So the other day Nintendo dropped their Switch Online service. After 18 months of online play with the likes of Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 DX, anyone wishing to continue to play these games over the internet must now subscribe to the online service. Here are my thoughts on the service as we’ve seen so far, and further on equivalent services from Nintendo’s rivals.
What you get:
Nintendo Switch – €19,99 per year for an individual, €34,99 for a family account allowing up to 8 members. A handful of online-capable games available, and a library of NES games with added online multiplayer functionality. Discounts on select eShop games are promised soon. Controversially, the online subscription also provides a cloud service for your save games – much like PlayStation Plus (Xbox One provides this for free as standard). The difference, and the reason for the controversy, is that Nintendo provide no local manner in which to back up your saves, so if you don’t pay you lose it all in the event of a broken or lost console.
Sony PlayStation 4 – €59,99 per year gets you online in any game that supports it, discounts on many games on the PlayStation Store. Included games every month include two PS4 and two PS3 titles, sometimes with crossplay which means you get up to 4 PS4 games and many of them also work on PS Vita. Lately they’ve been including PSVR games too. PS3 games will be phased out in the next few months.
Microsoft Xbox One – €59,99 per year. Much like PlayStation Plus, Xbox Gold unlocks full online play on all available games, discounts on select games in the Xbox Store, and included monthly games. Two for Xbox One, and two for Xbox 360. The 360 games always work on Xbox One thanks to backwards compatibility. The big standout is that Microsoft allow you to keep all the Xbox 360 games forever, even if you unsubscribe – so even ignoring the other benefits, for €60 you’re getting 24 games to keep. Nice.
Value for money:
On the surface, It seems Nintendo provides the best value, at one third of the cost, or much less if you sign up with 7 others for the family account. But when you look at what you get for that money, it starts to look pretty weak. Only a couple of games exist with online multiplayer (Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 DX being the main two). For 18 months these have been playable with no additional costs – longer when you consider their Wii U versions.
PlayStation Plus and Xbox Gold may cost a good chunk more, but those consoles also provide considerably more online playable titles, and I would argue much better value in the included games – after all, so far the NES games included with Switch Online include Super Mario Bros 1 and 3 amongst a heap of games I could not care less about (Subjective I know), but anyway most of them are the same games you’ve already bought on various systems previously. “Oh but you can play them on the go”. Well yes, but they’re also available (for individual purchase – which they are not on Switch) on 3DS. Not to mention the ease with which you can emulate NES on various handheld systems. So that’s not enough to entice me. For balance, the games are very well emulated, and look great on the Switch’s lovely screen.
Microsoft are clear winners in the value stakes, for the Xbox 360 library you can build and keep.
Issues of storage:
Both PS4 and Xbox One have internal hard drives, upgradable, to store your game purchases. They also both require full installations of all disc-based games, so if you buy a lot of them you’re likely to need to upgrade quite quickly even if you opt for the larger 1 or 2TB options. Thankfully both consoles make this quite simple, with support for USB 3.0 hard drives – and both provide enough power to their USB ports to support a 2.5″ drive with no additional power.
Nintendo Switch has a paltry 32GB of internal flash memory, and support for Micro SD. I recently upgraded mine with a 256GB Micro SD, which cost €79 – the same as a 4TB (i.e. 16 times the capacity) USB hard drive that I use with my PS4. This simple fact makes the Switch a less viable platform for a downloaded game library, even with the games being generally a lot smaller. Perhaps this is why Nintendo have opted for only NES titles with its online service, which take up almost no space.
Where my money is:
For years I paid for Xbox Gold, from about 2004 to 2010, so I could play Rainbow Six 3 and Links 2004 with y mate mike. Back then there were no additional benefits to the service besides being able to access online servers.
Then I got a PlayStation 3 and Sony started to offer free games with the online service. Whilst I rarely played online, I did enjoy the included games, so I switched to PS Plus until very recently when I let it lapse. There came a point where I felt that the games they gave me had little value – I had by then purchased all the games I really wanted, and many of the extra games that they gave me were of little interest; disposable, short-term fun.
A few months ago I started paying for Xbox Gold, and recently found an online store selling a year for €40, so I jumped on it. I still don’t really play online much at all, so the main benefit comes with the included games which seem to be of a much higher quality than those offered by Sony. And the fact you keep the Xbox 360 games after it all is brilliant. And then I am able to occasionally play Forza online, which is nice.
So for the time being, my online allegiance is to Microsoft. If I only had a PlayStation then PS Plus is also perfectly serviceable. Nintendo have a lot of work to do before their service provides any kind of value to the consumer. They need to stop relying on their ancient NES games to carry them.
The thing is, if Nintendo provided the games individually on their eShop is probably buy a couple of them. I just bought Sonic The Hedgehog for probably the 15th time. When the price is right it makes sense. But I can play Sonic now basically forever.
All three services provide a free trial period – 14 days on PlayStation or Xbox, 7 days on Switch, so you can have a go at any of them and see what you think.
I haven’t mentioned Steam here. I don’t think a fair comparison can be made, after all Steam is primarily a shopping platform with a front end to organise your purchase and an overlay to help with online play. It’s a great service, one I used to use an awful lot before my right hand gave up and made using a mouse impossible. Whilst online gaming on PC is (for the most part) free, it is also supported by private servers, for which some individual or organisation is paying. Besides, it’s not a closed platform as the consoles are.
Incidentally, those online PC games that do charge, such as World of Warcraft, cost annually more than any of the console services. For one game.