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When it comes to a well-established gaming company, you would expect a high level of effort and detail put into everything they produce. Especially when it comes to a company like Nintendo that has been in the video games business for more than 40 years now. But, then again, Nintendo has always been years behind other companies in terms of their software. They were still using cartridges during Nintendo’s N64 era when Sony had already started using CD-ROM technology. Then in 2002, Microsoft released the Xbox Live service for the original Xbox and later in 2005, a slightly better version on Xbox 360 consoles, complete with the ability to invite friends to parties and a free game every month. Nintendo, however, had come in several years later in 2012 with its first attempt at a real online service on the Wii U and 3DS consoles, which was almost rudimentary. “PS3 and Xbox 360 offered burgeoning app stores, easy-to-manage friends lists and party systems. The Wii offered Miiverse.” (Michael Rougeau @TechRadar.com).
It’s 2019 and Nintendo has recently made another attempt at an online service for their customers on the Nintendo Switch. Somehow, Nintendo managed to push out an online service, as rudimentary as its first attempt, contributing nothing new at all, completely failing to meet today’s standards in what we expect out of an online service. The Switch came with a “Beta” version of the online service and then when it transitioned to being paid, barely anything was done to change the service and improve on what was already there besides an NES emulator, cloud saving feature, and a pretty much useless app that has only two features: Voice chat only usable while in-game, and game-specific stats that currently only seems to support Splatoon.
The current state of Nintendo’s online service is most likely because of Nintendo’s focus on making systems and software for as little money as they can while still trying to make the systems powerful. They do this as a benefit for both the company and the customers since while they are saving money, they often release their systems and software for a cheaper price than most other companies. The lack of invite and direct messaging options and other useful features are probably to keep the service from costing more money to do the extra coding.
The new Nintendo Online Service has no party options, no straightforward ways of inviting friends to a game unless the game itself has an invite option, and no basic direct messaging options. There is literally no way to communicate with a friend on the Switch at this moment unless you are in a match with them at the time or have a way to contact them by phone. “Once you populate your Switch friends list with fellow console owners, there’s remarkably little to actually do with those friends right now. You can see when your friends are online, you can look at what games they’ve played recently, and that’s about it. There’s no way to send a friend a message or screenshot, much less set up a voice chat or an invite to a multiplayer game.” (Kyle Orland @Arstechnica.com). The option to message a friend is crucial with an online service because, without a way to communicate with an online friend and ask them to join a game, it is pretty unlikely that you’ll ever meet up with them in a match.
Nintendo has always made good consoles, but when it comes to their software, it often lacks in features that have become a standard in today’s video gamer society. Nintendo has released several updates since the online service’s official launch but shows no intention to change the ever-so-basic online service. “The online service remains barebones, well after the console’s launch and a couple of months after the dedicated mobile app – which we found to be severely lacking – went live. It’s pitiful stuff.” (Martin Robinson @Eurogamer.net).
Nintendo could easily add in the features that are missing if they wanted to increase the cost of the online service a bit more. Even just adding the ability to directly message a friend would greatly improve the service compared to what the service offers right now. Or maybe a thing where you can send screenshots or screen recordings to a friend would be an interesting but simple improvement. Or even just voice chat between friends even while on the home screen would be a decent improvement. Even if Nintendo adds only one of those three I mentioned, it will be an improvement on the currently lacklustre service.
Nintendo, please take notice on these issues and find the time to improve on the online service by some means. At the moment, the service just feels bare and incomplete. Personally, I have been a fan of your company since I was a kid and generally love a lot of what you have done in the gaming industry. But with companies like Microsoft, Sony, and even Valve offering online services with easily manageable friend-lists with invite options and messaging options and continuing to set the standard for most modern gamers, it is a shame to see such a beloved company as you fall behind the expectations of an online service. The service just needs an invite system and a direct messaging system and it will feel more complete. And I know that the service also comes with free NES games, and I play them sometimes, but it isn’t essential to an online service like an invite or messaging system. The Switch is amazing. I game on it all the time. But sometimes I just want to message a friend who is online and with the Switch you just can’t do that right now. So please take a look at these issues and hopefully we will see more added to the service one day.