Opinion: Voice Chat on Nintendo Switch is Messy, But Not a Deal Breaker

While Nintendo should be taken to task for its backwards implementation of voice chat on Switch, consumers have been using its proposed workarounds for years.

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Long-suffering Nintendo fans know how to take the bad with the good. We have to. My friends and I had a blast playing Mario Kart Wii online back in 2008, but only after fussing with friend codes. Some of the best Mario levels I've ever played were designed by plucky kids who got their first taste of game design thanks to Super Mario Maker, only for Nintendo to delete their levels later on because they failed to catch on with popular streamers, whose opinions weighed heavily on the game's curation.

Nintendo's announcement of Nintendo Switch Online, the portable console's analogue to Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus, is the most recent in an interminable series of one-step-forward-two-steps-back decisions. On the bright side, the service will cost $20 a year, a third of Sony's and Microsoft's equivalents. Even better, Nintendo rethought its original plan to give and then take away one free classic game per month, instead offering constant access to a library of classic titles. That good news was muted somewhat by the reminder that voice chat, a feature you'll have to pay to use, is available through a smartphone app instead of the Switch.

Even as a fervent Nintendo apologist, I won't deny that voice chat on Switch is (or rather, will be, since Nintendo pushed back its rollout to sometime next year) messy and backwards. That said, I don't see its implementation as a big deal. Although I plan to subscribe to NSO, I probably won't use voice chat, and those players who wish to will be able to partake using simple and readily available workarounds that have been at their fingertips for years.

PlayStation 4's and Xbox One's built-in voice chat is both a blessing and a curse. Most public games are wastelands emitting a steady stream of noise pollution that sears my brain as much as my ears. Cursing, homophobic and racist slurs, and misogyny are disturbingly frequent. They're also just the tip of the iceberg. Not all players wear noise-cancelling headphones, subjecting everyone else to background commotion like barking dogs, screeching children, phone calls, and doorbells that make it difficult to think, let alone enjoy playing.

If you've got one of these, you probably already talk on it.

Nintendo solved that problem years ago by offering canned dialogue in multiplayer lobbies for games such as Mario Kart 8. Chat is disabled during play, the void filled by a game's soundtrack and sound effects. That solution works because chatter, while fun, adds nothing to games like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros., so nothing is lost. (And if you're prone to the sorts of appalling outbursts I am while playing Mario Kart, you're sparing everyone your base level of discourse, not just the tender young ears Nintendo had in mind when they decided to exclude voice chat from its online-enabled consoles years ago.)

If you're playing with friends, there are plenty of other, non-proprietary means of chatting during play. My wife and I played through Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls 2 on PS3. Since our consoles are set up in different rooms, we talked over our smartphones. When a friend joined us in Dark Souls 2, we piled into Skype calls or Popcorn lobbies, a third-party solution that took just a few minutes to decide on and enact.

Be honest: As convenient as a proprietary solution for voice chat on Switch would be, you likely keep your phone within arm's reach, if not even closer. What's the difference between fishing your phone out of your pocket to check social media or send texts in between matches, and syncing earbuds or a headset to your phone and jabber-jawing through a Switch app during the next round of a game such as Payday 2, which does often call for teammates to communicate to carry out tactics?

You could label Nintendo behind the times for its proposed implementation for voice chat, and you wouldn't be wrong. I'll also grant you that third-party solutions such as headsets from Japanese manufacturer Hori look absurdly complex to set up. That doesn't change the fact that you don't need to bother with such complicated solutions if you want or need to chat with others over Nintendo Switch Online. You already use your smartphone for almost everything else in your life. Why not use it for talking—rumor has it phones were invented for just that operation—in multiplayer games, too?

Contributing Editor

From The Chatty

  • reply
    June 2, 2017 1:10 PM

    David Craddock posted a new article, Opinion: Yes, Voice Chat on Nintendo Switch is Messy. Who Cares?

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      June 2, 2017 1:46 PM

      There is no upside to this implementation for players. It's just another piece of bad online service functionality from Nintendo indicative of the fact that they're still very very behind. Trying to apologize for it is silly. No one has read Nintendo's approach and said 'this is actually better because x/y/z.'

      Xbox Live shipped integrated voice chat 15 years ago (!!!). PSN, Steam and various other clients (ex Overwatch with Blizzard) have it built in despite 3rd party software options that you mention, because managing a second thing is annoying at best. No one has been clamoring for a smartphone based approach instead. There was plenty of marketing buzz and push around second screen experiences with consoles (SmartGlass, using the Vita iirc, using phone apps in conjunction with games). They all failed because it is in fact quite annoying to take your phone/tablet out all the time and check it regularly while you play. Sony or MS would be rightly mocked for a similarly half baked online service, especially one you're paying for.

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        June 2, 2017 2:48 PM

        ^^^ Voice chat is a solved problem. "We're not implementing this ourselves because there are perfectly good solutions already" would be a valid stance. Properly implementing their own would be good.

        The crap they're actually doing is pure incompetence, and they deserve to be raked over the coals and lose subscribers for it.

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      June 2, 2017 1:50 PM

      I'm not even sure I'm going to bother with their multiplayer service. In my mind, nintendo multiplayer is 4 people all looking at a big screen together. I guess I'm going to hold on to the last vestiges of a "lan party vibe" as I can.

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        June 2, 2017 1:51 PM

        Same. My opinion is colored by the fact that I don't care about online gaming or its associated particulars such as voice chat.

    • reply
      June 2, 2017 1:51 PM

      Damn. How am I supposed to keep up with the kids on all the new racial slurs without voip?

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      June 2, 2017 2:04 PM

      I think where being an apologist hurts this argument is you aren't thinking far out enough. What if blizzard wanting to bring HotS to the switch and wanted voice control? This solution could kill their ambition.

      The switch is a great gaming device, but it has some major flaws that others have solved already by other vendors. No Bluetooth, bad battery life, a horrible location for the USB-c plug. The Zelda gloss is keeping people from writing harsh hardware reviews. This hackatjon solution for audio may keep vendors or games away from the platform.

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        June 2, 2017 2:14 PM

        It has Bluetooth, it's just not enabled for what most people use bluetooth for (listening to stuff) because latency is a bitch, but hopefully that gets fixed later. The battery is less than ideal for sure, but given their lack of competition from the other guys it's probably not really hurting them. I do agree it's stupid that the USB-C plug is where it is. Should be on the top instead, got no excuse for that one.

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          June 2, 2017 2:28 PM

          My phone has Bluetooth. It has almost no latency when playing music or taking a call. You want to limit it to wifi? Fine. But it's still a jack solution for something fixed by many others long ago.

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            June 2, 2017 2:30 PM

            Agreed.

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            June 2, 2017 2:33 PM

            For better or worse, Nintendo is doing their own thing. Again. Switch is selling amazingly well so anyone trying to convince them they're wrong about anything has their work cut out. Then again, maybe not. Nintendo planned to offer subscribers one classic game per month, then take it away. They scraped that and went with constant access to classic games, like PS Plus and XBL Gold.

            Maybe voice chat will change before the service rolls out next year, but maybe not. Either way I don't think it's that onerous an approach.

          • reply
            June 2, 2017 6:03 PM

            How do you measuring latecy from streaming music?

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      June 2, 2017 2:07 PM

      It really seems like you shouldn't have wrote this article David due to your extreme bias in this case. It is your opinion but again I disagree strongly with it. This is complete garbage and going well people have a phone is such a huge copout to be garbage. As derelict515 mentions Microsoft had this built in 15 years ago.

      There is zero excuse for not having this streamlined and built into the switch control itself. None, anything else is just an excuse made by people who love Nintendo to try and give them more of an out they don't deserve.

      Don't get me wrong I love Nintendo and the Wii U and Switch are played way more than any other console I own but when a company does something dumb I'm going to call them out on it.

      It's simply unacceptable in 2017 to have these sorts of issues for a modern console.

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        June 2, 2017 2:19 PM

        I call Nintendo out on its shoddy voice-chat implementation, too! It's lame, but I also don't think it's a big deal, at least for the moment. As others such as johnhead and derelict515 mentioned, this approach could and probably will bite them. At the same time, I do think workarounds already available are viable and easy to use, if not ideal solutions.

        And of course I should have written the article. It's labeled "Opinion," and details mine. I could be wrong! Disagreement is good because it affords me the opportunity to hear what others have to say.

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          June 2, 2017 2:24 PM

          If the XB1 or PS4 shipped without voice chat and MS/Sony said 'just use your phone' everyone would rightly call it ridiculous. The difference is only that'd be a regression from a good service whereas this crappy Nintendo version is no worse than what they did before. But objectively the result is the same.

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            June 2, 2017 2:29 PM

            Yes, people would call it ridiculous, as I called Nintendo's approach ridiculous. As a counterpart to your argument, though, I'll only have to pay a one-third the cost of PS Plus and XBL Gold for Nintendo Switch Online, and I'll get access to classic games, online multiplayer, and extra discounts. Oh, yeah, and a shoddy-but-workable voice chat that I have to keep my phone handy to use.

            I'll deal.

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              June 2, 2017 2:30 PM

              Correction: I won't "have to" keep my phone handy because I won't need to use the Switch voice-chat app if I don't want to. Yes, their implementation is lame, but the pros outweigh the cons, at least on paper. We'll see how the execution pans out.

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              June 2, 2017 2:31 PM

              It's a good deal I think, and when was the last time anyone enjoyed speaking with the masses on psn or live anyways? I stopped talking or listening within a week of signing up to both services haha, it's unbearable.

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              June 2, 2017 2:41 PM

              people are ok paying for quality. XBL didn't drop their price in response to PSN's free multiplayer last generation. Instead Sony had to up the quality of their network and charge appropriately during the PS4 era. There're ~48m XBL subscribers. PSN has ~20m+. And this is in the face of Steam doing plenty of these things for free now too.

              No one doubts you'll deal. It just comes across as not understanding a huge demographic of the gaming market that has spoken with their money.

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              June 2, 2017 2:49 PM

              To be fair, being $40 cheaper over the course of 12 months is hardly that big of pro.

              If that .10 a day means something to you I recommend not investing in any game system.

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                June 2, 2017 3:26 PM

                Most people aren't going to do the math, and shouldn't have to. On paper, consumers will see $20/year versus $60/year. Switch Online's asking price is a no-brainer.

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                  June 2, 2017 3:28 PM

                  I don't think they will do the math. I don't think people will see $20 a year that much better than $60.

                  But we can agree to disagree :)

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                    June 2, 2017 3:30 PM

                    and one example, people overwhelming preferred XBL over PSN during the 360/PS3 generation and the most popular one wasn't free like the other :)

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                June 2, 2017 5:14 PM

                as primarily a pc gamer, I can swallow the $20 for the odd online game for the switch, for ps4/xb1, I can't agree with $50 if I'm just going to use it for one game (e.g. injustice 2)

        • reply
          June 2, 2017 2:25 PM

          Yep, it's an opinion piece I see nothing wrong with it personally

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            June 2, 2017 2:31 PM

            It's more an I don't care about this thing so here is an article. Either you do care or your opinion is irrelevant to the conversation since you don't care.

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              June 2, 2017 2:34 PM

              Now, now. That's unfair. I replied to you. We're having a discussion. You seem to expect me to not write down my thoughts on video games--which is literally what I get paid to do on most days--or agree with your side. Tut, tut, Chod. Tut, tut, tutty.

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                June 2, 2017 2:36 PM

                So yeah per my other post I don't have any issue with it being random chat here in the Chatty. The moment it hits the front page it becomes something different since the intention is clearly different. Sorry for any confusion.

                I don't hate you or anything.

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              June 2, 2017 2:35 PM

              Also let me clarify. As a Shacker I don't have any issue with the post, but since it's posted to the front page it's clearly designed to get traffic. As a non Shacknews member if I came across this I'd pretty much immediately leave.

              If the author doesn't care, why should I care?

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                June 2, 2017 2:36 PM

                Agreed, starting off your argument with "Who cares" is a surefire way to make me immediately disregard it.

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                  June 2, 2017 2:39 PM

                  I didn't choose the title, actually, but it's my article so I'll own it.

        • reply
          June 2, 2017 2:29 PM

          You have no issue with you writing it.

          I just think you are 100% wrong ;-)

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        June 2, 2017 2:21 PM

        It's also not true about Xbox Live for years now. Everyone uses party chat which means nobody talks to strangers anymore, which sucks in its own way.

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          June 2, 2017 2:37 PM

          Not to mention the whole "hearing bad words, dogs barking, and children crying oh my" part is just as easily applyable to Nintendo's chat system.

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            June 2, 2017 2:38 PM

            I kinda think it's silly and complicated enough that virtually no one will actually use it, so you won't hear bad words, dogs barking, or children crying.

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              June 2, 2017 2:41 PM

              Precisely! It's brilliant!

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                June 2, 2017 2:43 PM

                Multiplayer was SO MUCH BETTER before voice chat.

                Back then people had to stop and take time to type out their rage, which gave you time to find out where they were standing and shoot them in the face and cause more rage.

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                  June 2, 2017 2:46 PM

                  Long-term goal: Call Nintendo's tip hotline and relay messages for counselors to pass on to players if/when they call.

                • reply
                  June 2, 2017 2:53 PM

                  C'mon man, it's rude to shoot someone whole they're typing.

                  Unless they're a dick. Then it's OK.

    • reply
      June 2, 2017 2:41 PM

      I care.

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      June 2, 2017 4:54 PM

      I dunno. I mean, we used the Discord app for voice chat for Mario Kart 8D when we played. It worked just fine for that. I would rather do that than use a half-assed Nintendo voice channel that protects children and those that are faint of heart. I completely understand why they don't have classic voice chat like Xbox and PS though. The people on there are just ridiculous. Nintendo wants to stay clean to appeal with people with children. I don't think I'll use their voice app unless everyone else I play with starts using it. We all already have established Discord apps and shit. It's just easier to do that.

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        June 2, 2017 4:58 PM

        My point exactly. Sure, built-in chat would be ideal in most cases, and Nintendo deserves flak for how they're implementing their solution. But people have been using Discord, Skype, and other free chat programs for years.

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          June 2, 2017 4:59 PM

          Honestly j think even if Nintendo did a full chat channel thing, I would probsbly still use Discord for shackbattles and stuff like that.

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            June 2, 2017 5:16 PM

            Yep. I understand where you're coming from. Regardless of how well or poorly Nintendo's voice chat ends up working, people are entrenched in these other solutions. More than that, they're easy to set up and work smoothly. Streamers certainly aren't going to abandon apps like Discord, and haven't even for MS's and Sony's proprietary chats.

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        June 2, 2017 4:58 PM

        And you can use your phone phoneheadset with discord!

      • reply
        June 2, 2017 5:08 PM

        You're basically saying "I would rather use Discord than Nintendo's implementation because even the hypothetical better Nintendo implementation is would be shitty and annoying by comparison". That's... not great. A first party solution should be much better than Discord. The only advantage Discord should have is that it spans platforms so you could find your friend not currently in front of their gaming device. Although any first party service could implement apps for other systems that solve this problem in most cases (like an Xbox app for iOS and Windows, but not PS4). The first party service should otherwise just be better because it has more information to work with. The game/service understands exactly who is online playing right now, who is online playing something else, who is your friend, who is your party vs just in your match, who you've blocked/muted, who everyone has blocked/muted, etc. This is the stuff that makes XBL and PSN chat better than using your phone.

        I mean, if you want to say "I don't care about any of this because my online gaming is only ever chatting with my one friend and no one else" then ok but obviously a huge group of people don't operate that way and that's why this level of service seems so shitty.

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          June 2, 2017 5:12 PM

          I am saying that because the online game community thst uses Xbox and PSN are shitty communities that I don't want to have any part of. I hope Nintendo doesn't end up with a similar service because the communities ruin them completely. I stopped playing with random people when all the nastiness started years ago but Ratalon was playing some PSN games and people are assholes. I would MUCH rather have a clean experience via Nintendo OR use Discord to just chat with my friends that I play with. It worked very well the night we did it for MK8D and it works wonderfully when we play Fantasy Grounds for D&D.

          • reply
            June 2, 2017 5:21 PM

            You're describing who you want to play with. Nintendo's system is defining how you communicate with the people you choose to play with. They are separate things.

            If you were using XBL or PSN or Steam you could do something like only have voice enabled for friends by default. But then if you did want to turn on global voice (or party chat, or proximity chat) for a game (or round) you could, which you can't in Discord. You could have global voice chat enabled but only for friends or people with a social score of X (where assholes who are continually muted/blocked by people in the community have their score lowered). And you could do this without having to manage a second device/app to manage your voice settings.

            Now if you personally just want to say 'I don't care about all that, I'm just gonna keep calling my one gaming friend on the phone when we play our 1 online game' then that's fine. But it's a bit silly to then ask 'what's the big deal about Nintendo's online service?' when there's obviously a huge demographic who wants controls like the above for clean/friendly experiences as well as global experiences.

    • reply
      June 2, 2017 5:00 PM

      Your Nintendo boner is showing

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      June 2, 2017 5:08 PM

      Why do we always have to give Nintendo a pass on their bullshit?

      • reply
        June 2, 2017 5:12 PM

        I'll counter with another question: why does reaction to any Nintendo decision ever have to be so binary? I don't like the Switch's proprietary voice chat. I also don't think it will be that big of a deal for consumers. I don't love it, or hate it. Is the Internet ready for such a nuanced stance?

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          June 2, 2017 5:23 PM

          and I counter with another question: Why does reaction to any Microsoft decision ever have to be so binary? I don't like the xbox one "Always Online" "feature." I also don't think it will be that big of a deal for consumers. I don't love it, or hate it. Is the Internet ready for such a nuanced stance?

          My point is that we don't let Microsoft or Sony off the hook here. Is it a dealbreaker? Completely up to the individual.

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            June 2, 2017 5:32 PM

            That's a flawed example. The internet's collective poo-pooing of XBO's always-online functionality had less to do with the feature--which was a bummer and I'll-conceived--and more with Microsoft's attitude stemming from announcing that feature. When asked how troops stationed in places without reliable internet would be able to play XBO, Mattrick responded, in short, "Too bad. Go play out last-gen hardware."

            I get what you're saying, but Microsoft shot itself in the foot before the horse has even left the gate. They're still paying for it. Sony did the same thing last gen when it told consumers who balked at the PS3's $600 price tag to get another job.

            The handling of those announcements deserved to draw ire. And, really, so does this one. All I'm saying in my article is that this might not be as bad as some people think. I could be wrong, but 1) I'm willing to wait and see; and 2) that workarounds available are hardly hacks. They work and they're easy, so worst-case scenario is we go on using them.

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              June 2, 2017 5:37 PM

              the workarounds you propose essentially justify no platform ever shipping first class voice chat and its associated features. But clearly every major platform owner (and many individual devs) have disagreed with this idea based on their own design acumen and customer feedback. So it's just hard to buy that justification.

            • reply
              June 2, 2017 5:45 PM

              You mean the article that you prefaced with: who cares? Horrible article title but you explained it away earlier in the thread so I won't give you too much shit.

              I notice a lot of Nintendo fanboys, as you admitted to being, give Nintendo a pass on this bullshit and yes it is bullshit because it's them screwing up a 15+ yr old technology implementation. They also screwed up the response the same way they did with "friend codes" and the last gen way they used to handle the eshop.

              Also why was that a flawed example? Nintendo has a record of not correcting their mistakes until the next console generation. What makes them different from Sony or Microsoft dropping the ball?

        • reply
          June 2, 2017 5:24 PM

          You don't love it or hate it because it doesn't affect you. The people who are affected by it clearly feel more strongly that it sucks. It's not a lack of nuance. It's just a different demographic.

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        June 2, 2017 5:18 PM

        well Nintendo is still the king when it comes to IRL party gaming, Sony/MS dont have mario party or mario kart. You sacrifice online play for great LAN play. It's a zero sum game of allocating resources, I dont mind that nintendo doesnt give two shits about online play if their other aspects are top notch

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        June 2, 2017 6:07 PM

        Can you point me to a review where they give Nintendo a pass?

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        June 2, 2017 8:32 PM

        I don't know. It's frustrating.

    • reply
      June 2, 2017 5:31 PM

      Even as a fervent Nintendo apologist, I won't deny that voice chat on Switch is (or rather, will be, since Nintendo pushed back its rollout to sometime next year) messy and backwards. That said, I don't see its implementation as a big deal.

      You should. You're a game journalist. This is a terrible design and you shouldn't be giving it a pass.

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        June 2, 2017 5:45 PM

        I did call them out. In the bit you quoted, no less. That doesn't change the fact that I don't see their proposed solution as a make-or-break deal. Is your issue that I didn't devote my entire article to excoriating their implementation? Because I'm just not that upset about it. I have a differing opinion. That's why we call these articles "op-eds."

        (I'd also argue your labeling of me as a "games journalist." I'm a writer. If you're going to put me in a box, at least stick me in one large enough to stretch my legs. I'm tall.)

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          June 2, 2017 5:47 PM

          I think you should delete the "who cares" in the article title. The article is fine but that bit really screws with its tone.

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          June 2, 2017 5:53 PM

          I really guess it just blows my mind that anyone is willing to give Nintendo a pass on this. It's a really, really, really terrible implementation that everyone should be pissed about.

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            June 2, 2017 5:59 PM

            "Pissed?" Really? This is what I mean by reactions being so binary: you love everything Nintendo does, or you hate it. The first 2-2.5 paragraphs of my article say, in summation, "I love Nintendo, but holy shit they do some dumb things!"

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              June 2, 2017 6:00 PM

              Why can't he be angry about the poor as shit implementation. I don't think he mentioned not buying the console because of it.

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                June 2, 2017 6:02 PM

                Yeah, that's fair. One of my talking points in this thread has been that people can have differing opinions, or differing degrees of the same opinion.

                Boarder2! You are good people and you have my permission to be pissed, if you need it. There by the grace of Miyamoto go I.

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            June 2, 2017 5:59 PM

            I don't think it's a deal breaker though. They are also the only game in town if you want to play Nintendo games so people are more likely to grin and bear these "nintendo-isms."

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              June 2, 2017 6:03 PM

              No not a deal breaker, but there shouldn't be anyone defending this mess.

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      June 2, 2017 7:46 PM

      I don't begrudge nintendo for intentionally leaving voice chat out of their games. Their multiplayer games would immediatly lose a lot of their charm with toxic voice chat. It forces players to maintain a freindly interaction.

      That said, if Nintendo wants a platform that can play more than just their games, then they should provide a sane solution for voice chat. It is critical for some kinds of games, even if it does expose players to a lot of toxicity.

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      June 2, 2017 9:02 PM

      No. No nono nono no ononon9

      Do not make excuses for their shot voice implementation.

      NO! BAD SHACK WRITER.

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      June 3, 2017 1:56 AM

      Good read, David. But, if I'm going to be honest... Nintendo's lack of care about how "shoddy" their online service is really getting to be quite tiresome. Their friend system continues to be one of the shittiest systems available on any online service, and now hearing how the online service for Switch will work is just... dare I say it.... laughable.

      It's 2017, and there's just no excuse for them to ship something like this (especially after delaying it this many times) and it still be a complete mess of garbage. I understand that voice chat isn't important for you. You aren't a multiplayer gamer. We've actually talked about this plenty within our own private conversations.

      But for those of us who enjoy romping through our favorite games with friends in tow, this system is an absolute mess that Nintendo should be ashamed of. I love my Switch (and Nintendo) as much as the next guy, but bad moves are bad moves, and this is a bad move on Nintendo's part.

      As for the whole "people have been using 3rd party apps like Discord/Skype/Teamspeak for years" argument that I've seen surrounding this (even saw you mention it in your replies).... I know many people who only have and most likely only ever will use the built in voice services on their consoles. Not everyone has a computer close to their system, or wants to use their phone to run a program like Discord.

      Not offering a good quality build in service because there are third party options available shouldn't even be a part of this argument.

      So... to answer your question.... I care.