That's the bad news. The good, however, is that online multiplayer — currently offered on a per title basis — will remain gratis until the paid service is ready to rock and roll. Front or back half of next year? Nintendo is only saying "2018" at this point.
But it's also divulging other details we didn't yet know. As expected, the full service will involve a devoted smartphone app that interacts with your Nintendo Switch and helps you link up with friends for online play. The app will include an online lobby and voice chat, says Nintendo, including the option to invite friends to play online, set play appointments or chat with friends during online matches in games that support the feature — "all from your smart device," says Nintendo.
Subscribers will be able to download classic Nintendo titles with additional online features, including Super Mario Bros. 3, Balloon Fight and Dr. Mario, says the company. They may also enjoy discounts on select titles and other content as a side perk. And Nintendo is finally talking service pricing, revealing three tiers: $3.99 per month, $7.99 per three months or $19.99 per 12 months. Microsoft and Sony, whose established services would at this point yield apples-to-oranges comparisons with Nintendo's, each offer online subscription plans for $59.99 a year.
As of today, the only "paid online" features not available are the online lobby and voice chat app, "classic game selection" (Nintendo notes this name is "subject to change"), and eShop deals. Everything else announced so far is live now.
Why not integrate these smartphone app features into the Switch itself? Isn't the Switch essentially a smartphone-ish device shifted sideways? Who knows the mind of Nintendo, but we can speculate a bit, like noticing that smartphones are vastly better at being general social engagement hubs than gamepads interfacing with consoles. Yes, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are fine, honed tools for game-focused matchmaking. But think about the curious ways Nintendo has been drawing together its mobile apps, Switch games, master account system and rewards program. Maybe it's aiming higher, or broader, or flat out weirder. We'll see.
Whatever the case, Nintendo says a "free" and "limited" version of the smartphone app will be downloadable this summer, presumably as a beta test. And I assume we'll hear much more about this in just a few short weeks at E3.