Debates that aim to size up the success of the big three home consoles often lean on a pretty standard rubric: The horse power. exclusive games, and innovation. But, as Microsoft would surely tell you, online services should also be a key factor taken into consideration when discussing the pros and cons of each current gen console. Microsoft was once the clear leader of the pack as Xbox 360 touted online services that set the bar high for its competitors. This was back in 2005. Fast forward 13 years later and Nintendo Switch Online seems to be proof that premium online services actually aren’t necessary for success.
Nintendo Switch Online is slated to launch in September but the Switch will have thrived for well over a year by that point. In less than a year, the Nintendo Switch managed to sell more than 10 million units and it has already sold more units than the Wii U did in its entire lifetime. The Switch also managed to dethrone the PlayStation 2 as the king of first year sales in Japan, setting a new record after selling just under 3.3 million units by last December. All without some sort of direct competitor to PS Plus or Xbox Live, the Switch became the fastest selling console in the U.S. and the demand is still high.
To be clear, the Switch has basic online features. Switch owners have the ability to play certain games online, but many players expect more out of their online experiences than just online play these days. Free monthly game offerings, chat parties, cloud game saves, video streaming apps, and access to exclusive deals are all expected to be a part of any premium online service. Not to mention that online social features often create a sort of culture for that console’s gaming community, which is typically key to generate interest in certain games. The Switch, however, needed none of these bells and whistles in order to put up some of the best numbers any console has seen in its first year of sales.
What the Switch currently lacks in online services, it makes up for in innovation, character, and a handful of “must have” exclusives that have been busy shattering their own records as well. Perhaps the Switch’s greatest achievement, however, is that it finally managed to do what the GameCube wanted to do but never could. The GameCube was created as a compact console with a handle on the back to encourage gamers to get together and bring their GameCubes along for the ride. Despite having a smaller footprint than its competitors, the GameCube never got close to being that portable console that could bring players together. The Switch, on the other hand, is made for this. It has lived up to those corny, yet effective, commercials of players bring their Switch on an airplane and to the park.
In fact, right now in February 2018, the only thing most people are worried about when it comes to the Switch is its paid online service. It’s is uncharted territory for the gaming giant. Even before the service has launched, there are some concerns that the service just won’t stack up against the competition or add enough value to the Switch overall. Nintendo Switch Online will be giving players access to a rotating selection of free games they can download every month, but this comes with two large caveats. The games up for grabs will be older titles, and they won’t be playable anymore once the game selection switches up at the end of the month. This is in stark contrast to Sony and Microsoft’s offerings which provide newer titles in their monthly free game lineup and allow you to access any games you download as long as you have an active PS Plus membership or Xbox Live subscription. That said, it’s certainly worth mentioning that the price is drastically lower. Currently $20 for the year compared to the $60 rate of the competition.
The Switch still has so much to offer even without some of the premium online features that gamers can find elsewhere. Its popularity shows no sign of fading with or without Nintendo Switch Online. So as long as you don’t mind paying 2/3s less per year for ‘2/3s less online features’ than the PS4 and Xbox One, you’ll have more new services than you have now to look forward to for a reasonable price. And what’s crazy is that the Switch is likely going to keep chugging along whether you decide to take advantage of them, or not.