Nintendo is wading into the big boys’ pond with the Switch. It is entering the realm of paid online services. In Fall 2017, it will go from free to paid. People will need to kick in a fee, which will be under $30, every year to play online. Seems normal and harmless enough, right? Well, people playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may beg to differ. But, maybe this paid service could turn out to be a good thing.
Here me out. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s online multiplayer has some issues. It isn’t difficult for connections to falter and fail, forcing matches to end. It isn’t a good showcase for an online service people are going to be expected to pay for. Of course, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe isn’t the only Switch game with online multiplayer. There are others. But with these, it can be more difficult to pin down who is at fault when things aren’t working. Super Bomberman R had an operation delay in its Online Battle Mode, which Konami was aware of and has worked on. I’ve yet to see any problems with Puyo Puyo Tetris, though two of my friends claim to experience connection errors. Since one of them experienced this “issue” during a match I was winning, I can’t be too sure if the veracity of the claim.
While it is difficult to imagine paying for a service that delivers results that have so far seemed only average, we need to consider that adding a fee will allow us to hold Nintendo accountable. You know how they say to put your money where your mouth is? This will be our opportunity. Even if the yearly fee is something like $30, legions of people not paying and not using it will speak volumes. A few emails, tweets, and forum posts can be seen as isolated incidents. Losing money is far more meaningful.
If Nintendo doesn’t deliver on its online service, they’re the ones who will pay the price and suffer, not us. I mean sure, we won’t have online access if we choose not to pay, but all of these games also have local multiplayer or LAN options. We can get by while a company gets their ducks in a row. They can’t. Seeing a lack of people buying their subscriptions and playing their games will force them to make a change. Whether that’s improving infrastructure, upgrading systems, adding features, or maybe even deciding to go ahead and abandon the paid option all together. (Though seriously, that last thing won’t happen.)
It’s the first party games with online multiplayer that are going to help us test the waters over the next few weeks and months to see when things aren’t working. Arms, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Splatoon 2 will help us see how things are going during this free period. Then, as we transition into the paid service, we can use them to accurately assess what Nintendo is and isn’t doing right. They can be our barometers. If things don’t shape up, we can let our purchases or lack there-of voice our opinions for us.
Nintendo will have to change if a paid service isn’t working. Once they go toward a subscription service, they aren’t likely to roll back to a free one. Instead, they’ll have to make it enticing for us. The company will need to have servers and programs in place to make this worth our time and money. Staying free forever doesn’t offer that sort of incentive and payoff. So, while us early adopters act as guinea pigs and deal with a few inconveniences, at least we have the solace of knowing we’ll probably help make a difference.