Nintendo has finally revealed the new pricing structure for Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack. Coming in at $49.99 for an individual 12-month membership, the news broke alongside the reveal that the Happy Home Paradise expansion for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, itself $25, would also be a part of the deal. It was a clever way to soften the blow, but judging by the reactions of most fans online (and in our comments section), it wasn’t enough to distract people from the huge price jump for the new Nintendo Switch Online tier that will include Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games. But what is it that creates the perception that the price tag of Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is a poor value for money? Put simply, it isn’t offering enough quantity and quality content for the asking price, and when compared to the competition, that becomes even clearer.
PlayStation is providing consistent quality content
PlayStation made the move to a paid online service at the start of the PlayStation 4 generation. To make the value apparent, it emphasized the addition of free monthly games and a stronger online infrastructure. When Nintendo Switch Online launched, it was a year and a half after fans were already accustomed to free online multiplayer on Switch, and it didn’t offer monthly modern games to make the deal sweeter. But fans could accept the NES and SNES collections given the cheap $19.99 annual asking price. What is less acceptable is that, in 2021, Nintendo still hasn’t improved its online connectivity issues, and while that may change one day, asking fans to pay more than double the price for a second tier with the same issues is a hard pill to swallow.
Looking at the exact offering from Sony, PlayStation Plus charges $59.99 a year and provides players with online access, free monthly games, discounts, 100 GB of cloud storage, and in-game bonuses like cosmetics. For the same price, PlayStation Now lets players access an expansive library of games on their console or PC via streaming or direct download. On the surface, PlayStation and Xbox offer multiple tiers of services with similar goals. By including online play and a collection of games in one service, Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is merging these ideas into one, but it isn’t achieving the same value proposition as either.
We’ve established that paying for online functionality is fruitless considering Nintendo’s network woes, and while the NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, and Sega Genesis games sound like a good deal on paper, many of the provided games are not especially impressive or are available as part of more impressive collections. Unique new titles like Tetris 99 and Pac-Man 99 add value to the package, but these are also once-in-a-year type affairs and can’t be compared to how Xbox and PlayStation provide free games each month. You could point towards the Happy Home Paradise DLC for New Horizons as a valuable inclusion, but what about players that don’t care for Animal Crossing? Paying for cloud saves is comparable to on PlayStation, but even here, Nintendo doesn’t offer it for all of its games.
Xbox is offering the best value in gaming
Comparing Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack to services offered by Xbox really puts things into perspective as far as value goes. Xbox Live Gold costs about $60 a year and provides online functionality, discounts, and up to four free games per month. For $120 a year, Xbox Game Pass offers subscribers access to a library of hundreds of games, including day-one releases of all future first-party titles. Finally, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate combines the above services for $180 per year and throws in perks like Disney+ or Spotify subscriptions and even Xbox Cloud Gaming at no extra charge.
No matter how you slice it, it’s an incredible value for money. Considering that most games are $60 a pop, or more on next-gen, that means that for the price of three new games, a Game Pass Ultimate subscriber is getting every new Xbox release, free monthly games, streaming capabilities, and a growing library of games they might not even know they wanted. (It is worth noting though that Game Pass is reportedly not profitable yet for Microsoft.)
The $49.99 yearly price tag for Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is certainly cheaper and has some basic similarities. Subscribers are given access to online play, discounts, cloud saves, and a collection of legacy games. However, from here it starts to falter. Cloud saves are free for all players on Xbox devices, and whereas Xbox is releasing brand new titles on its services, Nintendo is largely sticking to games that are more than 20 years old at this point. There’s an argument to be made for how timeless games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are, but these are games that most Nintendo fans have played and bought before and once had the ability to purchase individually for a nominal price.
In terms of quantity, there is also a disparity on offer here. The N64 library is launching with less than 10 titles, with more to be added over time. However, the NES and SNES libraries have only been updated sporadically, and often with games that most fans have no interest in.
Nintendo has done better in the past
Nintendo Switch Online is the company’s first especially noteworthy foray into online subscriptions, but it’s still comparable to services Nintendo has offered in the past in terms of value. Just one generation ago, the Wii U and 3DS did not have a monetary cost associated with online play, and they also gave players Virtual Console, a service where players could buy legacy games from past consoles for reasonable individual prices. It served as an answer for fans that wanted to play older Nintendo titles in a cheap and convenient manner, and it had a far broader selection of games to choose from to boot. Nintendo considers Nintendo Switch Online as a sort of replacement for the Virtual Console, but considering the enormous gap between the libraries of the two services right now, it’s hard to say that’s true.
From a glass-half-full perspective, you might consider Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack as a replacement for true backward compatibility. But even with this approach, Nintendo is being outdone by the stellar backward-compatibility support of rivals like Xbox. A final consideration is that Nintendo is offering a discount for players that want to move from the standard tier to the Expansion Pack, but the amount of money it saves is quite small.
Paying to play online games is an unfortunate side effect of console gaming, but Nintendo’s rivals have already been proving how it can add value to the gaming experience. When compared to the competition, Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is charging a similar amount but offering a fraction of the value thanks to a lack of stable connectivity, regular free games, and a less impressive breadth of titles.
Do you think the price of Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is a good value?