, editor Dom discusses the hot topic that is Nintendo Switch Online and why every online service starts out with a few teething problems...
So lets talk about Nintendo Switch Online. With Nintendo offering a little more insight into the ins and outs of the service ahead of its September launch, the response has been, to put it mildly, mixed at best. Charging for cloud saves? A paltry selection of NES games? That flippin' app! There's been a fair share of negative comments made about the new online infrastructure - including from our very own community of readers here at Nintendo Life - so I felt it was time to address the issue in a little more detail.
Here's the thing - every online service has to start somewhere, and none of them resemble the state they originally launched in. When Xbox Live appeared with the original Xbox back at the start of the '00s, it was just a basic service designed to take advantage of an online community that hadn't truly formed yet. By the time the service was rebranded as Xbox Live Gold, most of the features that has once been free - such as playing online and storing saves in the cloud - were now locked behind a paywall.
Was there a backlash? Of course. Sony didn't charge for the privilege of access online multiplayer on PS3, even when it launched PS Plus in 2010. But by the height of Xbox 360's dominance in the previous generation, Xbox Live offered a more robust and reliable online infrastructure than the one provided gratis by Sony. With the likes of Halo and Gears of War, Microsoft charging for the service made sense - and this was long before it started the Games with Gold initiative.
Yes, it's frustrating to go from paying nothing to access online features to suddenly having to cough up a subscription, but we all knew that Switch was unlikely to spend its entire lifecycle without some form of revitalised infrastructure. New features and improved utilities don't often come for free anymore, and with Nintendo also including a selection of NES games as standard, a fee is hardly a shocking request to make.
So what about cloud storage? That's a topic that's got some serious gears a-grinding. Having to pay actual money for the privilege of storing game saves in the cloud? It's an issue that's split gamers for a long time. Microsoft used to limit the feature to Gold members only back on Xbox 360, but eventually extended the service (and the amount of space) to all users. On PlayStation 4, cloud storage is still baked into PS Plus so you'll have to pay for the power. Considering how we've all had to go out and by bigger and more expensive MicroSD cards to hold our digital games, the introduction of cloud storage is a welcome addition, even if it does come with a price tag.
Which brings us quite nicely onto the subject of cost. Honestly, Nintendo is charging well under the price points Microsoft and Sony are peddling right now. It costs £5.99 for an Xbox Live Gold membership and £6.99 for the same amount of time with PS Plus. NSO only costs £3.49. And yes, that price could go up, but Nintendo is still launching a service that offers more content and features that are close to - if not on par - with its 'competitors' for a price that's half that of PS Plus. And we're still moaning? Come on now.
The issue of games is perhaps the hottest issue at the heart of the Nintendo Online service discussion. Not just because of the choice of games, but for what it means for Virtual Console as a whole. And while the 10 games that the service will launch with are hardly revelatory, it's hard to not look back on the early days of PS Plus and recall how it used to offer nothing but demos and PS Minis. It took a long while before the likes of Mad Max and Bloodborne got the 'free game' treatment.
It took Sony years to embed PS Plus, to prove its place in a changing market and use that exposure to negotiate deals with publishers and developers around the world. Nintendo has an impressive back catalogue to draw from when it comes to the launch months of NSO, but that doesn't mean this selection will be the same in 12 months time. Just like how a PS Plus slot helped turn Rocket League from indie curio to global mega hit, there's the exciting potential for the Games Collection to become a launchpad for Nintendo's growing relationship with its Nindies.
Then there's the issue of Virtual Console - or the noticeable lack thereof. As frustrating as it is - we've all sunk a lot of time and money into VC re-releases - Nintendo has clearly decided to move on. Switch represents a turning point for Nintendo, so a move away from the VC model that served 3DS and Wii U so well (okay, mostly 3DS) was bound to happen. VC became an authentic link to Nintendo's past, and one that enabled us to play some of the best NES, SNES and Game Boy era titles on modern machines, but every service eventually evolves into something new.
Losing that long-serving brand name is a bitter pill to swallow, but Nintendo is unlikely to effectively ignore its own legacy. We just have to accept that the popularity of miniature consoles with built-in games has produced a real money maker for Ninty, so the potential for future retro hardware releases will likely affect how Nintendo treats 'classics' as part of this ongoing service.
Ultimately, NSO is a natural next step for Nintendo and Switch, and while paying for what was once free (and still currently is) might seem irksome, remember that Switch has operated without a paywall on online multiplayer for 18 months by the time NSO launches. We'd much rather pay a small subscription fee and enjoy a more robust service that will no doubt grow over the years to come, than stay with the limited free version we have now.
So what do you make of Nintendo Switch Online and new details that have emerged regarding its pricing and features? Share your thoughts with the community below...