Last week, Nintendo finally shed some more light on the company’s upcoming premium online service. During the reveal of the Nintendo Switch, it was announced that a platform similar to that of Xbox Live and PS Plus would come into play to show that the gaming giant was finally ready to step into the present age, as well as provide the best possible online experience for their consumers. It was always known that it would be cheaper than what’s offered by their counterparts in the “big three,” but the price was far more palatable than many imagined. For just $20, players would be able to subscribe for an entire year of the service, that’s just a third of the price millions pay for PS Plus and Xbox Live. Of course, a price alone doesn’t necessarily make a subscription good. However, it does show that Nintendo is being mindful as they step into this new (for them) arena, and I feel that bodes well for those looking to dive in.
Nintendo isn’t the only company to dive into this in recent years. Prior to the PS4, online gaming was completely free on Sony’s platforms, and PS Plus was an optional service that gave cloud saves and a couple of free games every month. But, when it was time for the current generation of consoles to make their entrance, Sony decided that it needed to up its game, and to fund that would cost quite a bit of cash, so a premium subscription became mandatory for those looking to play online with friends or strangers. This was a perfectly logical route, but it came with some apprehension on the side of consumers mainly due to the price point, which at the time was just slightly lower than that of Xbox Live (though they’re now the same price). It was a huge leap of faith for some, as the previous online service worked, but was miles behind what Microsoft was offering.
This is something that Nintendo is undoubtedly aware of. While they have been known to have unrelenting confidence in products they maybe shouldn’t have (the Wii U instantly comes to mind), they definitely do know what it is they do well and what it is that they need work in. Nobody has ever looked at a Nintendo home console and said “that’s where I want to play all of my online game,” and the reason wasn’t always down to graphical fidelity. Online on consoles that house Mario has always been shaky at best, so garnering enough faith out of a consumer base to pay out the same amount as they do on other subscriptions that have had years to mold their experiences was beyond far-fetched. By pricing at such a low cost – outside of annual membership you can also get one month for $3.99 and three months for $7.99 – the Switch’s online service is at that perfect mid-point of just cheap enough for people to take a gamble on it, and probably just high enough for the company to make a few bucks for their efforts. Another smart move is not immediately charging right away. This allows those lucky enough to have snagged a Switch to test it out and see if the online gameplay is worth their hard-earned cash. It also gives the company an opportunity to learn from feedback and make sure everything is up to snuff before they start passing the collection plate around their user base.
Of course, in this day and age, you can’t just offer the simple service alone. That’s something Sony saw too when the company started leveraging its library as a way to entice people to pay up. The Instant Games Collection led Microsoft to implement its own Games With Gold program, which offers free games for its ecosystem of platforms every month as part of the online subscription. Not to be outdone, Nintendo is doing a little freebie service of its own with something both Sony and Microsoft would kill for, the most celebrated classic library in all of video games.
The Classic Game Selection (this name is apparently subject to change according to the official site) will allow users to “download a compilation of classic titles with added online play.” The three games shown are Super Mario Bros. 3, Balloon Fight, and Dr. Mario, three beloved classics that are sure to draw in longtime fans (SMB 3 happens to be my favorite video game of all time, so it has definitely worked on me). How far they’re willing to take the service will be key to its success. Classic is a very broad term, an umbrella that fans are hoping Nintendo will start to count the GameCube under. But, as we wait, I can’t deny that having the games that have defined the gaming lives of so many individuals offered with the ability to play with people from around the world is easily worth the $20 all on its own.
Right now, Nintendo is doing something very smart, which isn’t something you read in many opinions. Much is expected from the house that brought Super Mario to the world, so a lot of pressure is placed upon the company’s shoulders. And, to be quite honest, they’ve buckled under that pressure more times than we care to count. But for the first time in a very long time, Nintendo seems to be doing exactly what was asked of them, and taking a thoughtful approach to the whole affair. As far as I’m concerned, this is most definitely a win, or, at the very least, a win in the making for them. Now if we can just get them to sit down and think about their entire headset situation…