It all started with Fortnite.
My brother had taken up gaming during the 2020 lockdown and wanted me to show him what this “battle royale” thing was all about. Epic Games’ popular spin on the genre seemed like a good place to start, but there was a problem: The game wouldn’t download.
I logged into my Nintendo Account from a web browser and confirmed my worst fear.
Nintendo had banned my account, effectively locking my Switch out of accessing any online service — including online play, new downloads and even my existing game library. In an instant, I’d lost access to hundreds of dollars worth of digital games. Poof. Gone, with no recourse available to me. The only option Nintendo offered was a “sign out” button, effectively showing me the door.
It didn’t take me long to figure out what had happened.
Back in April of 2020,. Hackers found they could log into vulnerable Nintendo Accounts and make purchases on the eShop using the account’s saved payment information. And by logging into Fortnite with a separate account first, the attacker could use the compromised account’s credit card to buy themselves vBucks, .
This happened to me in May. Back then I immediately got in contact with Nintendo to dispute the $100 charge for Fortnite vBucks, informing them the purchase was unauthorized and that I was getting it refunded through my payment provider. The Nintendo customer service representative seemed fine with that. Nintendo was familiar with the hack and didn’t object to having the charge reversed. All was right with the world.
Until, six months later, when Nintendo banned my account without explanation.
I called Nintendo about the unexpected ban. Turned out I hadn’t been hacked again, Nintendo had flagged my account for the original hack, half a year after it happened. I explained what happened back in May, but this particular customer service representative wasn’t familiar with the attack that compromised 300,000 accounts. In fact, they seemed shocked to learn that a hacker could use a Nintendo Account’s saved payment method to steal Fortnite vBucks. They did, however, confirm the ban, and got to work resolving the issue for a second time.
Nintendo asked me to sit tight for a few days while they escalated the case to their finance department. In the meantime, I set out to find out what my Nintendo Switch could still do with a banned account.
The answer: Not much.
Using a Nintendo Switch with a banned Nintendo Account is like living in purgatory. The console presents you with so many possibilities for entertainment, but blocks you at almost every turn. Want to download something from your digital game library? Sorry, your account can’t be used.
What about checking your friends list to see what all your buddies with valid accounts are playing? Try it, and the Nintendo Switch asks you to sign-in to a blocked account. Try that, and you’ll be told that “the information you entered is incorrect.”
It’s the same story for browsing the eShop, updating games or accessing anything that uses online functionality, including Super Mario 35, the Nintendo Switch Online NES and SNES game libraries and online play in any game. Physical game cards and previously downloaded games are playable, but that’s about it. So, it’s purgatory, but with. Could be worse.
The hardest hitting limitation wasn’t what the ban did to me, it’s what it did to my family. To play Nintendo Switch games online, you need to subscribe to the consoles can be registered to a single family plan to save money. As the primary account holder of our Nintendo Switch Online Family Membership, my ban effectively cut my entire family group off from online play. My wife couldn’t play Animal Crossing with her friends, and my brother’s quest to ride Fortnite’s battle bus was stymied. Worse still, neither of them knew what was happening or why. Their online play was just… broken, without explanation., and multiple Switch
After waiting a day for a solution, I became impatient and called back. This time, Nintendo’s customer service agent referred me to a higher tier of support. I knew things were getting serious when the hold music changed from the generic, easy listening of Opus Number One to the soaring, victorious theme of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule Field.
The second customer service representative listened to my story and quickly resolved the issue, restoring my account to good standing within minutes. Even so, the resolution was slightly unsettling: despite being major news on CNET, CNN and Forbes earlier that year, the agent was completely unaware of the hack that left 300,000 Nintendo Accounts compromised. In fact, Nintendo didn’t seem to believe me at all, ending the conversation not with an apology, but a warning: Nintendo will only unban a suspended account once. Next time, I’ll be out of luck.
In other words, “don’t let it happen again.”
Nintendo promised me that if it did happen again, and it was a hack, they’d look at it on a case by case basis, but the way I was informed about this policy felt a little threatening. I may have proof that my account was accessed multiple times out of country before the fraudulent charge occurred, but to Nintendo, it still looks like someone issued a chargeback on a non-refundable purchase. That’s against the Nintendo Account user agreement. Even if it takes six months for someone to notice it.
CNET has reached out to Nintendo for official comment and advice on what customers should do if they find themselves in a similar situation. We’ll update this piece if we hear back.
Either way, I had my happy ending. At long last my account was restored. My library was accessible again, and my Nintendo Switch Online family plan was active on my account, my wife’s account and my brother’s account. Finally, I’d be able to introduce him to the concept of a “Battle Royale” shooter.
I went back to where my troubles began, and downloaded Fortnite. The game’s homescreen loaded, and instantly.
No thanks. I think I’ll pass. On second thought, maybe I’ll just build my brother a gaming PC.