Today is the second day of the third month of the year of our lord two thousand and seventeen, and Nintendo just rolled out the day one update for the Switch, which confirmed that the console will return to using Friend Codes to connect friends online. Yes, Friend Codes. The 12-digit codes used by the original Wii and 3DS for online services are rearing their ugly head again for the Switch.
The entire decision is really just baffling. The Wii U moved away from Friend Codes, and let players use their Nintendo Network ID to find friends online. Nintendo even consolidated the Network ID into a main Nintendo Account, and just added a new User ID field a few weeks ago! All the pieces were in place to make this system better for customers. Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime had even promised in an interview with CNET in January that "There are no friend codes within what we're doing," for the Switch. Instead, we’re taking a step backward in time.
Things aren’t as bad as the original implementation of Friend Codes
To be fair, things aren’t as bad as the original implementation of Friend Codes. The Switch’s Friend Code is seemingly tied to an account, instead of individual devices. Unlike the original Friend Code system — which required players to input each other’s code before allowing them to play together — the system is one-way now: when a user adds you as a friend, you’ll simply need to accept the invitation instead of inputing their own code in return. And players will have the ability to send requests without requiring the exchange of the 12-digit code to nearby players or those they’ve recently played with.
And yes, Friend Codes are still a terrible way to do things. They’re difficult to exchange and input into the console, and just generally make it an extra bit more irritating to connect online. Additionally, online accounts help give a sense of identity to people — it’s why we have screen names and email addresses and usernames and not just strings of alphanumeric text. It’s just an extra layer of needless complexity that simply doesn’t need to be there.
Given the many questions about how Nintendo is running online services, the return to Friend Codes is a puzzling start. But the changes to the way that system works — if not exactly a huge vote of confidence — at least show that Nintendo is making some effort to try to get things right this time around.
Update March 2nd, 3:45PM: Users are also able to important friends from mobile games like Super Mario Run and Miitomo as well by linking your Switch to your Nintendo Account.
Additionally, Nintendo has confirmed in a statement to Polygon that Nintendo will be adding additional methods to the Switch for friending post launch, including existing social networks and users’ Nintendo Network ID.