GBAtemp Exclusive Nintendo's Paid Online: a yearly checkup/opinion piece

Discussion in 'GBAtemp & Scene News' started by Meteor7, Sep 14, 2019.


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    Today, the 18th of September, marks the one year anniversary of Nintendo's "Online Service" for the Switch. While it was a year ago today that Switch owners gained access to the program, it wasn't until a week later that users started to be charged $20/year for access to this service. In February of 2017, then-president of Nintendo Tatsumi Kimishima said
    It was clear from even before the Switch's launch that this was to be a developing program, gaining features and proper functionality as time went on, but how well has the service fared up to this point?

    2017

    The story doesn't exactly begin in September of 2018, at least when discussing the Nintendo Switch's online performance. Games such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 have had free online matchmaking functionality since their launches in April and July of 2017 respectively, just a little bit after the Switch's release in March of the same year. The online infrastructure and netcode for these titles had already been set in place and made functional, even more than a year behind the service's official launch in late 2018. But how?

    Well, for those of us who don't happen to recall, the existence of the Switch's paid service was actually announced pre-launch of the console, and was originally planned to be rolled out in 2017, however, around Splatoon 2's release in July 2017, it was announced that the planned paywall would be delayed until late 2018. When Polygon asked Reggie Fils-Aime, the then-president of Nintendo of America, for reasons for the delay at 2017's E3, he responded:

    But as it would turn out, the service wasn't exactly a "no-brainer". At least, not in the way they intended.

    Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 are just two examples of Nintendo's first-party offerings in 2017 which had online functionality, and they were generally well-received as games. Mario Kart was criticized by some for being not much more than a port + DLC, but Splatoon 2 was apparently well liked, holding an 83 from critics and an 8.5 from users on metacritic at the time of writing, and further developing the strong fanbase that Splatoon 1 had established. Despite their relatively positive receptions, many factors of their online functionality were bemoaned by a large number of consumers playing them.

    Random and frequent disconnections predominantly plagued all of these titles, as well as lag in all forms. Users could get upwards of 4-5 disconnect per stream on a bad day, and the lag in those games would make players being hit by invisible items, miss hitting players that appeared to be hit on the attacker's screen, and seeing red shells maneuver past their targets a constant occurrence, because the game couldn't properly keep track of which player was ahead of which. It was, in total honesty, a hilarious shit-show when we tried to steam it on temp's twitch channel, and while it made for entertaining content, it undeniably made for a very poor online gaming experience. These same issues were widespread enough among other users to prompt a number of online guides on how to reduce your Switch's online lag as early as April of 2017.

    Splatoon 2 had a very contentious online mode at launch as well, specifically when it came to its lag issues. Many causes were blamed for this issue, but the most frequent goblin, so to speak, was the game's "tickrate." A user called Dessgeega on the Squidboards forum had this to say:
    These issues were not relegated to a few users, however, as the whole of the community seemed to have at least a healthy dose of contention when it came to the quality of Splatoon 2's online. Twitter was a common posting ground for irate players to display examples of lag killing them unfairly or erratic movement.

    But of course this was a developing ecosystem, and free so far. People were very unhappy, and all but unanimously agreed that Nintendo needs to do better, but the service had yet to officially come.
    Nintendo had time to improve things... right?

    2018
    2017 rolls over into 2018, and people are still sharing a plethora of sarcastic tweets criticizing the online of Nintendo's games. Mario Kart had seen not a single shred of improvement in its stability or its lag, and the new title that had come around this year, Mario Tennis Aces, was similarly being absolutely lambasted for its poor online performance.

    Chris Hovermale of Destructoid wrote an article on July 21st of 2018, around a year after Splatoon 2's original release, describing the state of Splatoon 2's and Mario Tennis Aces' online functionalities as "unacceptable", and sometimes outright "unplayable".
    Threads across gaming forums of all kinds sprang up one after the other containing irate customers feeling betrayed by the quality of the online experience. Splatoon 2 continued to receive just as much heat as it did at launch, and for all the same reasons. Visiting tweets from 2017 to 2018 and comparing them, it's evident that absolutely nothing had changed, and that the attitude around Nintendo's handling of their online games had only soured significantly. There's genuinely a twitter account called Splatoon2Lag, which is dedicated to publicizing instances of what they believe to be shoddy online in the game, active since August of 2017. (Their last retweeted tweet at the time of writing was from 9/11/2019.)
    Even youtube has compilations of lag in Splatoon 2.

    For a full year and a half after launch, Nintendo continued to put out games with woefully inadequate online performances, and people's attitudes became more sour and confrontational. Justifiably so.

    and then came...
    September 13th, 2018
    With their finger as far from the pulse of the gaming community as they could possibly get it, Nintendo published a trailer introducing the features and release date of their official, paid "Online Service", to begin on the 18th. In the trailer, 5 features were announced: online play for compatible games, a small library of 20 NES games (with online features), save data backup to the cloud, a smartphone app for voice chat during online play, and some nebulous "special offers" yet to be revealed.

    In order, let's revisit what the state of these features were during the months coming after its implementation.

    The first feature was not a new feature at all, simply the announcement that the experience users had previously been "enjoying" was now locked behind the subscription's paywall. Mario Kart, Splatoon 2, Mario Tennis Aces, etc. would have their online functionality locked unless one was a subscriber to the online service. What upset customers more was that, as before, Nintendo provided no dedicated game servers of any kind, instead programming their games with peer-to-peer connections. Without the overhead of maintaining servers, people wondered exactly what they were paying Nintendo for, with many describing the service as "paying Nintendo to use your own internet."

    In what Nintendo assumed would be sweetening the deal, they included a batch of 20 NES games to be played through a standalone app on the Switch. While they did include some beloved titles, such as Super Mario Bros., SMB3, and The Legend of Zelda, it also had a lot of what people thought were mediocre filler titles, like Ice Climbers, Pro Wrestling, Baseball, and Soccer, with Nintendo promising to release more NES games on a monthly basis. In most consumers' eyes, the Virtual Console, or its hypothetical equivalent on Switch, had been missing from the console for a year and a half. To many, this was the kind of thing you might have at launch, not gated behind a $20 paywall as a pittance inclusion as part of a subscription fee. In addition, the games are never technically "yours", as as soon as the subscription isn't renewed, the games become inaccessible.

    In further absurdity, ever since December 30th of 2017, over 9 months ago, the homebrew scene had already set up a vastly superior alternative to this system in the form of RetroArch for Switch. Not only would it play any NES game you'd like, for free, it sported a lot of basic features that the official NES player embarrassingly did not. While one could use up to 4 save states with the NES online games, the emulator provided limited options in terms of filters and aspect ratios, no ability whatsoever to remap controls (making rolling your finger across the A and B buttons awkward due to the joycon button layout), and 4-5 frames of input lag compared to next-frame response time with RetroArch's runahead.

    There was, however, one feature that RetroArch didn't have, and that was the ability to play NES games online with friends, a genuinely novel offering. Unfortunately, playing a Nintendo game online between myself and a fellow American one timezone away gave between 11-16 frames of input lag, and playing with someone in another country produced a maximum of 33 frames of input lag. Needless to say, while the idea was interesting, the quality of Nintendo's online ruined the joy of any game played through it.

    What's more, save data backup being tied to a subscription fee felt like a scam to many people. Every other console on the market, and every other before it, allowed direct access to users' save data through a memory card or via transfer to an external data storage device, like a USB stick. This allowed people to backup their own data in case of corruption or theft, in order to make sure their progress could be saved. This was something that consumers felt was fundamental to have access to, and here it was being sold back to them. Worse yet, they would never have full control over their own data, with it being handled exclusively through Nintendo. Just to put the cherry on the cake, Nintendo not only announced that user cloud saves would be deleted if the subscription was not renewed within a 6 month period, they also announced that:
    This, understandably, created a large amount of backlash from consumers who argued against this stance, but Nintendo didn't back down, all the while the Splatoon 2 leaderboards continued to be defiled by hackers for months going forward.

    The hassle of needing to download an app and fiddle with a phone any time one wanted to communicate with another online was so tonedeaf and archaic that it stirred nothing but ridicule, and these "special offers" at the time only included the ability to pre-purchase of NES-style controllers. These were not available for purchase to anyone without an active subscription to Nintendo Online.

    The reception to the Nintendo Online announcement...
    1cag0OV.
    ...was not very favorable.

    But even though consumers were paying for not a single dedicated server, they did still need to pay up if they wanted to keep playing with their friends. It was highway robbery, and evidently neither Nintendo nor the law had any qualms about them engaging in it.​

    December, 2018
    With what was for many their most anticipated game of this generation to date, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, releasing December 7th, pressure to subscribe to the online service was at an all-time high. Like Smash 4, this new entry promised robust online features, all of which would be gated behind Nintendo's subscription. The netcode for Smash 4 had actually been, by Nintendo's standards, not terrible (at least as I played it on 3DS), but consumers were given a subtle warning during Sakurai's Nov. 1st Smash presentation when he heavily recommended that players use a LAN adapter for their Switch when playing online.

    The game released and, while hype for the game and its dearth of content/polish was still at a peak, players quickly discovered that the online was greatly lacking. YouTube channel GigaBoots was quick to put out a video, on the very next day following release no less, stating that Smash Ultimate has around 6 frames of input lag when played locally using their most optimal controller setup. This much lag is already unpleasant for a fighting game, however through my own testing and experience, this number gets multiplied drastically whenever matchmaking online.

    Matchmaking randomly, letting the game's online choose the optimal opponent for my Switch's region, multiplies the input lag by, on average, around 2.5 time. This means that one might expect 15 frames of input lag on average when matchmaking blindly online, as a conservative estimate. When pairing with specific people from a friends list through an arena, even this number can end up doubled, depending on their region. Playing with someone on the literal other side of the globe produced over 30 frames of input lag. This is the most extreme example I've been able to test, but one should also note that, when playing with this same person through the indie game Rivals of Aether's netcode beta branch on Steam, the input lag become less than half of that of Smash Ultimate.

    Street Fighter V notoriously released with what people considered to be unacceptably high input lag, at around 5.3 frames, even less than Smash's most stable mode, but fan outcry prompted Capcom to issue a patch on October 23rd of 2018 which significantly reduced both the input lag and the lag stability to 4.41 frames. Even then, the data-miner performing the tests, WydD, called the reduction "better, obviously but not great" illustrating just how out of step with the industry Smash's online experience is.

    Connection stability also takes a major hit on occasions, when the game will seemingly experience slowdown so severe that the game will literally pause itself and show a loading icon. Even more common is the phenomenon of dropped inputs due to lag, which considering their frequency, has a high impact on the overall enjoyability of the game. Overall, in terms of input lag and online performance, the game is a massive and jarring step back from even their previous outing, Smash 4, much less any other fighting game on the market. While many other fighters, SFV inclusive, get dedicated servers and no additional online fees, somehow Smash Ultimate goes without both of these modern conveniences.

    Meanwhile, up to this point in time, Nintendo had released the following NES games in 3 installments, one per month:
    • October: Solomon's Key, NES Open Tournament Golf, Super Dodge Ball
    • November: Metroid, Mighty Bomb Jack, TwinBee
    • December: Wario's Woods, Ninja Gaiden, Adventures of Lolo
    With such comparatively lackluster titles being released through the service for three months in a row, even optimists were beginning to have their opinions soured.

    2019
    During a February investor meeting, Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa noted that
    On February 13th, Tetris 99 was released as a free game, but which required the online service in order to be played. It was effectively a battle royale competitive Tetris, and while people did mock it for the easy comparison, it was generally received as being a harmless, functional game.

    On May 15th, Nintendo also rolled out a system by which you can buy two digital vouchers for $99.99 and redeem them for two digital games, so long as they're eligible. Since the online service itself is $20 USD, and buying two digital games worth $60/piece saves $20, then technically, if one buys two new digital games per year, the subscription pays for itself.

    Finally, after 2.5 years, Nintendo finally introduced SNES games for the Switch by putting out 20 SNES titles on September 5th of this year. Included in this pack are many big-name games, such as Link to the Past, Super Mario World, Yoshi's Island, Kirby's Dream Course, Kirby's Dream Land 3, F-Zero, and Breath of Fire. It's undeniably a better showing than the NES pack on its release, though the amount of time taken to get to this point is arguably much too long. In addition, Nintendo has genuinely improved the online play when it comes to these titles, and while they don't feel perfect, they're at least not ruined by input latency. Unfortunately this still feels like too little too late, as it was in late 2017 that we were already given the ability to emulate these games at a much higher quality on the Switch.

    But these additions still didn't address the core problems of abysmally performing online ecosystems for all of Nintendo's first-party titles, and monetization introduced a full year ago had yielded no improvements the core quality of playing online. Smash's input lag still turned online into a facsimile of itself, tweets depicting Splatoon 2's poor performance were still being made to this day, and Mario Kart 8's instability and lag has still hadn't budged an inch.
    Conclusion
    It's become completely clear that Nintendo's management will do everything in its power to avoid addressing the core issues, and instead intend to dance around the problems sprinkling freebies. While the voucher deal may very well render this service "free*" for some users, that's only true for users who A) want their two games digitally, B) are buying two games at launch, and C) have their two desired games be on the list of compatible titles.
    The problem is, what are we paying for? Cloud saves that were only necessitated by Nintendo locking us out of accessing our own save data? Cheap emulation of NES and SNES titles we've been playing at a higher quality for almost 2 years, now? The same discounts on game purchases that we'd have if the service never existed at all? The dedicated game servers that don't exist?
    In this way, Nintendo's "Online Service" is less a service and more a shakedown with benefits. The consumer is forced into paying for a service that provides nothing in the way of online infrastructure, being charged in order to even go online at all. Nintendo is collecting taxes on a service they're putting almost no money into, with what feels like the fidelity of a 2005 online network, and trying to placate people with candy they distribute occasionally. Until Nintendo actually makes games that don't take on input latency whenever they go online like the Titanic takes on water, some actual servers that they could pay for with the money they're already collecting, and netcode better than monkey-scratch, then this whole "Online Service" is nothing but an inherently farcical joke. In short, it's been a fundamentally abysmal performance, one which has willfully refused to budge an inch in 2.5 years, regardless of how many freebies in which they dress it up. For Nintendo to have done no better for its consumers by this point in time is an absolute insult.
     
    Discussion (139 replies)
  1. Xzi

    Xzi All your base are belong to the proletariat

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    TBH this could be a retrospective on the state of all console online subscriptions with very few changes. Sony only added a subscription service because Microsoft was getting away with it, and Nintendo only added one because the other two were getting away with it. None of them care whether or not value is being added for the end user. It's why I do nearly all my online gaming on PC.
     
    Last edited by Xzi, Sep 18, 2019
  2. osaka35

    osaka35 Instructional Designer

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    Silent Hill
    i thought cloud saves mirrored on-device saves? that the online bit was just a duplicate backup, not the sole place your save was stores?

    but yeah. that input lag is annoying. it's hard to "git gud" when it's less skill and more luck. they need to have a proper infrastructure. i mean, it's not like sony or microsoft use their servers for most games, it's the same paywall for most things, but whatcha gonna do.
     
    Last edited by osaka35, Sep 18, 2019
  3. Manurocker95

    Manurocker95 Game Developer & Pokémon Master

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    What I still don’t understand is why they don’t offer switch games (not trials) or at least GB, GBA, N64, GC virtual console ones like the wii did.

    I only spent 4 bucks for the online and I’m still thinking it is an insult. We don’t even receive discounts for anything. The switch online is not worth it at all.
     
    Last edited by Manurocker95, Sep 18, 2019
  4. godreborn

    godreborn GBAtemp Guru

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    the only reason I have online is cloud saving. this is after my original switch died. I'm still pretty pissed that my 100% mega man x6 save was lost, and I haven't picked up the game since.
     
  5. Meteor7
    OP

    Meteor7 Guess where this thumb goes.

    pip Contributor
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    a fit of spasms and accidental black magic
    That it does, but cloud saves are the only way to back up saves off-device, where past consoles allowed easy, local save backups for free. In fact, I'd say it's only a fear of vulnerabilities via save-injections that made Nintendo remove that functionality from the Switch, as otherwise it would be trivial to implement.
     
    Silent_Gunner and osaka35 like this.
  6. Clydefrosch

    Clydefrosch GBAtemp Guru

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    No one is forced to pay anything. If you think the service isn't worth it, don't pay for it.
     
    jimmyj and eyeliner like this.
  7. Treeko

    Treeko GBAtemp Fan

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    A lot of people are quick to judge Sony for "copying" Microsoft yet they have the most value for your money Subscription next to Microsoft right now, the prices for PS+ have dropped, the prices go on sale constantly each year, Sony has been giving away major first party triple A titles as the monthly games with the subscription, dedicated servers for all major multiplayer games, Cloud/Manual Save backup, voice/text chat, exclusive discounts, exclusive game packs for games like rdr2 apex pubg etc, yet here's Nintendo finally adding game invites after 1 full year of the subscription, Nintendo's subscription is clearly the biggest rip off out of the 3 with out a doubt, and as someone who's experienced all 3 paid subscription services this is a fact that Nintendo's getting away with to little to offer for too big of a price, because all the features the Switch online has bar the game invites that don't even work right now, are readily and freely available on both the 3DS and Wii U, Manual save backups, free online multiplayer for p2p matches, Virtual Console for people who want to play retro games and aren't being forced fed said games to "sweeten" the 20$ deal, heck the Wii U had the ability to voice chat natively on the system itself, yet Nintendo are getting away with it on the Switch.
     
    Last edited by Treeko, Sep 18, 2019
  8. Meteor7
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    Meteor7 Guess where this thumb goes.

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    a fit of spasms and accidental black magic
    I mean, forget that they're holding online play for ransom arbitrarily, and even when you do pay for it, it's terrible quality. Kidnappers took your son and they're only gonna give him back when you pay up, and both of his legs are going to be broken? Hey, if your son's not worth it, don't pay for it, right? No need to complain, really.
     
  9. leafeon34

    leafeon34 Expecto Patronum!

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    AzkaBANNED.
    Fact check your posts before posting
     
  10. Bladexdsl

    Bladexdsl ZOMG my posts...it's over 9000!!!

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    no one in the temp uses nintendo online because they are all pirates :creep:
     
    Last edited by Bladexdsl, Sep 19, 2019
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  11. Chary

    Chary Never sleeps.

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    It's really such a mess. Personally, I don't mind paying, what, 4 USD for my share in a family plan? Yearly? That's chump change. I can't really expect much for that. But what exactly is the payment going towards? What are we getting that we didn't receive for free since a decade prior? I always thought PlayStation had it bad with its online services, but Nintendo takes the cake.

    I know it's something that'd never happen, but I would truly, honestly want a "Pro/XL/Plus/Whatever" Switch Online sub, that would be the same cost as XBL/PS+, and would actually have competent online. Maybe then, I'd actually bother playing Smash and MK8 online with my friends regularly. But Nintendo has no reason to do that, and they've always kinda lagged (no pun intended) behind the competition in this way, and I don't see it changing anytime soon.
     
  12. Manurocker95

    Manurocker95 Game Developer & Pokémon Master

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    I paid the whole year when they announced it (the hype, lol)

    Are you able to play Wind Waker, Metroid Prime, Pokémon Snap, Zelda Minish Cap without HB? I meant like NES/SNES but with more catalogue (if that's your point)
     
    Last edited by Manurocker95, Sep 18, 2019
  13. Xzi

    Xzi All your base are belong to the proletariat

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    With virtual console in previous generations we've always had to pay for each game individually, so free NES/SNES games with subscription are something at least. Also there's Tetris 99 and Super Kirby Clash, both good for a bit of fun.

    Being dirt cheap really is the most appealing thing about it, though. The only other reason I was willing to give it a chance is that Nintendo has some good first-party multiplayer titles (Smash, Pokemon, Mario Kart), whereas Sony's appeal lies almost entirely in single-player games these days. The year-long subscription I paid for is over now, but I've still got another year free from Twitch Prime.
     
    Last edited by Xzi, Sep 18, 2019
  14. Panzerfaust

    Panzerfaust Member

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    tl;dr
    Still no dedicated servers, but p2p connection.
    As long as they still use p2p, online play should be free. They could charge some fees for their emulation and backup services.
     
  15. Torina

    Torina GBAtemp Regular

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    Thanks for this impressive article, it is very instructive.
    I don't give a damn about online gaming, no time for that, but I'm happy to get a glimpse on their business model thanks to you.

    Keep up the good work :)
     
    CallmeBerto likes this.
  16. arcanine

    arcanine Advanced Member

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    What an absolutely ridiculous comparison to make. Nothing is being held “ransom”. They are simply asking you to pay to consume a service. The fact that you don’t think it is worth paying for is completely irrelevant.
     
    Garro likes this.
  17. KleinesSinchen

    KleinesSinchen The Backup Reminder

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    What a comparison. Parents have a very legitimate interest in the well-being of their children. Hostage-taking/kidnapping is a very serious crime violating human rights. In my opinion (free) access to online functionality of video games does not classify as a human right. If the only way to save a child is paying ransom I will do it… because a child is worth it – no discussion here.

    A service/subscription may or may not be worth the money and if I think a service is not worth the money, I simply do not buy/use it.
     
    Last edited by KleinesSinchen, Sep 18, 2019
  18. azoreseuropa

    azoreseuropa GBAtemp Guru

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    I refused to pay the online. For my opinion, the online is useless. I dont liked the multiplayer because it is endless game. I prefer to play the video game that have the story and a ending story. That's what excited me the mostly. :)
     
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  19. Meteor7
    OP

    Meteor7 Guess where this thumb goes.

    pip Contributor
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    Jun 9, 2014
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    a fit of spasms and accidental black magic
    No, they are not providing a service, not when it comes to online play. Peer-to-peer netcode means that they aren't involved at all in you playing online with others. They aren't giving you any services, and they aren't facilitating your connections to others, your ISP is doing that. What they are doing is erecting a paywall between you and the internet service you've paid your ISP to use. Dedicated game servers would be a service, for instance, and would justify a fee to fund upkeep, but that isn't the situation. If there were, this "service" would technically be its namesake, not necessarily exempt from criticism of course, but certainly more legitimate.

    The closest analogy to our current situation is trying to go to a shop, and being stopped access by a third party until you pay them. With the added stipulation of you being involved in some recursive payment with the shop in question, I guess. The shop is your ISP giving you internet access, the third party being Nintendo. It's taking without providing, and one company selling the right to access a service they're not providing, a service you already pay your actual providers for, is extortion, not a service.

    This same definition doesn't apply to situations like the vouchers or the NES/SNES library, of course, but that doesn't invalidate what's happening in terms of their online allowance.
     
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