Great Perks or Not, the Price Is Right for Nintendo’s Online Service

Yesterday, in a rather sudden manner, we learned quite a bit more about Nintendo’s upcoming online service for its rising-star new Switch console. Prior to yesterday generalities about the service were known, such as its smartphone-centric design and ballpark prices based on conversions from the costs expected in Japan. We now have the final details, though (including a delay to 2018), which means full analysis and critique is fair game.

I was half expecting to come out swinging in condemnation of the relative lack of perks and extras tied to Nintendo’s offering compared to the competition, and admittedly there’s a part of me that still feels that way. Sure, classic games for lease are nice, but there’s a good chance any Nintendo fan worth their salt has played and owns most of them anyway: access for the upteenth time isn’t exactly a persuasive agent luring me to subscribe. Where are the free, modern games of PS Plus? What about the deep, enriched online features and functionality of Xbox Live, or benefits of Games for Gold? I took a moment to consider these things, but then it occurred to me: we never used to have to pay to play games online in the first place. How exactly did this happen?

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Xbox Live is the eldest service of the bunch, and has been the most full-featured for much of that time - most owners of Microsoft’s consoles associate the cost of Gold access with the cost of owning an Xbox by default, and as such don’t mind the yearly $60 access fee. With Sony though, it’s easy to forget that the PlayStation Plus access requirement is recent. I owned PlayStation 3 for well over half a decade, played online constantly (often daily), and never paid a cent. My experience was largely fine. And while I’m unsure if it’s subconscious or not, since PS4’s dawn I’ve spent a comparatively miniscule amount of time online with it, dodging the monthly or yearly cost of such and instead pouring dozens upon dozens of hours online toward the likes of Splatoon and Mario Kart 8. Is it pure coincidence, or is my subconcious an utter cheapskate? The world may never know.

Either way, while I’m not thrilled about Nintendo boarding this bandwagon, the fact that it’s doing so is now water under the bridge. What matters to me most, I realized, is reaping the benefits of paid online while spending as little as possible. I won’t pay for PS Plus or Xbox Live Gold and probably never will, but $20 a year in exchange for a smoother, more reliable online experience (and perhaps increased prevalence of server-based experiences) seems like a fair trade to me. While it’s tough to beat free, at $19.99 a year the asking price here enters the range of feeling negligible. $60, meanwhile, mimics the price of an entire game, and with the constant deluge of superb open world single player experiences these days, that’s 150+ hours of enjoyment I might be tossing out the window. Unless I intend to play online games that much (which, of course, some players do), then I’m ultimately hard-pressed to invest.

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And therein lies the difference between what Nintendo is planning and what the competition already offers. Is Nintendo’s service likely to be a worse “deal” than PS Plus and Xbox Live Gold? Probably. But consider why you even want these silly memberships in the first place. The way I see it, the swathes of perks associated with the latter two services are, at the end of the day, excuses to justify a $60/year pricetag. When considered from that angle, I’ll take the $20 option in a heartbeat. Even then, Nintendo’s service does still promise perks; a steady stream of free NES games accessed via the Netflix-style subscription is already confirmed, and while SNES and N64 titles are more likely to arrive in a traditional Virtual Console format, they may be added to the subscription library eventually. As of now, SNES inclusion is “under consideration.”

Either way, I’m drawn to the idea of keeping extra, recurring, and arguably unnecessary gaming transactions cheap and simple. If Nintendo can provide dependable, full-featured online (lobbies and voice chart are also already confirmed) in exchange for my yearly twenty dollar bill, it’s something I don’t mind being a part of. From there, let perks be perks in the true sense of the word, rather than overwrought justifications, and I will gladly accept them.