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Can games purchased digitally from the eShop with a single Nintendo Account be played on multiple Switches in a household?

I'm reading a Nintendo support article to try to understand the answer to my question, but the wording seems to contradict itself:

Here the wording implies that games purchased with a single account are playable on multiple Switches:

You can link your Nintendo Account to multiple consoles. You can play digital games you've purchased on any Nintendo Switch console that has been linked to your Nintendo Account.

Later, there is wording that contradicts the previous statement, indicating purchases cannot be shared:

Please note that you can register one primary console per Nintendo Account. Once you've registered a primary console, your digital purchases can be played by anyone that uses the primary console. Other players will not be able to access your digital games on a non-primary console.

Sooooo which is it?

To draw a comparison, in the case of iTunes, purchases can be downloaded on up to 5 devices. Exceeding that requires resetting the list of allowed devices. Then there is Family Sharing too. If Nintendo really does make it impossible for a family to share its purchases across multiple Switches, I can only conclude they really don't mind disincentivizing ownership of multiple Switches within a family.

Not that I plan to buy a second Switch, but I was wondering because a lot of games only offer multiplayer over a network (as opposed to shared-screen local multiplayer). Is Nintendo actually greedy enough to demand that parents buy each game for their two kids twice? (Their three kids thrice, etc...)

Also for comparison, I looked into Steam's policy. Steam does support Family Library Sharing. There are a few limitations, but basically sharing is supported.

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  • Regarding every player needing to own the game: that's pretty much standard, and always has been. There are a few platforms and games that allow a second player to download a multiplayer client without their own copy, but they're the exception rather than the rule. You mention Steam's Library Sharing, but that does not allow simultaneous use - you essentially "lend" your entire library to another account, so can't then use it to play against them.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 9:57
  • @IMSoP You're probably right that it always has been for "modern" consoles. The consoles I grew up with weren't networked, so multiplayer always meant local on a single console. Later it was PC gaming over networked home computers (C&C, Quake, etc). The idea of needing to re-purchase a game to play multiplayer at home would have seemed absurd then, and it still does today. (Good observation re. Steam not allowing simultaneous use, btw.) Hoping to see platforms/games take a more reasonable approach to multiplayer requirements in the future. I'll vote with my dollar.
    – Mentalist
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 7:55
  • As a child I had a Game Gear; multiplayer was via link cable, and required two copies of the same game (with the exception of Micro Machines, which had a mode where you crowded round a single Game Gear). I'm pretty sure the same was true of other hand-held consoles, which is probably the most relevant comparison here. The PC version of Total Annihilation had a formula of how many licensed CDs you needed for each number of players - 2 players could share one copy, but 3 needed two copies, if I remember correctly. I remember that seeming more generous than usual, rather than vice versa.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 8:48

1 Answer 1

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Suppose that you buy a game digitally such as Overcooked, for example.

In your primary console, as long as you have downloaded the game, anyone that is logged in can play Overcooked.

In your non-primary console, two things can happen:

  1. If someone else has that switch as primary and has bought a digital copy of Overcooked: you can download it, and anyone in that console can play it.
  2. Otherwise, only accounts that have bought Overcooked digitally can download and play it.

I used a game for an example but this is basically how this works for all games.

What this means for a household is that yes, if you want to play the same game in multiple Switches at the same time, you will need multiple purchases.

Notice that this can work differently for the NES, SNES, Genesis and Nintendo 64 games that are only accessible with a Nintendo Online subscription. If you have a family subscription, you can add up to seven other players as your family and for all purposes you all own those games, being able to play them simultaneously.

Edit: to address this point OP made in a comment:

Can multiple "primary" accounts be active on a single Switch? Then at least ownership of games could be assigned to different family members. And if someone goes their separate way in the future and gets a Switch of their own, they can at least take "their" games with them. Still not an ideal situation, but I'm curious.

Yes, and I think is the usual scenario for most people. My spouse and I both have the same switch as our primary console (we only have this one). We both have games we separately purchased online. When logging into another Switch, I can play my games, but not my spouse's. If we got separate Switches, and I made mine my primary and she made hers her primary, then we could still play my games on my Switch, and her games on her Switch.

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  • Thanks. That's good to know that Nintendo Online works differently, in case of retro gaming. Can multiple "primary" accounts be active on a single Switch? Then at least ownership of games could be assigned to different family members. And if someone goes their separate way in the future and gets a Switch of their own, they can at least take "their" games with them. Still not an ideal situation, but I'm curious.
    – Mentalist
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 8:14
  • @Mentalist I am going to update my answer to address this bit about multiple accounts having the same switch as primary :)
    – Old Gamer
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 14:27

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