Can the Switch Learn From the Wii U’s Bad Online Service?

A look at what made the Wii U's Service bad, and how the Switch can improve

Nintendo are destined to repeat their online service mistakes, unless they learn from the Wii U’s failings. While the Wii U’s online service was mostly functional, it was primitive. As the Switch’s online features aren’t fully up and running yet, Nintendo still have time to carefully ponder what players need from the service; especially if we’re expected to pay for the pleasure this time around. What better time to reflect on the Wii U, and what the Switch’s service should be.

Online games struggled on the Wii U, I’d frequently get disconnected from Mario Kart 8, and being based on a peer-to-peer service, Super Smash Bros would occasionally lag like crazy. In a fighting game continuity of game play is critical!

Source: Splatnet – Splatoon Stage Rotation Website

Splatoon, to the game’s credit, usually ran well online, but was let down by its map rotations. The 4-hour rotation of 2 maps wasn’t an issue on release, as the maps were coupled initially to enable you to customise your loadouts to the maps. But, due to its constant updates, the initial 5 maps grew to 16. This meant you’d have to wait a couple of days for a particular map to be in the rotation, which Nintendo realised and released a companion website.

Of course, this map usually surfaced while I was work, so I’d wait another couple of days; it happened more than I’d have liked. Playing the same maps eventually grew tiresome; luckily, my enjoyment wasn’t hampered, as Splatoon was otherwise fun to play. Although you could play with friends easily, the game wouldn’t always place you on the same team. It was refreshing to beat your friend in one game, then play on the same team and talk tactics.

Super Mario Maker made it confusingly hard to find your friends’ creations. The Wii U had an inbuilt friends list, which in this instance wasn’t ever used. To share your creation with a friend, you’d have to hand out a level code; talk about making things difficult!

It’s these annoyances Nintendo need to iron out, proving they’ve learned from their mistakes, in the Switch’s online beta.

Beta is Beta

Presently the Switch has a barebones online mode. For whatever reason, the online service is currently in Beta – a first for any console – until autumn. At this stage it will become a paid service. In this short space of time Nintendo need to sell the service to us; otherwise, people won’t want to pay. So what are its offerings presently?

Online Play

There are currently two games, Fast RMX and Super Bomberman R, offering online play for the Switch. What baffles me is that Fast RMX doesn’t currently use the consoles friends list – this feature will be patched in soon – so playing with friends is impossible. If the Switch is to be a success, developers need to offer friend support, for online modes, off the bat and not ‘soon’.

The next game offering online play will technically be Splatoon 2’s Test Fire on the 24th March. Much like the original games’ test, the Splatoon 2 Test Fire will run for a number of 1-hour sessions. The first game overlooked the ability to play with friends too, which was a shame, so here’s hoping you can this time.

The Da Vinci [Friend] Code

Just before the Switch’s launch, Nintendo gave people the chance to claim their unique User ID’s. It would have made sense to link this magical User ID and Friends Lists. Alas, no. If you search hard enough in the menus, you can find your User ID, but other than that, it’s unused.

Source: The Switch’s Friend List

You have the option to add people locally, through linked apps, or use…Friend Codes. Friend Codes have been a point of contention for the last 10 years. When people ask to add me, the conversation goes along the lines of, ‘Sure, it’s SW-1848-53…fu*k’. I’d love to tell people to look for Ryew. I can with every other non-Nintendo console, so why not the Switch? At least by using unique User ID’s you know who someone is.

Unfortunately, when someone sends a friend request, you only see their profile name — all I know is ‘Jimbob’ has added me. Who the hell was he again?! At least if someone has used the ‘suggested friends’ section, which links to Nintendo’s mobile games, like Miitomo, it references that User ID.

I get that Nintendo like giving privacy options to players, but there’s a decline button for people you don’t know! If it’s because kids might receive requests from strangers, surely it wouldn’t take much for the parental controls on kids’ accounts (or the parental app) to use the Friend Code system instead of User ID’s? I’m sure parents’ priority is to know who their children are playing with online.

eShop and Virtual Console

The eShop, while it looks very sleek, is currently only good at showing new or upcoming games, others aren’t visible when they fall out of these categories. Luckily, the search feature seems more functional than its predecessors. While not immediately obvious, you can search for games by name, price range and genre.  For example, typing ‘breath’ brings up Zelda: Breath of the Wild and ‘action’ lists all games currently available in that genre.

Nintendo have left plenty of space on the menu bar to add extra categories later down the line. Presently the eShop doesn’t have any apps (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon), or Virtual Console games.

Source: The Switch eShop

When the Wii U first released, Nintendo gave Wii owners the option to re-buy, for a fraction of the cost, Virtual Console games they’d previously purchased. I’m hoping that now Nintendo have tied their online accounts together, previous Wii U eShop purchases will transfer over, or at the very least customers are given a cut-price option again. Not only would this be more attractive to Wii U owners yet to convert, it would bridge the gap until the system has a brimming library of games.

While the Switch doesn’t currently have a Virtual Console, Nintendo have stated that the paid service will offer an NES, or SNES game free, for a month. These games will also offer some online features, which is surprisingly nice given their age. I still think it’s a shame we’ll lose these games after the month is over, however, considering the proposed price is between 2,000 – 3,000 yen (approximately £15 – £20 or $17 – $26) a year, I won’t lose sleep over their monthly demise. Maybe offering these games at a discounted price, in the subsequent month, would be a nice compromise?

I’d love to be offered 3DS and Wii U games too, even if these aren’t free, but, due to differences in hardware, mainly the second screen (which could be emulated), we may not see these. While this would be nice, it’s not a major want.

Cloud Saves

Having my Switch stolen is one of my main fears. I want to be able to back up my save files. While you can recover downloaded games by making the new Switch the Primary console, save files will be gone forever. Likewise, if the console is replaced, due to a fault, you’re in the same boat.

The Wii U didn’t offer cloud saves, which wasn’t an issue at the time, but you could copy save files onto an SD Card or USB stick. This isn’t the case with the Switch. Your progress is stored on the internal 32 GB hard drive, and presently, nowhere else.

Source: Polygon – You cannot use SD cards on multiple Switch consoles

Even if saves could be loaded to an SD card, Nintendo have been fairly strict, stopping cards being used in another console, unless they’re formatted. This lockdown on SD cards probably has something to do with piracy, which became rife on the Wii U. However, if we can back up saves in the cloud, the inability to do so on SD cards becomes a non-issue.

That said, as you may be quite mobile with the system, most of the time it won’t be connected to the internet. The effectiveness of a cloud system will therefore be limited, but, if given the choice, I’d prefer to lose my progress since the last cloud backup than everything all together!

Whether Nintendo sees Microsoft and Sony as their competition, both rival services offer cloud saves, although PS+ and XBox Gold do cost more. While this would give Nintendo’s paid service more value, at its price cloud saves are unlikely.

One App to Rule Them All

Nintendo could gain an edge over their rivals through their online app, which will house voice communication and online lobbies. Due to the Switch’s portable nature, an app is a wise choice. Sure, you could tether your Switch to a phone, and use an inbuilt system, but this seems more hassle than it’s worth; also it’s not possible on all phone networks. A major criticism of Splatoon was its lack of voice communication, meaning the majority of my friends used Skype while playing. Giving consumers more options is always better, especially when other services aren’t always the best, although how many people will use the app at home remains to be seen.

Source: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Overview trailer (Nintendo Switch)

I’m hoping game lobbies aren’t formed purely in the app, as this would be stupid and unintuitive; what a nightmare that would be! I found Battlefield 3 & 4’s web browser based ‘Battlelog’ (used for finding and starting games) to be extremely clunky, and their system used the machine you played on. On the bright side, the most recent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe trailer showed a friends option in the multiplayer menu, much like the Wii U version has. So I don’t think the app will be the only way to start a party. At least…I hope it isn’t.

Going Forward

In conclusion, service stability and friend integration are the top priority for the Switch. If Nintendo can nail both of these, along with offering a well laid out eShop and method to back up saves, they’re onto a winner. Whether they will though, only time will tell.

Are there any features you want the Switch’s online service to have, but I’ve missed? Let me know below, or hit me up on Twitter!

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Andy spent his childhood staying up late, playing games and eating junk food. He now writes about games too, nothing else has changed. You’ll mostly find him playing Overwatch and streaming games badly on Twitch.tv.

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