Just recently, Microsoft made a very bold and unexpected announcement: Xbox Live is expanding to multiple platforms as a service. Hearing it being integrated into the likes of iOS and Android isn’t really that big of a deal, but what really caught everyone off guard (me included) is the fact that it is also being brought to Switch. This new SDK will allow developers to make use of the service in their games. But my question is–why has Nintendo allowed this?
Nintendo and Microsoft have had a very “buddy-buddy” dynamic going on for the past few months. This really started with the release of the major Minecraft update dubbed “Better Together,” which came to Switch late last year. This update brought the Switch version of Minecraft under the same roof as the Xbox One, Windows 10, and mobile editions, which includes cross-play via Xbox Live. Even with this stipulation, not only did Nintendo greenlight the update, but it also cooperated with Microsoft to advertise this feature. So, Nintendo has been cool with Xbox Live being on the Switch for a while now. But Minecraft is an isolated situation.
When Microsoft bought the Minecraft IP a few years ago, it didn’t really do much in terms of impeding the growth of the game as a multi-platform juggernaut. Microsoft has basically let Mojang do its thing in this regard. Minecraft came to Wii U, 3DS, and Switch all after being acquired by Microsoft, after all. So, even though it was a bit surprising at first when Xbox Live was formally integrated into the Better Together update, this all makes sense considering the circumstances (though Sony still isn’t having any of it). However, Microsoft now deciding to bring the Xbox Live service as a full-on SDK for any developer to use is a whole different story.
Where do you draw the line?
Only four months ago, Nintendo formally launched the Switch Online service. Despite having gained experience with network infrastructure with GameCube online, Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, and the Nintendo Network, Switch Online is still far less advanced than what’s expected from a modern network service. Incidentally, it was Xbox Live that became the first truly successful console network two decades ago. Now, having it formally come to the Switch is a juxtaposition, especially considering that you have to pay for Switch Online before gaining access to XBL (at least this is the case with Minecraft).
This is why I don’t quite understand why Nintendo has approved of this. It’s letting the more advanced service (that it’s still technically competing with) onto its platform, while still charging users the upfront cost. XBL on Switch won’t require a separate subscription, which is similar to how it already works on Windows. Yet, it has more features like Achievements, voice chat, and messaging. As absurd as it may sound, I feel as though Nintendo should just go ahead and let Microsoft absorb Switch Online and turn it into a branch of Xbox Live. The chances of this happening are pretty slim, but I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility.
You do the work, I take the credit
Notice, Microsoft announced the Xbox Live SDK coming to all platforms except PlayStation. I doubt Microsoft even bothered discussing this matter with Sony as the answer would likely be an immediate “No!” Nintendo, on the other hand, is just cool with it. Has the Big N really become this open and laid back, or could this perhaps be a sign of a lack of confidence in its own service? Or maybe some serious money changed hands in order for this to happen. In any case, if developers can just use XBL, why would they even bother incorporating Nintendo’s service outside of it being the gatekeeper? If Nintendo’s services were still free like before, this would be easier to understand, but the fact that all this is happening only after Switch Online became a paid subscription just makes the situation almost comical on top of confusing.
Nintendo recently stated that it does plan to expand Switch Online. When this happens, again I wonder: What will be the point of XBL on the platform? Perhaps I’m looking at this situation too lightly, but it just doesn’t connect with me. As far as I see, the more logical option would be to let Microsoft take over operations entirely or just completely bar it from the Switch. After all, Microsoft isn’t a third-party like Vivox, which is bringing its own social infrastructure over to the Switch. But ultimately, only time will tell how widespread this SDK’s usage becomes. If most developers do decide to implement it, however, just remember you’ll be paying Nintendo to access a free service that supersedes theirs.
As to why Microsoft itself has decided to do this, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that it no longer sees Xbox as just being its own thing. Rather, “Xbox” now seems to be a brand. This shift has been slowly occurring throughout the majority of this generation, particularly after Phil Spencer took the reins. Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising if the upcoming Project xCloud game streaming service also makes its way to Switch. Just think, there’s at the very least a possibility that you’ll be able to stream the likes of Forza and other Microsoft IP not only to your phone, but even your Nintendo console. Now that will definitely be something.