With the day one system software update for the Nintendo Switch now live, the console’s online infrastructure is now accessible, giving us a good look at what, if anything, Nintendo have learned from their competitors.
The first hurdle is in making sure you have a Nintendo Account. These were introduced almost a year ago, with Nintendo looking to step away from and simplify their online structure. If you already have a Nintendo Network ID or have been signing in with Facebook, Twitter or Google, you can still do that, but the Nintendo Account hinges on a new log in, a new User ID and creating a new password. Having already set mine up last week, I could sign in without issue, but it’s bound to be confusing for those expecting Nintendo to have built upon what they had on the Wii U, instead of dropping it by the wayside.
With a nice and shiny new User ID in hand, you’d expect to be able to just pass that little nugget of information across to friends and add each other as friends, wouldn’t you? Well, Nintendo don’t think like you and I, unfortunately. You have a few ways to add a friend, but none of them are that simplistic. You can search for local users, send requests to people you’ve played with online, add people you have on your friends lists in Miitomo, Super Mario Run and other mobile games tied to your Nintendo Account, or fall back to Nintendo’s faithful friend code system. What could be more convenient than passing along a twelve digit code?
It’s baffling as to why that’s the case. It’s clearly not from a privacy point of view, as you can block friend requests entirely, block individual players, and you’re able to receive requests from people you bump into in online games.
In fact, privacy settings are fairly standard. You can adjust who can see your online status from nobody to all friends and just best friends, the same for play activity, whether you get online user notifications, and so on. These are basic and functional, just as the ability to share screenshots to Facebook and Twitter prove to be.
The eShop is also surprisingly barebones at the moment. In fact, it’s rather flat and lifeless compared to the main Switch UI, let alone the bustling layout of the Wii U. It feels like an early placeholder set up, with a basic orange navigation menu on the left and then large tiles for all the games.
However, the most bizarre point is that you need to input your account password in order to even browse the store. You can tell it to skip this step in future, but this is the only example I can think where the authentication happens at the shop door and not at the till. Surely it’s better to let people browse your wares and have the authentication at the point of purchase?
More robust and fully featured are the parental controls that went live with an accompanying smartphone app. After a slightly disjointed set up process – you have to log into the app on the phone, copy a code to the Switch, and you’ll likely want to set up your own PIN code to turn parental controls off temporarily – you’re presented with a comprehensive set of tools.
When connected online, the Switch will regularly report on play sessions and you can receive notifications to alert you about how the Switch is being used as well as a monthly summary. Beyond that, you can set a bed time alarm from 6PM onwards that day, which will ring a notification in the top left corner, and set a playtime limit for each day. If absolutely necessary, taking a hardline approach lets you suspend software for anyone without a PIN code. All of this can be done remotely, showing the power of putting such features into a smartphone app.
Of course, that’s also Nintendo’s plan for the majority of friends, party and online play interactions. I personally think it’s nice to have that possibility to get in touch via a Nintendo Switch app, but not at the expense of having the core functionality to send messages, set up parties and play on the Switch itself. I genuinely hope that the Switch has enough processing power and Nintendo the will to add that down the line.
It’s early days yet, but I must say that it’s slightly disappointing to see Nintendo falling into some of the same patterns as before. The reliance on friend codes in particular shows they’ve not really learnt from the past, but the Switch is a console that feels like it can evolve and grow over time.