Good news, everyone! The Nintendo Switch has friend codes! If you want to communicate with your friend and / or play with them online through your Switch, you have to register their 12-digit code. Think of it as … scanning a barcode of friendship.
Mike wrote up everything involved with the friend-adding process, but here's the gist. Once your Switch is updated and linked to your Nintendo Account, you can start the adding process. You can add friends locally, search for users you've recently played with, or simply enter a person's code.
In a press release for Splatoon 2, Nintendo talk briefly about the mysterious smartphone app.
Here's the nice part: You don't have to trade friend codes to become pals. Instead, you can just accept anyone who propositions you, or you can decline or block them.
Your Nintendo Account also offers up "Suggested Friends" you've linked to from Miitomo and Super Mario Run (See? Miitomo was still in our hearts all this time!).
While I'm miffed you can't search for users via their emails or user names, I have to admit my irritation over the Switch's friend code system (which I conveyed as "[SUSTAINED SCREAMING]" in the comments section of Mike's report) has since cooled off. If I don't need to actually exchange codes, it's fine. I still remember how my Wii friend menu had way too many greyed-out half-friends who promised to reciprocate with their own codes, but never did.
A lot of iOS games still dole out friend codes if their social features don't go through Game Center. It's not exactly an antiquated requirement. Fire Emblem Heroes uses friend codes, for example.
Above all, I understand why Nintendo's doing this. The company's determination to make the Switch's tiny game cards taste bad so kids won't eat them says everything: When it comes to the children, Nintendo is always going to err on the side of caution.
That's because bad press sticks to Nintendo like chewing gum to hair. To most people in the developed world, the name "Nintendo" is synonymous with both "family" and "video games." Not even Sony and Microsoft can boast that kind of association. When the average person thinks "Sony" or "Microsoft," there's still a good chance they think of TVs and Windows.
Nintendo doesn't have that kind of PR wiggle room. When the mainstream press is compelled to turn its attention on the company, the consequences are usually heavy. Remember how the Nintendo 3DS got wrapped up in reports about 3D supposedly hurting kids' eyes back in 2011? Never mind that parents had no problem plopping 3D glasses on their kids when they visited the theatre. Nintendo is supposed to be 100% safe, 100% pure.
So what does Nintendo's image have to do with friend codes? For one thing, friend codes discourage spam – which, frankly, is a big problem on the PlayStation Network. If kids start getting messages on their Switch encouraging them to "BUY THIS PILL AND GET A BIG PEN ONE FIVE TODAY!!," it'd only take a few scandalized parents to start an avalanche of bad press.
Friend codes also make it harder for freaks and weirdoes to worm into Nintendo's kid-heavy community. It's not a perfect shield, but that extra layer of protection is certainly handy if Nintendo needs to defend itself: "Children cannot use all of the Switch's online features unless they enter their friend's code, and we encourage kids never to share their code with somebody they don't know and trust."
Obviously, it is disappointing to see Nintendo abandon the user name search we enjoyed with the Wii U, but interestingly, the formation of Miiverse is what prompted Nintendo to make that move. Since the Switch lacks a unified social hub (booo), that also might factor into Nintendo's return to numbers.
In the end, Nintendo's hyper-caution is just one of those annoying things you have to deal with if you want to play Zelda.
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