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. This time, editor Dom discusses one of the main issues Nintendo has faces with Nintendo Switch - the convoluted process users have to follow to chat online, and the equally unintuitive 'solution' set to arrive in September as part of Nintendo Switch Online.
So, Fortnite is coming. Let's just accept the obvious and all act pleasantly surprised when the announcement is inevitably made at E3 2018. But when it eventually arrives in true handheld form, it's going to have to contend with a convoluted issue that's made online social gaming an unnecessary assault course on Switch. Yes, I'm talking about the elephant in the room with a headset strapped into its smartphone that is voice chat.
On any other console (or on PC for that matter), this simply isn't an issue. I could even fire up my old Xbox 360, strap on an old set of headphones and leap into any number of still functioning online servers and chat away. Voice chat has been a part of my multiplayer gaming experience for so long it's bizarre to think of a time where I wasn't able to join a party with friends or a lobby with randoms.
And yet, despite Nintendo Switch being a full-on proper home console (with added handheld split personality), it's somehow launched without built-in voice chat support. I can share photos to social media; I can track what my friends are playing in real-time; but I can't plug a headset into my Switch and chat with them? Why is a modern console forcing its online players into a state of incommunicado in 2018?
Right now, your only real option is to do what a lot of us have already been doing and that's either create or join a Discord server. It's been vital for my continued love for Payday 2 on Switch - a game that's vastly differently and significantly less enjoyable without voice comms. The audio platform has even said its keen to work with Nintendo on a potential app for the console in order to bake the functionality direct into the console, but we're heard nothing since. It's never been the best of solutions, but as a workaround it's felt doable until something more robust came along. Surely Nintendo Switch Online would finally bring this much-needed feature to the machine once and for all?
Well, we all know the answer to that question. Voice chat will be supported, but via the Nintendo Switch Online app. On your smartphone. Not your Switch. It's not exactly a shocking revelation, though. As far back as the beginning of 2017 - months before the console's launch - Reggie Fils-Aime spoke to IGN, saying: "we want to reinforce the capability to take your experience with you on the go.... The ability to do matchmaking, voice chat through your phone, it's a hell of a lot more convenient than having a gamer headset stuck into your backpack trying to do that. That's why we're doing it the way we are. We see the convenience, we see the ease of delivery. We think it's going to lead to a better experience."
It's clear Nintendo has no real intention of adding direct voice chat to Switch, but I can't for the life of me understand why. Why would you want to build a machine with handheld functionality - that operates in an always-connected world - and redirect voice communication to a secondary device. It's the equivalent of smartphone manufacturers going, "Hey, we know you love Twitter, but you'll need to use Nintendo Switch if you want to tweet on the go." It's reductive and counter-intuitive to a platform that has the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 - games that support online play and 100% better when played with other people. Not all of us can play with our friends in person all the time, so having the support for online comms makes perfect sense.
While the likes of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has chosen to avoid Nintendo Switch (a decision I still can't fathom, unless Nintendo has a very big announcement to make come E3), the arrival of titles such as Crazy Justice and Fortnite is a timely reminder that Switch owners deserve better than having to use both their phones and their console when someone playing on PS4 or Xbox One just has to stick their headset into their pad and 'boom', it's chat city. Switch wasn't designed to be a direct competitor for these platforms, but you don't have to be a PS4 wannabe to acknowledge the features players expect from their modern machines.
Fire up Twitch, YouTube Gaming or Facebook and you'll see so many streams where Fortnite is being played in parties. Whether those players and heading out to the likes of Tilted Towers in the same server or just chatting from different games, it makes the experience that much more exciting and rewarding when you're partied up with a friend or a friendly stranger. It's part of the experience that makes so many multiplayer games - Fortnite included - that bit more compelling.
So whether it's finally introducing an app section to the eShop and actively enabling developers to provide third-party options, or Nintendo itself finally admitting the current and future setups are just plain awful, something really needs to change. Come on Nintendo, hear our voice...
So that's Dom's thoughts on the topic of voice chat, but what do you make of it all? Is voice chat important, or something you're not too fussed about on Switch. We want to hear your take...