Playing online multiplayer games with friends is one of the most fun parts of owning a Nintendo Switch. But Nintendo Switch Online – Nintendo‘s premium online service – normally costs $3.99 per month or $19.99 annually for access to online play. For avid gamers, this recurring subscription fee can add up.
The good news is that with some clever workarounds, you and your friends can enjoy online gaming on the Nintendo Switch without needing to pay for an official Nintendo Switch Online membership.
In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll cover all the best tips and tricks for playing Nintendo Switch games online with friends for free. From sharing a family membership to connecting wirelessly for local multiplayer, we have you covered on the most affordable ways to play Switch games online without spending money on Nintendo Switch Online.
Let‘s dive in!
What Makes Nintendo Switch Online Worth Paying For?
Before we get into the free options, it‘s worth understanding what makes Nintendo Switch Online worth paying for in the first place. Why are over 26 million Switch gamers willing to pay for the service?
The main benefits Nintendo Switch Online provides include:
Online Multiplayer Gaming – This is the core reason most subscribers pay for Nintendo Switch Online. A membership gives you access to online multiplayer, matchmaking, tournaments and more in popular Switch games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Mario Tennis Aces, and many more.
NES & SNES Classic Games – Subscribers get access to a growing library of over 130 classic games from the NES and SNES era. These include Super Mario Bros 1-3, The Legend of Zelda, Kirby‘s Adventure, Super Metroid, and other hits from the 80s and 90s.
Cloud Saves – Nintendo Switch Online lets you automatically back up your game progress and saves online for ease of syncing across Switch consoles and restoring data if your system is damaged or lost.
Exclusive Offers – Members get special offers like free Nintendo Switch games Tetris 99 and PAC-MAN 99 that are exclusive benefits only available to paying subscribers.
Smartphone App – The Nintendo Switch Online app enhances the experience on select games by letting you voice chat with friends while playing.
Nintendo Switch Online has grown to over 26 million paid memberships since launching in 2018. This makes it one of Nintendo‘s fastest growing premium services ever.
To put the popularity into perspective, here‘s how Nintendo Switch Online compares to rival online gaming services:
- Sony‘s PlayStation Plus has 47.4 million subscribers
- Microsoft‘s Xbox Live has over 100 million subscribers
- Nintendo Switch Online has 26 million subscribers and counting
So while PSN and Xbox Live may have more users thanks to their larger console install bases, Nintendo Switch Online has shown impressive growth considering the Switch install base is under 80 million units sold.
The bottom line is that Nintendo Switch Online clearly provides tremendous value to gamers through its online multiplayer access, free games, and ecosystem integration.
However, we totally understand not everyone wants to pay a recurring subscription fee just to play games online with friends.
Fortunately, with some creative problem solving, you can get that same online multiplayer experience for free. Let‘s explore those options now!
Method #1: Local Wireless Play
Our first recommendation for playing online with friends at no cost is to take advantage of local wireless play.
The Nintendo Switch has built-in support for local wireless networking. This allows you to connect multiple Switch consoles together in the same room using local Wi-Fi without needing an internet connection or Nintendo Switch Online membership.
This local wireless play allows up to 8 players to enjoy multiplayer gaming by having each person use their own Nintendo Switch. As long as each player owns a copy of the game, you can set up local Switch vs Switch multiplayer sessions.
Here are some of the most popular Nintendo Switch games that support local wireless multiplayer:
- Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
- Super Smash Bros Ultimate
- Pokemon Let‘s Go Pikachu / Eevee
- Super Mario Party
- Super Mario 3D World
- Monster Hunter Rise
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons
This method is perfect for gaming get-togethers when you have friends visiting or want to connect extra consoles together in your own home. While limited to close proximity, it‘s a 100% free way to enjoy Switch games online together in the same room.
Optimizing Local Wireless Play
To get the best performance when connecting Switch consoles wirelessly, here are some useful tips:
Position Switches near the router – Keep all systems within a reasonable distance from your WiFi router or access point for best connectivity.
Disable other WiFi devices – Turn off other phones, computers, or devices using WiFi to maximize bandwidth for the Switch systems.
Choose the 5GHz band – If your router is dual-band, opt to connect your Switch consoles to the 5GHz network for minimal interference.
Adjust your router settings – On some routers you can tweak settings like transmission power, channels, and beacon interval to further optimize the connection.
Test signal strength – Press "+" on the Switch home screen and run a connection test to confirm each console has a strong wireless signal.
With optimal network setup and positioning, you can enjoy buttery smooth local wireless play on Nintendo Switch free of lag. This keeps the fun going during long gaming sessions with friends and family.
Method #2: Share a Family Membership
While an individual Nintendo Switch Online membership may be expensive for some at $3.99 per month, there is a more affordable option that lets you split the cost with others.
The Nintendo Switch Online Family Membership allows up to 8 Nintendo Accounts to share the same membership for a relatively low annual fee of $34.99.
This works out to just over $4 per person per year when the cost is split evenly among 8 people.
By inviting a group of friends or family members to share a Family Membership, the low individual cost makes it an extremely affordable way for everyone to get access to Nintendo Switch Online without individually paying $19.99 per year.
Here are some important things to note about sharing a Family Membership:
All members must reside in the same country to be eligible.
An adult Nintendo Account must be set as the administrator to manage the family group.
Up to 8 Nintendo Accounts can join a family group, including the admin.
Everyone still needs their own unique Nintendo Account to participate.
Any changes made by the admin like cancelling or renewing will apply to the whole family group.
While sharing an online membership might seem questionable, Nintendo officially allows Family Membership sharing among friends, so no terms are being violated.
Services like Together Price make it easy to manage a shared family membership by allowing you to individually join and split up recurring costs. This provides a streamlined way for groups to coordinate shared subscriptions.
Overall, for large friend groups the Family Membership route is likely the cheapest legitimate way for everyone to get access to Nintendo Switch Online for under $5 per year. Well worth looking into!
Method #3: Use Free Trials
If you don‘t want to commit to an ongoing membership, another option is to take advantage of free trials that temporarily provide access to Nintendo Switch Online.
Nintendo commonly offers 7-day or 1-month free trials to give new users a chance to experience Nintendo Switch Online benefits first-hand before paying.
Sources to find free Nintendo Switch Online trial offers include:
- Directly through the Nintendo eShop on your Switch console – Check the Promotions tab for any free trial ads.
- Select Nintendo Switch game bundles – Games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe often include a 1-month trial.
- Retailers like GameStop – Many include a printed trial code on your purchase receipt.
- Product packaging – Some officially licensed controllers, headsets, and accessories come with free trial codes inside.
One strategy some Nintendo Switch deal hunters use is creating multiple Nintendo Accounts to claim multiple free trials and prolong their free access.
While this does require setting up a few extra accounts, it can essentially provide you ongoing use of Nintendo Switch Online for free as long as you stagger activating the different trials.
Just be sure to disable auto-renewal on the accounts so you aren‘t unexpectedly charged when the trial ends.
With some persistence, you can maintain free Nintendo Switch Online benefits for quite a while using nothing but trial offers. Useful for intermittent online gaming!
Method #4: Play Free-to-Play Games
Beyond trials, another guaranteed free way to get some use from Nintendo Switch Online is to play free-to-play games.
The Nintendo eShop includes a growing selection of free-to-play games spanning various genres from battle royale to party games.
The best part is that all of these titles allow online multiplayer without needing a paid Nintendo Switch Online membership.
Some notable free Nintendo Switch games with online multiplayer include:
- Fall Guys
- Rogue Company
- Realm Royale
- Cuisine Royale
While obviously limited compared to the overall Switch library, these F2P games do provide plenty of enjoyment for $0 upfront cost.
If you want to regularly play online for free, we recommend downloading all of the above titles to maximize your options.
Here are some tips to get the most out of free-to-play Nintendo Switch games:
Use motion controls – Games like Fortnite and Paladins support motion aiming which can give you an edge.
Install to internal storage – Downloading F2P games directly to the Switch system memory avoids slow microSD card load times.
Learn with AI matches – Rogue Company and Realm Royale have great AI modes for practice before playing real opponents.
Party up with friends – Having an organized squad in games like Fall Guys and Vigor is extremely beneficial.
Focus on completing challenges – Dedicate playtime to completing in-game challenges which award experience, currency, items, etc.
While paid games offer a deeper overall experience, you‘d be surprised just how much fun you can have with the expanding free-to-play catalog. Definitely take advantage of this!
Method #5: How to Add and Play With Friends
Playing online is always more enjoyable when you‘re playing with people you know. To have friends join you online in compatible Switch games, you first need to add them to your Nintendo Switch friend list.
Here are the steps to find and add friends on Nintendo Switch:
Obtain your Friend Code – This is a 12 digit number unique to your account profile used to add friends.
Share Friend Codes – Exchange codes with your friends so you can both add each other.
Search for friends – You can search for friends using their Nintendo nickname and send them a friend request.
Add recent players – Players you‘ve encountered in multiplayer games will show up in your "played with" list allowing you to send friend requests.
Accept friend requests – When you receive a friend request notification, you can confirm to add that player to your friends list.
Once you‘ve added your friends, here are some of the benefits:
See when friends are online – Your friends list shows which of your friends are currently online and playable.
Join friends‘ multiplayer sessions – You can jump directly into friend‘s games by joining them from your friends list.
Chat with friends – On supported games, you can voice chat with friends using the Nintendo Switch Online app.
Compare game stats – See how your gaming stats stack up against your friends‘ stats.
Send invites and messages – You can directly send invites and text messages to friends.
The more friends you have on your Nintendo Switch, the more opportunities you‘ll have to play together online.
Method #6: Finding Gaming Pals
In addition to real-life friends, another great way to play Nintendo Switch games online for free is to connect with fellow gamers online and build out your friends list.
Here are some recommendations for finding other players:
Join Nintendo subreddits – Subreddits like /r/NintendoFriends and /r/SwitchFCSwap offer places to share your Friend Code and meet players.
Discord gaming communities – Discord servers let you chat using voice, text, and video with large gaming communities.
Local Facebook Groups – Search for Switch-focused buy/sell/trade groups close to your city or town.
Online gaming forums – Sites like Nintendo Life have forums dedicated to friend code sharing and grouping up online.
Multiplayer game lobbies – You can meet players in the matchmaking lobbies and voice chat of games like Mario Kart 8, Splatoon 2, and Super Smash Bros Ultimate.
Nintendo‘s Friend Suggestions – Your Nintendo Profile will recommend Switch users to become friends with based on mutual games and interests.
Don‘t be shy about putting yourself out there online to meet fellow Switch gamers. Having a broad range of gaming friends ensures you‘ll always have someone available for playing online.
Safety Tips for Online Friends
While connecting with players online can enable great gaming experiences, it‘s also important to keep safety in mind:
Avoid sharing personal information – Never give out real names, locations, email, phone numbers, etc. to strangers.
Use parental controls – Limit communications and online interactions for young gamers.
Play in moderated communities – Stick to official Nintendo spaces or reputable gaming sites and groups.
Mute/block unsuitable players – Don‘t hesitate to cut ties with rude, inappropriate, or unsportsmanlike gamers.
Report concerning activity – Notify server moderators, Nintendo, or authorities if you encounter problematic behavior.
Following basic precautions allows you to focus on having fun playing Switch games online worry-free.
Method #7: Alternative Workarounds
If the previous methods still leave you wanting ways to play Switch games online for free, don‘t give up yet! Here are a couple alternative workarounds:
Steam Remote Play Together
Steam Remote Play Together lets you play local co-op games online together with your friends. This works by having one player host through the Steam PC app while all other players connect remotely.
Some great Switch games you can play online through Remote Play Together include:
- Overcooked 2
- Stardew Valley
- Hollow Knight
- Castle Crashers
While a bit more complex to set up, this gives you another way to get free online play out of Switch games that support local co-op modes.
Some online Switch games offer companion apps that let you voice chat with friends through your phone while playing on Switch. This enhances the overall social experience.
For example, Monster Hunter Rise has voice chat via the Monster Hunter Rise: Hunting Helper app. So even without Nintendo Switch Online, you can still strategize vocally in real-time with friends.
See what companion apps are available for your favorite online Switch titles to maximize the social enjoyment.
As you can see, there are a variety of creative workarounds that allow you to play Nintendo Switch games online with friends 100% free.
To recap the best methods:
Take advantage of local wireless multiplayer when gathering in-person for gaming parties and hangouts.
Split the cost of a Nintendo Switch Online Family Membership with a group of friends.
Use free trials and free-to-play games whenever possible.
Connect with real life friends and fellow gamers online to build up your friends list.
Try alternative options like Steam Remote Play Together and companion apps.
Gaming is meant to be a social experience. By using the solutions outlined in this guide, you can enjoy online multiplayer on the Nintendo Switch for $0 while avoiding paying for an expensive Nintendo Switch Online membership.
Now get out there and game online with friends for free! The adventures are waiting.