With just under two weeks to go before
all some is revealed at E3, Nintendo delivered a double-edged surprise: we know how the Switch online service will work, but it’s not arriving on time.
Previously pegged for a fall 2017 launch, Nintendo Switch Online — as the subscription service is known — will now be available sometime in 2018.
There are pricing tiers for 1-month ($3.99) and 3-month ($7.99) subscriptions, but the $19.99 1-year option offers the most value. It’s worth noting that this is roughly $40 cheaper than competing services for PlayStation and Xbox.
The lower price comes at a cost. Much of the Switch’s online experience — which is to say, lobbies and voice chat — is relegated to an app for unspecified smart devices. A limited version will be available to download starting this summer.
Of course, using an app for such features comes with its own set of obstacles. Since game audio comes out of the Switch and chat audio comes out of your chosen app-bearing device, an audio splitter is required to mix both sources together. As we learned earlier today, that leads to a headache-inducing setup.
Subscribers also have access to a collection of classic games, enhanced with support for online play (where applicable, of course). Interestingly, the newly updated Switch Online website includes no mention of a controversial catch related to these freebies.
The site previously indicated that subscribers would “get to download and play a [NES] or [SNES] game … for free for a month.” Nintendo subsequently confirmed that featured games would only be playable for free within that month.
That stands in stark contrast to competing subscription bonuses from the pricier PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. With those services, you can download a freebie during its featured month and keep playing it for as long as you keep it installed and remain a subscriber.
While there are still lots of of questions, the chart below lays out in broad strokes how Switch Online subscription benefits one-up the “free” experience.
All Switch online features — including the forthcoming stripped-down app — will remain free until the service launches for real next year.
For the time being, online play looks like the only major draw of this admittedly cheaper-than-the-competition service. Voice chat is looking like an inconvenient mess and the freebie games become considerably less exciting if you can only play them for one month — though it’s not clear if that’s changing.
The real question Switch owners should be asking — and one that we’ll be seeking answers to at E3 — is this: Which games are actually worth playing online?
Splatoon 2, Nintendo’s ink-splattering competitive shooter, is the obvious big one. The company will have an opportunity to gauge interest in what is arguably its flagship online game after it launches in July.
Fighting games like Ultra Street Fighter 2 and Nintendo’s signature racing series Mario Kart ought to draw crowds as well. Minecraft too; that one launched recently and it lets players hop online together and share their worlds.
There will be plenty of opportunities to hype the service ahead of its 2018 launch, but E3 is Nintendo’s moment to make a good first impression. If the company can sell its fans on the virtues of Switch Online with a tantalizing lineup and a clearer sense of what’s good about the service, it will enjoy a much smoother ride into next year.