This may be hard to believe, but the Nintendo Switch is turning four years old today. March 3 was the date Nintendo chose to launch its hybrid console, and while it got some criticism early on, there's no denying that the Switch is a phenomenon. It's sold almost 80 million units in less than four years, beating classics like the NES and SNES, as well as relatively newer hardware like the Nintendo 3DS.
While the primary focus of the Switch is in its game library, there is something else that's a core piece of its identity - the Nintendo Switch Online service. Introduced in 2018, Nintendo Switch Online was the first time the company decided to start charging a fee to allow its users to play games over the internet, but to make the service more enticing, there were also some perks. Access to a selection of NES games - now with online multiplayer - save data backups to the cloud, and some exclusive software like Tetris 99.
The Switch Online service is a bit of a no-brainer as it stands because most people see online play as an essential part of gaming, and while it's far from a perfect service, it's only $19.99 per year, much cheaper than the standard price of the online services on other platforms. But that also means customers are potentially willing to spend more money on the service if the benefits to it are enticing enough. I recently saw some rumors - from dubious sources at this point - that Nintendo is planning to reignite the Switch Online service in some way, and I thought the console's anniversary would be a great opportunity to talk about what could be done with Switch Online. Some of these wishes are very unlikely at the current price point, while others are certainly possible. Let's get into it.
More legacy content
Of the three companies that still partake in the console wars, Nintendo has the lengthiest history and the largest library of legacy content, a lot of which is beloved by a ton of people and hasn't been officially re-released in years. At the same time, the Nintendo Switch is one of the most widely available systems the company has had in a while, and it's only halfway through its life, according to Nintendo.
While we have NES and SNES games already, including the majority of the big hits from Nintendo itself, there are so many more platforms in the company's history that can be leveraged for the service. I think the next logical step for Nintendo is to add the Game Boy family of systems, starting with the Game Boy proper and Game Boy Color. The Color is considered more of a revision of the Game Boy hardware than a true successor, so I believe the two could be combined under a single app.
Many of the series that started on the NES also had notable entries on the Game Boy back in the day, or they may have started on the Game Boy in the first place. Game Boy's Super Mario Land series was significantly different from the Super Mario Bros. games on the NES, The Legend of Zelda had notable entries like Link's Awakening and the Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages games. And series like Kirby and Pokémon started on the Game Boy, too. These are all series that are represented on the Switch, and that legacy content can teach modern gamers about the origins of these characters, or allow older ones to relive the adventures they experienced in their childhood.
The Game Boy Advance is a different beast entirely, but considering it's still a 2D console that should be relatively easy to emulate, I believe it can still be done without increasing the price of the Switch Online service. I think that if it does come, it will probably do so at a later date, but there are many notable GBA games that deserve some time in the spotlight. Of course, big Nintendo franchises are present here, but series that have been left to rot on the platform like F-Zero, Golden Sun, Advance Wars, and more could certainly be brought back this way, and maybe create enough new fans to warrant brand new entries being produced for the Switch.
Things get a bit trickier when it comes to consoles that featured 3D graphics, though. These are not only more challenging to emulate, but they certainly hold more value to a lot of people, especially Nintendo itself. With Super Mario 3D All-Stars, the company has proven that it's willing to re-package legacy titles into a full-priced game (albeit as a collection), and I doubt these would be added at no extra cost to the Switch Online service. Even if the price increased, I don't think Nintendo would want to miss out on the chance to charge more for the games by selling them individually. On top of that, something I've seen pointed out is that these titles are much larger in terms of the storage space they take, so distributing all of them in a single app would be unsuitable compared to individual downloads.
To me, a potentially great approach would be selling the titles on the eShop for $10 to $25, depending on the platform of origin, with newer consoles commanding higher prices. However, Nintendo Switch Online members could buy the titles at a discount, say, of 30%. On top of that, they'd get support for online multiplayer, as we've seen with the NES and SNES libraries so far. Alternatively, libraries for each individual console could become their own subscription, and instead of having every game pre-loaded on the launcher app, customers would choose to download each individual game within the app.
These additions seem obvious, and they should be, but they're long overdue at this point. The Wii, released in 2006, already offered retro titles up to the Nintendo 64. The 3DS already had Game Boy games in addition to many of the same ones that were already available on the Wii. And then the Wii U repeated many of them again, though Game Boy Advance was also added for the first time. Nintendo has repeatedly sold these games time and drip-fed them to its fans, even long after the concept of retro games being brought back was no longer novel. Having just NES and SNES games isn't all that appealing if you've already owned a Nintendo console in the past 10 years. I hope Nintendo starts leveraging more of its history with Switch Online.
More (equitable) perks
Did you know that you could play Dead Cells for free for a few days earlier this year if you had Nintendo Switch Online? And Overcooked! 2? And on top of that, did you know it's possible to buy two full-price Switch games for €99 instead of the almost €120 they'd usually cost sold separately, including some preorders like the upcoming New Pokémon Snap? If not, you might live in the United States.
Yes, two of the big perks of the Nintendo Switch Online service are exclusive to Europe, which is really hard to understand. Game Trials are one of the big benefits, where Nintendo will usually grant players full access to a game for a handful of days (four to five, usually), meaning that if you can beat it all in that time, you might not even need to buy it. Or you might find something you really like, and sometimes, the full games get discounted after the Game Trial period ends, meaning you can continue your adventure at a cheaper price.
Meanwhile, Game Vouchers are another perk of Nintendo Switch Online, which lets you pay €99 for two vouchers that you can then exchange for digital versions of some major Nintendo games. Of course, there are sales out there that can often give you a better deal if you're willing to wait, but game vouchers often add support for some pre-orders, like the aforementioned New Pokémon Snap and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, making it one of the cheapest ways to get a game at launch if you don't want to wait. These are two major perks that only Europe gets to enjoy, and bringing them (back) to the U.S. market would be a good place to start.
But I think we could go even further than that with perks that are brand-new. For example, right now, anyone can register games they buy on the eShop or in physical format and get My Nintendo gold points as a reward. The reward is equivalent to 5% of the price of the game if you buy it digitally, or 1% for a physical copy, and you can use them to get discounts when you buy digital games, or exchange them for rewards on the My Nintendo website. I think it would make sense for these rewards to be increased for Switch Online members or alternatively, lower the price of My Nintendo rewards if the user has a Switch Online membership. These rewards are usually free outside of the coins, and combining these two benefits would make both My Nintendo and Switch Online much more rewarding for hardcore fans of the brand, potentially creating an even deeper connection to Nintendo's products.
Nintendo also offers a couple of free games as part of Nintendo Switch Online. It started with Tetris 99, which takes the classic Tetris formula and turns it into a battle royale type of game. In September, Nintendo announced Super Mario Bros. 35, which is a similar concept but based on the original Super Mario Bros. game. That title is set to be killed off at the end of March, though, which I think is a bummer since it works so well. I think more games like these would be really interesting, especially if Nintendo introduces something fresh every now and then. Just like Super Mario Bros. 35 was a celebration of the franchise's anniversary, perhaps something similar could be done for The Legend of Zelda or Donkey Kong, both of which have notable anniversaries this year. It would be interesting to see Nintendo cycle through different games over time, making sure there's something for everyone.
There are also other things Nintendo could eventually add, like an achievement system exclusive for Switch Online members. Or, if Nintendo insists on having a smartphone app for voice chat, why not also make it possible to create permanent group chats and the like for communication? There are plenty of possibilities, but this leads me to my final point.
Most of the things Nintendo did during the Wii U era are probably best left in the past, but Miiverse was a fantastic concept that I feel was mostly held back by the platform it was on. Now, if you're thinking "What's a Miiverse?", it was Nintendo's take on a sort of social network, which was more like a forum board than it was like Facebook. It was available on the Wii U and the 3DS after a software update in 2013, but with the Switch, Nintendo ditched the service in favor of sharing to Facebook and Twitter and it's... ok.
Here's the thing, I get that Facebook and Twitter are huge social platforms that nearly everyone is already using, and sharing content there is probably easier and more appealing to a lot of people. But I personally feel that Facebook and Twitter are social networks that are primarily focused on people. By that I mean that you don't go necessarily go to Twitter or Facebook (more so Twitter) to visit a specific community. They're places to share your experiences with the people you know or people who know you. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with that, but it means that you'll only reach the people that are specifically interested in following you.
When you post on a forum dedicated to a specific topic or on a community like Miiverse, the things you share have as much reach as anyone else's, and the people following that community are much more likely to be interested in what you have to say there. Even Twitter seems to recognize that a people-centric approach isn't ideal for everything with the announcement of Twitter Communities just last week.
A possible approach to solving this could also be to just allow deeper integration with Facebook and Twitter, so rather than sharing things on a personal profile, you could post to a group or community. But Miiverse could still offer plenty of unique features - searching for communities by game genre, for example, or adding spoiler tags to a post so you can share things without potentially ruining the game for other people browsing the community.
I also know that maintaining a social network like Miiverse is challenging, there are server costs and moderation systems that need to be put in place, so it's an investment that's hard to justify. That's why I think making the service a part of Switch Online could work. Not only would a paid service help filter out some potentially unwanted members of the community, it would also help fund maintenance and moderation costs.
I enjoyed using Miiverse on the 3DS, but the console wasn't all that fast which made it kind of a chore to get through, and I never really got to try it on the Wii U. I think the Switch could deliver a better experience for it, and creating a version that can be accessed on a PC would also go a long way in increasing engagement. I understand that it's a far-fetched dream, but it would be nice to see it come back.
But of course, that's just what I'd like to see from Nintendo Switch Online, but I'm sure everyone has different ideas. Nintendo will need to find a way to make its service appealing while keeping it profitable, which might not be possible if every single one of my suggestions were to come true.
What do you think Nintendo could do to make Nintendo Switch Online more compelling? Are you willing to pay more for those improvements? Let us know in the comments!