Microsoft and Nintendo could make for an unexpected but welcome team-up.
The rumor that Microsoft’s Game Pass service could make its way onto the Nintendo Switch came as a shock. It would make for an unprecedented change in the gaming landscape, marking a new era of partnerships in a traditionally segmented industry.
But with Microsoft already letting slip its plans to bolster this relationship with the possibility of Xbox Live coming to Nintendo Switch, a deeper partnership could hugely benefit both companies involved and what players can expect for years to come.
Cross-platform games like Minecraft already feature cross-play between platforms (don’t forget those commercials with Microsoft and Nintendo getting all buddy-buddy), so it’s not a total shock that the two companies could be working toward a friendlier future. The addition of Microsoft’s Netflix-like streaming service, plus the possibility of games being directly available on the Switch, isn’t all that surprising given Microsoft’s recent moves.
Of course, this raises more than a few questions about who benefits in this scenario and why would two competing companies consider such an agreement? Let’s take a look at why it makes sense for all parties. .
Why Would Microsoft Put Games on a Competitor’s Platform?
There are a couple of reasons Microsoft would likely want to see its software and services on a new, widely adopted platform – even if it is a competitor’s.
The most obvious is, frankly, money. Microsoft putting its games and subscription service on another platform would easily allow the company to tap into an audience of millions they may not otherwise. If the rumors are true and Microsoft leads with cartoony, platforming-intensive games, it would align well with the Switch audience’s interests.
And, if players don’t decide to buy the company’s current-gen console, they’re set up quite nicely to have plenty of content if they decide to buy the next Xbox.
Bringing Game Pass to a competitor’s system would likely be another gesture of goodwill in a series of steps Microsoft has taken this generation. Though behind in sales, decisions like backward compatibility, Play Anywhere. Game Pass, and last year’s suite of Microsoft studio acquisitions have demonstrated the company’s intention to service its players both now and in the future. Also, it’s great PR.
Most importantly, it shows Microsoft is continuing to be smart about its infrastructure as the industry becomes increasingly more digital and streaming-focused. Microsoft’s Play Anywhere initiative earlier this generation broke that mold: an Xbox One owner can purchase first-party and some third-party content and not just play it on their home console but on any Windows 10 PC. Microsoft’s xCloud streaming service would further allow games to be streamed to phones, tablets, and, theoretically, the Switch. Microsoft has already decoupled the idea that Xbox has to solely mean playing on a console branded with Xbox.
Yes, the Switch is owned by a competitor. But Microsoft has demonstrated an interest in presenting its games and services on as many platforms as possible, rather than keeping them, tethered to a particular box.
So, What Does Nintendo Get Out of This?
Again, money, obviously. But, more interestingly, the Switch isn’t really directly competing with the Xbox One or PS4 this generation. Besides its mid-cycle launch, the console clearly emphasizes different ways of play, and different, more bespoke Nintendo experiences. The potential of having some Nintendo Switch players also buy an Xbox is a small price to pay for both the PR and sales benefit that could come Nintendo’s way.
More partnerships, especially unprecedented ones like this, prove to the industry that Nintendo isn’t averse to playing ball with pretty much anyone. The Switch is a phenomenon — maybe not a Wii-sized one, but impressive nonetheless — and further expanding what it can do can only benefit its player base.
Nintendo, of course, needs to make sure it properly promotes the Xbox content without obfuscating its own. If Ori and Cuphead and Master Chief show up on your Switch, it obviously won’t be to the detriment of Mario and Link and Donkey Kongs place on the eShop. But, if Nintendo continues to emphasize its deep library of indie games, it can’t let the Wargrooves and Celestes of the eShop fall to the wayside.
A Microsoft presence on the Switch opens up a lot of potential questions and problems for Nintendo to solve, but presents a number of benefits to players.
There’s little precedent to a major first-party service from one company being offered on the console of another major first party. But Microsoft has already blurred the lines between what players consume, what services allow gamers to play them, and where they play those games.
Such a unique partnership between Nintendo and Microsoft likely creates a mess of logistical and business questions to answer, but in doing so, the two companies pave the way for a future benefiting them both and the people who play their games, in a way that once would have seemed crazy but now doesn’t feel that far away from being a reality.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s News Editor and host of Beyond! Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.