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I think even the most ardent fan of Nintendo can admit that their approach to online play pales in comparison to other hardware manufactures. Nintendo has online play with some bells and whistles, but they’re still considerably behind the competition. Thanks to a new internal Q&A about Nintendo Switch Sports, we now have a little insight into why that is!
In a special Nintendo Switch Sports feature, Nintendo breaks down the work that went into the online aspects of the game. Nintendo opened up about the process, and it seems they had quite a lot of internal struggles with numerous aspects. Nintendo’s team even had a debate about what online play should be called, as they didn’t want to scare away new players with the terminology.
Yoshikazu Yamashita: First of all, if you look at the design, you can see that we placed the option for online matches at the top of the menu. When you make a party game, you would normally think that the order on the menu would be “Play with Family,” “Play with Friends,” followed by “Play Online.” But in this title, we wanted to get rid of that feeling of getting ready to go online. Therefore, the menu looks like this.
Junji Morii: It’s not written in such a way that “Play online” is the main focus.
Yoshikazu Yamashita: Some people said that they would be too scared to select if it said “Play Online.” Therefore, we tried to ensure that the word “online” does not stand out too much. After all, players can play with someone in any of the options. The only difference is whether it is a family member or friend close to you or someone else somewhere in the world.
When you see Nintendo put copious thoughts into the online verbiage alone, you start to see why the entire area of online play is something the company has a tough time with!
Of course, there were also struggles with implementing online in gameplay overall. Nintendo’s team detailed just how difficult it is to add online play to a game that utilizes motion controls as the only method of player input.
Yamashita: For example, in Tennis where players play next to each other in a local multiplayer, the program recognizes if the player twists their racket – the Joy-Con controller – after swinging it, while the ball is flying, and changes the direction of the ball. Players can enjoy a smooth response by seeing the direction of the ball change as they twist their racket and experience the game immediately responding to their movement when hitting the ball. However, since there would be some time lag in online play, the ball may have already reached the opponent by the time the game recognized that you have “twisted the racket” and tried to change the ball’s behavior. That is why we cannot use the same program.
Shinji Okane: Since it was difficult for us to apply the know-how we gained in local multiplayer to achieve a better response, we had to rethink new ways for movement detection suitable for online matches. Moreover, the areas that needed tuning were completely different for each sport. Making each sport available for online play took as much work as creating a new online game. That is why I said over and over again how difficult it would be to make all sports playable online.
These issues Nintendo faced might make them seem like they spend too much time on every little aspect of their games, but truth be told, if Nintendo didn’t do that, they wouldn’t be Nintendo! As usual, Nintendo being Nintendo is one of the biggest reasons for their success, yet it can also work against them.