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Nintendo Switch's use of hated friend codes a bad sign for system's first year

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So thanks for bringing them back, I guess?

Nintendo Switch handheld mode with Zelda menu Austin Pikulski/Vox Studios

"There are no friend codes within what we're doing," Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said in a January interview with CNET. And there was much rejoicing.

Imagine our surprise when the day-one system update for the Nintendo Switch added friend codes.

What the living hell, Nintendo?

The company created the hated system of 12-digit numbers back in 2006 with the launch of the Wii, which means fans have despised friend codes for over a decade. It felt like a throwback then, and it feels negligent to the point of incompetence now. Why allow people to friend others by knowing their username when a long, random string of numbers is so much more annoying?

As of this writing, there are four ways to add friends on your Switch:

  • Search for local users
  • Search for users you’ve played with
  • Search with Friend Code
  • Sent Friend Requests

The news has been making waves all morning, and no one has anything nice to say.

“[The update] sets the eshop live, complete with nine listed games. And, oh no ... friend codes,” Kotaku reported.

“The year is 2017, and Nintendo Switch features the return of friend codes — 12 digit numbers which let others add you as a friend,” Eurogamer wrote. “They're fiddly, outdated and universally hated among Nintendo players.”

Geek.com included friend codes in a list of 11 inexplicable Nintendo decisions back in 2015.

“When [Nintendo] finally moved into the connected era in 2006 with the release of the Wii, gamers were shocked at the absurdity of the system,” the article stated. “Each game would generate a 12-digit Friend Code that you needed to provide to the person you wanted to play with, and vice versa. The codes would also change if you put the game in a different system. It was an enormous pain in the butt that was many steps behind similar systems on the Xbox and PS3.”

Kotaku reported, with something close to dread, that Nintendo may keep the friend code system ... for the 3DS. This was back in 2011. “Nintendo’s clumsy method for connecting Wii and Nintendo DS players to others online, the dreaded Friend Code system, may be returning for the Nintendo 3DS if a report from magazine Famitsu is accurate,” the story said.

We were disappointed when the mobile game Fire Emblem Heroes used a system that amounts to friend codes, and we reported that it looked as if the Switch might repeat some of Nintendo’s worst mistakes when it came to lagging behind its competition in online play. This is pretty much everyone’s worst fear coming true all at once, despite Nintendo’s promise that friend codes were on the way out.

Then again, I’ve argued that tomorrow’s Switch launch is much more of a beta test than a fully baked release of the hardware or platform. We know that the actual, for-pay online system won’t be live until this fall, and it’s possible that Nintendo may discover a less user-hostile account name system before then. The company would only need to peek at literally any other online system ever released in the history of online gaming for a hint about how to achieve this.

There is no reason for Nintendo to launch without a working system for usernames. There is no reason for the company to return to one of its most-hated “innovations” for its latest system. And even if Nintendo has a good excuse, why state that friend codes wouldn’t be involved with the system before, you know, adding friend codes? We have at least some hope that a better system will be introduced before the end of the year, but it’s hard to feel very optimistic.

Nintendo’s reputation for bungling problems that are solved on every other system, and have been for over a decade, is well-deserved. This is just the latest example.


Watch: Nintendo Switch Hardware Review