Earlier this week, Nintendo lifted the curtain on what it has planned for Nintendo Switch Online this fall. For $20 USD a year ($35 USD if you have a big brood and want a family plan), you get unlimited access to a selection of NES games, access to cloud saves, the ability to play games online, and access to unspecified "Special Offers"—presumably deals and discounts on games at the Nintendo eShop.
That's the spread Nintendo's cooked up for us. The question is: Will anyone pay for Nintendo Switch Online? Are people excited to pony up for the privilege of playing games online when they've been playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe online for free up until now? Heck, paying to go online with Nintendo's consoles is a weird proposition to begin with. The Wii, the Nintendo DS, the Wii U, and the Nintendo 3DS doesn't charge a toll for Internet access. Are we going to see Switch owners pay to punch their friends' faces in ARMS, or are they going to make that "Drake meme rejection gesture" in the general direction of Nintendo Switch Online?
If you garner people's reactions through the scientific method of scouring news story comment threads, the Nintendo subreddit, and Twitter, the consensus is generally "Yeah, sure, we'll pay up." Interestingly, people are measuring Nintendo's online platform against Xbox Live Gold and PS Plus instead of against Nintendo's previous platforms. In other words, they're saying "Hey, Nintendo Switch Online costs a lot less than Xbox Live Gold and PS Plus!" instead of "Hey, suddenly we have to pay for this service that's been free for a long time."
In the context of other online platforms, Nintendo Switch Online is a steal at $20 USD year. $20 is easy "pay up once, then forget about it for 365 days" money. Plus, Nintendo Switch Online gives you access to a catalogue of NES games. I can't envision a universe where I'm going to buy Super Mario Bros 3 yet again, but I can picture myself playing through it to pass a little time if Nintendo puts it in front of me for "free." Nintendo also claims we'll see Nintendo Switch Online's retro game selection expand over time but given how undernourished the Virtual Console wound up being on the Wii and (especially) the Wii U, my expectations for the Switch's game line-up is somewhere in the basement. In a puddle. Being gnawed on by rats.
Despite all that, $20 isn't a terrible bet to lay down on Nintendo Switch Online's future. If Nintendo just gives us online gaming, cloud saves, and a selection of NES games that remains miserable for the rest of the Nintendo Switch's life, I won't necessarily feel ripped off. If Nintendo shines and builds up Nintendo Switch Online into a rich museum of its game history in addition to giving us killer deals for the eShop, well, that's $20 very well spent.
Tom Orry, the USgamer's Managing Editor, wonders if the online capabilities of Nintendo games are worth paying up for in the first place. "The Switch doesn't really have the games people generally pay to play online: Call of Duty, Battlefield, Destiny, etc," he told me. "I know people like Splatoon, but do people love Mario Kart enough to pay to play it online? I could live without online play in it, to be honest, but maybe I'm not the audience."
People definitely love Mario Kart enough to play it online, and obviously there's no Splatoon 2 without online play. But Nintendo has a Wailord-sized beast on the horizon, and its name is Pokémon for the Nintendo Switch. It might not be coming this year, but when it does arrive, people are going to want to battle and trade online—whatever it costs. No questions asked.
None of this is to suggest people don't have any strong opinions on Nintendo Switch Online. The news about the service being accessed through Nintendo's (shoddy) app instead of through the console itself is a downer. Nobody likes chatting or interacting through Nintendo's app, and the experience is generally clumsy and needlessly complicated. An overhaul of the app is in order, but we don't know if one is coming before Nintendo Switch Online launches.
There's also been a small uproar about Nintendo price-gated Cloud saves. The problem, people say, isn't that Nintendo is charging for Cloud services; it's the fact the Nintendo Switch currently offers no other way to back up save data (the PlayStation 4, for example, lets you plug in an external drive, and Xbox One owners can access Microsoft's Cloud for free). Opinions seem divided between "It's twenty bucks for a year, what's the big deal?" and, "Nintendo's refusal to offer any kind of free alternative is anti-consumer. It's the principle of the thing."
E3's glaring at us from a too-close distance, which means it might be a little early to make any solid judgements about Nintendo Switch Online. There are potentially a lot of details about the service we're missing, and a lot of questions Nintendo intends to answer during the show. Then again, Nintendo's never been a champion at offering up answers to even the simplest questions about why they do what they do.
Here and now, though? From what we know about Nintendo Switch Online, and from what we know about what's coming (Pokémon), twenty bucks for a year of online isn't half bad.