Nintendo Switch Follow-up: Party & Voice Chat

By | 01/27/2017

A few weeks have gone by since the official Nintendo Switch reveal.  There have been several press releases and interviews since that time.  I want to break down the details of Nintendo’s most confusing statement so far:

Voice/Party chat is not integrated.  You have to use a smartphone companion app. (Official statement but unconfirmed reality)

WIRED was able to obtain an interview with Reggie Fils-Aime.  The most interesting piece of the interview is near the beginning when Reggie states that voice chat is not integrated into the Switch.  Voice chat will be on a smartphone companion app.  Let that sink in: Voice chat, an integrated part of the modern gaming experience, will be relegated to a smartphone app.  Reggie then goes on to talk about how the solution is “sweet” and it helps the gamer avoid taking out a “bulky gamer headset.”

I’m trying to stay as impartial and objective with the Switch as possible but this has to be one of the most non-nonsensical things I have ever seen Nintendo do.  There are so many things wrong with this maneuver, so to speak.  One of the most basic software design principles is that the user should not have to go somewhere else do something.  They should be able to do whatever they need to do right in the application.  It’s completely reasonable to expect voice & party chat to be integrated right into the Switch in 2017.  Sending the player/user to their phone to start a voice chat session completely removes the person from the Switch.  By asking the user to “leave” the Switch and open a smartphone app, Nintendo creates distractions and potential failure modes.

  • Two devices must be carried at all times.
  • What if the smartphone is dead?
  • What if the person is on a limited data plan?
  • What if the application isn’t stable?
  • Human beings only have two ears.  How the hell is a person supposed to use their Switch headphones and their smart phone voice headset?

If this wasn’t confusing enough already…

At the time of writing this, a gaming headset has appeared on GameStop’s website that appears to contradict Nintendo’s position.  This headset has both sound and voice capabilities and the description states that it should/can be plugged into the Switch.  So what is it Nintendo?  Is the app the only way to access voice and social features?  Is the app only complimentary and all the basic functions (voice, party chat, etc) are built into the Switch software/hardware already?  As usual, Nintendo is not confirming anything.

Now let’s take a look at Nintendo’s official spec page that just got released.  The console specification page has this on it:

Image snippet from Switch official spec page.  Original Image Credit: Nintendo

They are confirming the audio jack works for standard headsets.  I think I know what might be going on here…

Nintendo is just being Nintendo and leaving the specifics up to third party developers.  Nintendo didn’t put any voice chat lobbies into the Switch operating system (similar to Xbox live party chat) but instead created a mobile application where you can put all your friends into one chat room and talk with them on the mobile app.  (We could probably debate the usefulness of this, considering Skype and countless other options already exist, but it is what it is.)  What they did is allow the attachment of standard headsets so third party games can still use voice chat within the game itself (think of a matchmaking lobby or team chat during a game).  Obviously this is only an educated guess but I have enough experience with Nintendo over the years to know they don’t really care about party chat / group voice chat.  They don’t treat it as a core competency and it shows.  They are banking on their demographic not caring about it (more on that later).

Consumers expect a seamless experience and this design choice is bizarre to say the least.  We’ll get more information soon enough when this thing goes live on launch day.  Expect this topic to come up again.