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Nintendo Switch Online: How to sign up for the paid multiplayer service

You can still play Nintendo Switch games online, but you'll have to jump through a couple of hoops.

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If you bought a Nintendo Switch ($459 at mwave), you might have noticed some fine print: "Online play will be free until the Nintendo Switch Online membership launches on Sept. 18th, 2018." That deadline just passed -- meaning that Nintendo Switch owners who want to play multiplayer games like Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 and the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Ultimate online will need to pony up a modest fee for the privilege.

Signing up for the service isn't too difficult, but the process takes a couple of steps.

Sign up for a Nintendo Account

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Sean Buckley / CNET

Before you can buy a subscription to Nintendo Switch Online, you need a Nintendo Account. This is where Nintendo keeps track of your credit card information, purchase history and any family group settings you make. If you already have one of Nintendo's older Nintendo Network ID accounts, you'll still need to register a new one here -- that system was retired at the end of the Wii U's life cycle.

Fortunately, setting up a new account is easy: just pick up a phone, tablet or computer, head here and click on "Create a Nintendo Account."

It's a pretty standard account setup: Fill in your date of birth, email address, password, gender, region and time zone and you're good to go. You can also get a head start by logging in with Twitter, Facebook or Google. After you've registered, Nintendo will email you a verification code. Once you open your email, grab that verification code and plug it into the website, you're done.

If you want to get a jump start on the payment process, you can log in from your computer or phone and click "shop menu" to add in your credit card information. If you choose to wait, you'll be prompted to enter your payment information later from the Nintendo Switch.

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Create a user account on the Nintendo Switch

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Sean Buckley / CNET

If you already have a Nintendo Switch, you've probably already taken care of this part -- your user account on the console itself. This selects the name and user icon that other players will see when you play online. If you need to create a new profile for whatever reason, select "settings" from the Switch home menu, scroll down to "users" and select "add user."

Follow the onscreen instructions to select a profile icon and a nickname. That's it!

Link the two accounts

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Sean Buckley / CNET

Select your Nintendo Switch user account from the "users" page in the settings menu and select "Link Nintendo Account." This will prompt you to log-in with your Nintendo Account. This will permanently link your Nintendo Switch user profile to your Nintendo Account -- so make sure you choose the right account the first time.

Now you're ready to buy games on the Nintendo eShop or sign up for Nintendo Switch Online.

Sign up for Nintendo Switch Online

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Sean Buckley / CNET

OK -- we're finally ready to actually sign up for Nintendo Switch Online.

Open the System Settings from your Nintendo Switch home screen one more time, scroll down to Users and select your Nintendo Switch User profile and select "Manage Subscriptions." This will take you to your account information, where you'll be able to buy a Nintendo Switch Online subscription and use to manage it in the future.

You can also access this page by selecting your user icon from the eShop menu, or trying to launch online multiplayer in any game that requires Nintendo Switch Online.

Select "Your Subscriptions" on the Account Information page to see your membership status. If it's your first time signing up, you should see "No Membership." Select "Membership Options" under this status to reach the sign up page.

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Sean Buckley / CNET

If it's your first time signing up for Nintendo Switch Online, you'll be given the option to start a 7-day free trial. You can also scroll down the page to sign up for 1 month ($3.99), 3 months (7.99) or 12 months ($19.99).

The rest of the process is just as straightforward as buying a game: Fill in your payment information, enter your password to confirm purchase, and you're done. Congratulations, you're now a Nintendo Switch Online subscriber. Your subscription will automatically renew at the level you subscribed at.

Just keep in mind that if you chose the free trial, you'll have to turn off auto-renewal on the Account Settings page if you don't want to continue at the monthly rate when your week is up.

So what can I do with it?

CNET screenshot
CNET screenshot

A lot, actually. Nintendo Switch Online lets you play online games, chat with other players using the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app and even gives you access to a growing library of NES games to play with. If you want to see everything the subscription gets you, as well as our impressions of the voice chat experience and retro games, check out our full guide here.