We’re not even a full three months into 2019 yet and so many bombshells have already been dropped, particularly in the Nintendo camp—albeit in a very unexpected way.
Just a few weeks ago, a blurb from Microsoft’s GDC 2019 schedule was mistakenly leaked saying that it plans to bring the Xbox Live service to other platforms, including Switch. That rumor caught me and many others off guard. Now the plot has thickened exponentially after a rumor from Direct-Feed Games broke, suggesting that Xbox Game Pass and the Project xCloud game streaming service will also be coming to the Switch. So, taking all of this into consideration, it seems that Microsoft and Nintendo are pulling off one serious fusion technique.
I’m not quite sure how to feel about all this.
As many others have already brought up, including Direct-Feed, there are some legitimate benefits to such a partnership. This would give Switch owners access to a sizeable variety of games that would likely never be brought over otherwise (referring to both first-party games and third-party multiplatform titles). Microsoft would also benefit from having a new market to cater to (though there is some overlap as there are many Switch owners that already have an Xbox One).
I’m a big Forza fan, but only recently became so within the last three years. That’s because I never played a Forza game until Forza Horizon 3 launched on Windows 10 back in 2016. Since then, I’ve fallen head over heels and it’s become one of my favorite game franchises period. Thus, it would be absolutely stellar to play the new Forza Horizon 4 on my Switch, and I’m sure you can think of other Microsoft games you’d like to have on the platform. However, as nice as this all may sound on paper, that doesn’t make it the perfect concept.
Exact details surrounding this rumor are a bit confusing to me and other folks, but the gist seems to be that most of this deal surrounds game streaming. So, it appears that Project xCloud will make up the core of the experience and Xbox Game Pass will function as a way to gain access to a plethora of games at once. Currently, Game Pass functions this way on Xbox One and Windows 10, but it does not have any streaming features. Rather, games are downloaded and ran natively. So, if all (or most) of Microsoft’s games, and the potential third-party multi-platform titles, come to on Switch via streaming only instead, that could prove to be a problem.
I’ve expressed my concern over cloud-based gaming before; I don’t really see it as being a viable option. Well, not yet at least. The fact of the matter is that game streaming requires a high-speed, stable Internet connection; not just something that’s good enough to watch Netflix. While that may be available to some folks in affluent countries, that doesn’t speak for the majority of people in general. Even in the United States, having a decent Internet package is all dependent on which part of the country you’re in. This situation is exacerbated even further when you take the entire concept of the Switch into consideration.
What makes the Switch special is its ability to seamlessly transition from home console to handheld. So, if you’re streaming games that means you would need to have a high-speed Internet connection everywhere you go. That might not be a problem at home or even within your city, but what about when traveling? I’ve done the cliche “playing the Switch while flying” thing, in addition to driving and at various hotels. In all of those scenarios, a decent Internet connection for game streaming was not available. So, that means the uses of xCloud on Switch would be severely limited, and they would essentially render the Switch’s unique capabilities more of a hindrance.
Another negative factor to consider is what effect this could have on Nintendo’s third-party support. While this could open the door to having a plethora of third-party games suddenly available on Switch, what about actual ports? Would developers create only cloud versions of their multiplatform games going forward? After all, they would no longer have to struggle to optimize their games to run on the Switch’s weaker hardware, so they just might be tempted to opt for the streaming option for the sake of simplicity. This would tie into the point I just made: If all or even most of these potential games are truly cloud-based, then that becomes a big concern for Switch owners that don’t have the best Internet connections.
When I look at all those possible pitfalls, the whole concept just seems a bit flawed to me. But even more so, the fact that this is now all in the realm of possibility at all still has me a bit floored.
Microsoft is clearly trying to expand its gaming reach beyond just the Xbox console ecosystem. It’s already fully merged Xbox with Windows, but that makes sense considering that Windows belongs to Microsoft. So, whether you buy an “Xbox” game on Windows 10 or Xbox One, that’s still a purchase made within Microsoft’s domain. But now bringing the service over to Switch would essentially make Microsoft a third-party company in addition to being a hardware maker. This doesn’t suggest Xbox consoles are on the way out, as Phil Spencer already confirmed back at E3 2018 that Xbox engineers are hard at work on the next generation of consoles. However, if people have the option to play most if not all of the games over on a competing platform, that makes the purchase of a new Xbox seemingly redundant.
Perhaps Microsoft really just isn’t concerned about what profits the Xbox hardware sector makes or loses. Rather, its focus now seems to be to expand in a way that Nintendo and Sony likely will not (at least not yet). Microsoft definitely has the resources to pull such a feat off, but either way, I’ll be shocked if this really does come to fruition.
What also confuses me is Nintendo’s seeming willingness to let it all happen. Going back to the point about a possible reduction in native third-party support, I wonder if this will carry over into the next generation of Nintendo hardware. If the company does continue with hybrid systems and its next one is still significantly less powerful than the next gen of Xbox and PlayStation, does that mean Nintendo will essentially let Microsoft handle a large chunk of third-party operations going forward via xCloud?
Gaming’s most unlikely duo
At its core, this supposed partnership simply seems to be a matter of necessity and convenience on both sides. If this is all true, then it shows that Nintendo and Microsoft have accepted that Sony is the dominant player, and the only way for either of them to fully advance is to take drastic measures. At the end of the day, it will likely result in a business boost. Nintendo will get more engagement on its platform (and likely more sales) and Microsoft will get more people using its services. So basically, it’s a win-win. But, again, this may sound good on paper, but I’m not fully convinced it will actually go down that easily.
All I can say at this point is that I’m very curious to see what happens to these rumors. If they really do all come to fruition, then we’ll officially enter a whole new unprecedented era of gaming: where worlds collide.