Though you need a Nintendo Switch Online membership to access the online services for most of the games on the system, Nintendo and Game Freak might be making an exception for Pokémon Sword and Shield.
Both the official website and the store page on Nintendo’s site include a change in the usual text that implies users who purchase the game will need to buy the online membership to access certain features. Instead, the Sword and Shield page details that the newest titles will offer “an in-game purchase option for users who do not have a membership.”
The text for the last games, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee, read a little differently. “Nintendo Switch Online membership (sold separately) and Nintendo Account required for online play,” it said. That extra line of information could mean a lot of things, but without further information, it appears that the online modes for one of Nintendo’s biggest properties is going to be available outside of the standard membership.
This will allow players to freely trade and battle their Pokémon as well as compete in Max Raid Battles and explore the Wild Area with friends, all without the need for a subscription.
If that is true, this is a big change in Nintendo’s practices that might affect big releases in the future, or retroactively change how some titles use online. Specifically, if a game like Pokémon manages to make this a viable option, others like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate might get something like this added in.
The Switch’s online membership does offer players access to several NES and SNES games at no extra charge, but the online infrastructure itself is viewed as an overall mediocre experience for most titles. Unfortunately, if something like this takes off, it’s unlikely any reworks will be done to the system because Nintendo will view this as a workaround.
At the very least, this will provide fans of very specific franchises another option to unlock the full game without needing to spend money on a yearly subscription, especially if the Switch is a supplementary console to something like the PlayStation 4.
Outside of the single line featured on the store page, there has been no comment made by any representatives from Nintendo or Game Freak, however.
Update Oct. 22 7:57pm CT: Nintendo provided Dot Esports with an official statement.
“As stated on the Game Store pages for the Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield games at www.Nintendo.com, a Nintendo Switch Online membership is required to use the games’ online features,” Nintendo of America said. “The games include an in-game option to purchase a Nintendo Switch Online membership for those who do not already have one.”
That means that there is no separate purchase for the online features of Sword and Shield, but there will be some form of prompt for players to purchase a Nintendo Switch Online membership.