Consider this your regularly scheduled reminder that Nintendo doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing to online multiplayer games.
Today’s story comes from Hori, a longtime gaming peripheral manufacturer best known for its “fighting stick” controllers. Company unveiled the world’s first Nintendo Switch-compatible headset on Thursday morning, and it’s a weird one. Wait, this headset needs a dongle to work? And a phone?
As shown above, Hori’s headset solution requires a bit more cables and components than an average gaming system headset. The illustration recalls Nintendo’s own announcement earlier this year that the Switch’s eventual online gaming service will come with a companion app for both iOS and Android devices. When it was announced, Nintendo advertised this app ecosystem as a cleaner, easier way to navigate the social aspects of game services, including friend lists, matchmaking, and voice chat compared to console solutions.
With this Hori announcement, we can confirm what Ars theorized back in January: that all voice chat in multiplayer games for Nintendo Switch will be exclusively via the smartphone app. The headset’s artistic ties to the splatoon shooter series hints at Nintendo’s app service launching in time for the July release of Splatoon 2though Nintendo still hasn’t confirmed when the app, or the still-unnamed online service it’s linked to, will launch.
Not so smart glass
My concern about this issue stems mainly from my experience connecting apps for smart devices to other gaming systems. It’s never been “great”.
Smartglass launched as a limited “use your phone as a remote” app for the Xbox 360. I threw this in the trash almost immediately due to delays between tapping the phone button and responses on my Xbox. Shortly after, a separate Smartglass app went live for Xbox One. Eventually video games supported Smartglass modes, especially the first Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare game. This worked by allowing players to take on a ‘commander’ role in online battles. Instead of manually controlling a cartoonish soldier in the game, they can tap the screen of a smartphone or tablet to manage elements on the battlefield.
While the mode worked mostly as advertised, it suffered from slow performance and aspect ratio curvature due to its reliance on HTML5 as an interface. (This was especially bad if you accidentally turned your device while playing, which would temporarily distort and distort the entire live gameplay feed.) PlayStation 4 owners can similarly connect a few games to the PlayStation app for smart-games. devices. Again, this usually works by displaying HTML5 feeds, and these suffer from issues such as ratio distortions, hard-tap buttons, and unpleasant lags between your taps and responses in your games.
Nintendo’s plan may be different, but not enough to allay my concerns. As advertised, it shuts down the entire friends list ecosystem on your phone as opposed to offering dedicated app game controls. But this still requires an elegant connection to your live Switch gameplay.
In Nintendo’s case, the last thing I want is… Lake loose clutter in the process of connecting with my friends. If I want to hear a party of four friends talking in a game, I have to guarantee a second clear signal to the Nintendo servers. In addition, Nintendo must guarantee a rock-solid connection between my three friends, my three friends’ Switch consoles, and my three friends’ smart devices. (If we want to hear important in-game audio as we talk to each other, we need to come up with a solution: either a one-ear headset with TV audio, or a complicated headset solution a la Hori’s offering.)
The Switch already requires Nintendo’s danged “friend code” system to connect with familiar friends, and every online Switch game released to date has its own version of matchmaking – which took some weird menu hopping to connect. make with friends depending on the game. It is still unknown if existing games will allow Switch friends to connect more elegantly, or if these older games will be left behind by the protocol of this new Switch app; the latter situation will only add to the confusion of this new app. We’re also still waiting to hear exactly how much the service will cost and how the “one free limited-time game per month” benefit will play out.
What, you don’t have a roof?
Why add these extra points of redundancy and possible failure? Nintendo hasn’t admitted this, but the app ecosystem may have been developed as a compromise to preserve the Switch’s home-portable hybrid nature.
When playing in ‘docked’ or ‘tablet’ mode, the system’s only headphone jack is inaccessible. Nintendo has chosen not to include a headphone jack in its Joy-Con controllers, much like PS4 and (newer) Xbox One controllers. Perhaps that was because of concerns about motion-driven games. Additionally, Switch doesn’t support Bluetooth headsets, perhaps to increase the reliability of the Joy-Con signal (since all Switch controllers work exclusively over Bluetooth and just happen to be able to connect four separate controllers to a Switch at the same time).
As a result, it feels like Nintendo is treating online matchmaking and voice chat as a “niche” feature, which is somehow worthwhile for interested players, but not in a way that would force the Switch’s engineers a tidier to make solution. That’s the company’s privilege, but Nintendo is about to charge players through its paid online service for the privilege of jumping through these hoops. According to Nintendo, Switch owners will get free trial access to the service for the first few months. Those months will be a big test of whether Nintendo’s service is worth paying for if it starts to cost money in the fall.
List image by Hori