Last night, Nintendo released new information about the still-unnamed online service for the Switch which some are taking as clarifying.
To me, it all just makes everything even more confusing.
Nintendo confirmed the price that was previously rumored, $20 for yearly service, which is well below its competitors’ rates and a breath of fresh air in the industry, though the paid service is now delayed to sometime in 2018, not this fall like was previously reported. But the main focus has been on what appears to be a change to Nintendo’s “free classic games” access.
The online service’s website simply says “Subscribers will get to download a compilation of classic titles with added online play, such as Super Mario Bros. 3, Balloon Fight and Dr. Mario,” which seemed in line with Nintendo’s past statements that online service subscribers would get access to some classic games for X month only, then the games would change and be lost unless bought.
But then on Twitter, Nintendo said this was “ongoing access to a library of classic games you can take anywhere!” which seemed to be a departure from their last stated plan.
Finally, Kotaku pried it out of them. It really is a change from what we hard before:
“Nintendo Switch Online subscribers will have ongoing access to a library of classic games with added online play. Users can play as many of the games as they want, as often as they like, as long as they have an active subscription.”
“Nintendo Switch Online subscribers will be able to play a wide variety of classic games, including Super Mario Bros. 3, Balloon Fight and Dr. Mario. More games will be announced at a later date. At launch the classic game library will include NES games. Super NES games continue to be under consideration, but we have nothing further to announce at this time.”
While this is certainly better than the limited-time-only game offerings we were hearing about before, I am seeing a lot of press and many fans nodding their heads this morning as if this is a totally satisfying explanation for Nintendo’s future online plans.
“Positive change to Nintendo Switch paid online – now free til 2018, Netflix-style Virtual Console catalogue with multiplayer. $20/year after,” says Eurogamer’s Tom Phillips.
“Good price overall. Netflix like VC service is great. Should be well received among the early adopter crowd,” says Niko Partners’ Daniel “ZhugeEX” Ahmad.
But while these are some of the better journalists/analysts in gaming, I’m not quite sure how they’re arriving at this conclusion about how Nintendo is introducing a “Netflix-like” Virtual Console. When pressed specifically on Virtual Console, even in the wake of this news, Nintendo reverts to their usual “We have nothing to announce on this topic.”
Certainly, if Nintendo was fully integrating Virtual Console access into this $20 a year service, that would be a great deal and beloved by all. But I don’t think an “ongoing selection of classic games” is the same thing. Virtual Console is an expansive library with games from many of Nintendo’s old systems, and fans were hoping to see more from N64, Gamecube and even the Wii when the Virtual Console returned and found a home on the Switch. All Nintendo is saying here is that these “classic game selections” will include NES games, and maybe some SNES titles in the future. This does not sound like something that’s replacing Virtual Console to me, and Nintendo is still refusing to even say the words “Virtual Console” out loud despite that A) the Switch has been released for months now and B) they’re supposed to be detailing their online plans which should include the VC itself. Whatever this “game selection” idea is, it does not seem to be that.
And if it’s not? Things are starting to get very weird with Nintendo’s retro catalog. Nintendo has physical consoles that play old NES and SNES games (though they still have not confirmed the SNES exists), they have this online service “selection” containing NES and SNES games, and presumably they still have Virtual Console itself on the horizon, with all those games and others (which they are also not talking about). Do we really need this many paths to these games in this day and age? This is why I’m actually hoping Virtual Console is integrated into the Switch’s online service, but nothing Nintendo put forth yesterday seems to indicate that’s what’s happening from what I can tell. If this is how Virtual Console is going to work going forward, why is Nintendo not saying that outright and painting this as a rollout for the much-anticipated return of the service?
And while this VC/not VC issue is the most noticeable, there are still many other questions as well. Why was this service delayed from a specific point in time in 2017 (fall) to an unspecified point in time in 2018? Why does it take so long to put together an online service when Xbox Live launched in 2002?
Also, yesterday, the big “Nintendo online” story of the day before all this other stuff broke was this seemingly ridiculous HORI device that appeared to be the first look at how the Switch will integrate voice chat with its coming phone app, a comic collection of wires and ports that look like several technological steps backward from current consoles with that functionality. When I asked Nintendo if their own official voice chat peripherals would look anything like this, I once again got the old “We have nothing to announce on this topic.” But as of last night, it’s clear Nintendo is still determined to use this phone app idea, so it’s hard to see how it would not look something like this.
I am glad the Switch online service will cost almost nothing and they’ve ditched the idea of time-limited free games. But Nintendo is still being incredibly vague about their plans for Virtual Console and some of the key components of their online service, all the while delaying its rollout past what already seemed like a strange delay initially. Once again, I find I have more questions than answers about Nintendo’s online plans, and I have no idea when that’s going to change. Sometime in 2018, it looks like. Maybe.
Update: Hate to say I told you so but…
“Classic Games Selection (tentative name) is different from the [Virtual Console],” a spokesperson told the Japanese magazine Famitsu. And they said Nintendo’s plans for Virtual Console on Switch are “still undecided.”
So, at least Nintendo is being more clear about their lack of clarity, and hopefully this stops these claims about how Nintendo just revealed some sort of Netflix-like Virtual Console when really it’s just a few free games in a totally separate system. Again, I think it would be good if Nintendo’s online service was integrated with the Virtual Console, but clearly they’re not so sure at this point.