Xbox + Nintendo: An Interesting Relationship
By: Giovanni Arias
As of 2019, most believe the end of the console generation of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is near. Among the many rumors of what’s to come, one of the biggest is that Microsoft is bringing its “Xbox Game Pass” (A Netflix-like subscription service for games) to the Nintendo Switch. The service is one of the most consumer friendly programs to be introduced under the leadership of Xbox’s Executive Vice President, Phil Spencer. The significance of this rumor comes from the console-exclusive games that are included in the service possibly being ported to the Switch. Close cooperation such as this between the two companies would be unprecedented. Therefore, the idea warrants skepticism, but Xbox has already established themselves as a foreword-thinking company.
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For instance, Xbox was the first of many gaming companies to exhibit a more friendly demeanor when it came to establishing cross-play, a feature that allows players to play together online across different platforms. Using Minecraft to spearhead the feature’s ad campaign, Xbox used imagery that constantly put their brand next to Nintendo’s with the slogan “Survive Together.” This alone set forth a new relationship between Nintendo and Xbox. Adding on to this was the highly praised implementation of cross-play in “Fortnite.” Xbox’s affinity for collaboration looked even better next to PlayStation’s refusal to cooperate, claiming that their platform offers the best experience for games like “Fortnite.” PlayStation was quickly lambasted by its community. This conundrum highlighted cross-play as a highly-demanded feature along with clamor about what it means to be consumer-friendly in the gaming industry. While features like cross-play may seem counterintuitive to those who do not closely follow games, the move was clever because Xbox and Switch consoles are not directly competing despite being in the same market. This is due to a power disparity between the two products that gear them toward different sectors of the market. The deal is mutually beneficial to the consumers and the companies in different capacities.
Screenshot of “Cuphead”
Nintendo introduced the the Switch later than their competitors, forcing them to keep supporting the Switch for years to come while others begin their next venture. Xbox Games Pass would simply assist in bolstering the catalogue of games available to Switch owners in the coming years. The only issue is that some of the more graphics-intensive first party games like “Halo Infinite” and “Gears 5” likely would not be able to run on the weaker, hybrid hardware. Despite this, there are significant titles such as “Cuphead” and “Ori and the Blind Forest” that would complement the platform based on their smaller scale and less power-consuming art styles. Having these games on the Switch would also keep players from straying to other platforms, meaning more playtime on the Switch. Overall, Nintendo would be able to maintain the necessary steady stream of games through the service along with the added player retention on their platform.
At first glance, Microsoft seemed to be giving up incentives to buy an Xbox since people can simply play their games on the Switch, but in actuality the nature of Game Pass allows constant financial gain. Xbox’s Netflix-like business model will continue to build revenue regardless of the platform – subscriptions are subscriptions. Everyone who is playing Xbox games, even on Nintendo’s hardware, would be paying Microsoft to be able to play those games. It stands to reason that Microsoft would want to expand availability to all platforms. This style of targeting as large a market as possible also falls in line with the company’s most recent announcement: bringing “Xbox Live” services to the Switch and Mobile devices, Android and iOS.
The plan was divulged on Feb. 4 at 2019’s “Game Developers Conference” (GDC). Details were included in a statement reading: “Xbox Live is about to get MUCH bigger. Xbox Live is expanding from 400m gaming devices and a reach to over 68m active players to over 2bn devices with the release of our new cross-platform XDK (a proprietary microsoft Development tool). Get a first look at the SDK (Software Development Kit) to enable game developers to connect players between iOS, Android, and Switch in addition to Xbox and any game in the Microsoft Store on Windows PCs.” This meant that players across all included platforms would be able to see benefits from the service’s multiplayer capabilities, friends list, achievements, and game history. The services would also add to the existing ability to sign in to “Xbox Live” on certain games like Minecraft that are already on several platforms. This revelation strengthens the ability of Xbox Game Pass to reach outside platforms because of the new precedence being established. If this weren’t enough, Xbox executives have turned to social media to bring more attention to the rumors.
On Feb. 23, Vice President of Xbox, Mike Ybarra, posted two tweets about rumors, around the time that the Xbox Game Pass rumor was first erupting. The first was a simple post with a screenshot of Google’s definition of the word “Rumor” with a follow-up that reads, “It’s a rumor that I only play PC games!” The tweets were met with intense speculation that stoked more discussion around the rumors. This is currently the last clue that would lead to the confirmation of adding Game Pass to the Switch. If it were to be true, this would be an interesting way to compete with the industry leader PlayStation, who has been the most opposed to blurring the lines between platforms.