With Nintendo offering a paid-for online service with the release of the Switch, we look at what the company needs to do to be able to offer up a competitive service for users.

With the Nintendo Switch steadily making its way towards a launch date of March 3, 2017, many gamers were relieved to finally find out some concrete details on the console with Nintendo’s Switch-specific Direct. With much more of an idea of the scope of the Switch in mind, as well as vital statistics in terms of price and memory, gamers have been able to think more on whether the Switch will become a must-have part of a gaming-focused living room.

There are plenty of elements of the Switch that have gained plaudits, and rightly so. In particular, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been dropping jaws, with gamers enamoured with the title’s open world and lush visuals. Meanwhile, some debutantes have also received a positive reception, such as fighting game Arms. However, not every aspect revealed about the Switch has had as unanimously positive a reception from fans.

In particular, the new online service for the Switch has raised eyebrows from certain parts of the gaming community. Nintendo has joined the likes of Sony and Microsoft in offering up a paid-for online service, to allow for online play against, or with, fellow players. With Nintendo releasing certain details about the Nintendo Switch Online Service on its website, there are some questions that have been raised about the online functionality, which is due to arrive in Fall 2017.

What the service offers at launch is clear at the minute, with subscribers able to access online gameplay, a lobby and voice chat app, exclusive deals from the Nintendo eShop, as well as a monthly SNES or NES game download. However, this online service poses certain problems for Nintendo, that may need to be addressed in order for gamers to get the most out of paid-for online functionality.

Through the creation of this online system, Nintendo is clearly trying to emulate the success of Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus, and there’s no denying that both services offer up enough to make it worthwhile for subscribers. Not only is a generally stable online multiplayer service possible through both services, but the extra bells and whistles make it all-the-more enticing for even solo players to take the plunge and give multiplayer a try.

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On the surface, what’s been revealed about the Nintendo Switch Online Service matches its peers, in terms of online multiplayer and extra games to play. However, there have been criticisms aimed at the service over not having enough content to justify an online service, in comparison to either Live Gold or Plus. In particular, the fact that the Switch bonus games only last for one month has drawn the ire of some, with suggestions that Nintendo should instead stick closer to what gamers get with Xbox or PlayStation.

Of course, this could be a tiny issue to resolve, should complaints continue once the service launches in the fall. Nintendo could quite easily allow permanent ownership of these retro games, or it may well be that this ‘rental’ service suits the needs of gamers quite well – after all, it’s unlikely to take a month to complete almost any game from the library of the NES or SNES. However, there are other issues with the level of content available with a Switch online subscription, and that comes from a deeper place than simply extra games.

It’s fair to say that Nintendo has a very good reputation for its local multiplayer and single player games. Its top franchises, such as Mario, Mario Kart, and Zelda, are among the best available for a solo player or for someone playing with others in the same room. It’s here, then, that a significant hurdle needs to be jumped, with Nintendo needing to perhaps increase its success rate with online games.

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Thankfully, Nintendo fans will be able to list a number of successes from the last console generation. Although the Wii U was not a popular console, with Reggie Fils-Aime stating that Nintendo will ensure the Switch will outperform the Wii U, there were some fantastic games with online multiplayer. Alongside Mario Kart 8, Splatoon truly showed that Nintendo has the capability to not only embrace online multiplayer, but also to do so in unique ways – meaning that Splatoon 2 is definitely an exciting prospect.

The first Splatoon is certainly a solid benchmark, and one that Nintendo will need to build upon to create a genuinely strong lineup of games capable of online multiplayer experiences to match – or even improve upon – those available on other consoles. With a Super Smash Bros release for Switch also apparently in the works, that’s another game that could be called upon as a must-have online multiplayer title for the service, therefore perhaps justifying a subscription model.

Unfortunately, there’s more to it than just Nintendo delivering on multiplayer games itself, and that’s another area where Nintendo’s models may need to change. For the last few generations, Nintendo has relied upon a few major franchises and in-house standout titles to really propel its consoles. Although third party titles have always been available for Nintendo consoles, Nintendo’s own properties have nearly always been a step above the competition.

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However, to make the most of a subscription service, it will take more than just Nintendo’s own properties to make Switch online a truly great place to game – particularly if Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will not contain new tracks. Nintendo will need to embrace third-party developers in a way potentially not seen since the original NES in order to foster not only a wide library of games for players, but also allowing said developers to make best use of the Switch’s original features to create some truly stunning projects.

So far, there have been good noises from third parties, although no real solid signs of great online multiplayer games have appeared. EA was able to give an update during the Nintendo Direct for the Switch, confirming that FIFA would be returning to the Nintendo fold, but further titles will no doubt be appreciated – particularly if troubling rumors over FIFA on Switch turn out to be true. Gamers will no doubt be hoping that Ubisoft’s wide variety of Switch support comes up with some online multiplayer experiences.

Alongside this, fans will be hoping that Nintendo is able to add a few of its trademark flourishes to the Nintendo Switch Online Service. So far, the functionality is looking a little bare bones, with nothing other than the online gaming and monthly game service being seen as major selling points. There’s certainly more that Nintendo could do – particularly with multimedia functions not available at launch and Nintendo currently not planning to add Miiverse.

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That said, there’s always potential for Nintendo to come up with something truly magical – it’s why the company has been revered for so long by gamers. Some may be wondering about the significance of the mobile app matchmaking system, and whether Nintendo could be able to use this in an interesting way. With Nintendo, it’s always best to expect the unexpected, after all.

However, there are clearly some changes that Nintendo may need to make in order to make best use of an online service. Whether it be with additional features to wow fans, or bringing in more third-party development to fill the void of suitable games, it’s a fine balancing act that Nintendo will need to follow to make sure that it keeps both its core base and provides for more online gaming. That’s not insurmountable by any means, but it is certainly something that will be interesting to keep track of going forward.

The Nintendo Switch arrives worldwide on March 3, 2017.

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