There’s been quite the rumour doing the rounds since yesterday; Microsoft is allegedly bringing Xbox Game Pass, or at least a version of it, to the Nintendo Switch. There are a few ways this could pan out, and we’ve seen at least two versions being suggested.
The first is a service like Vortex or Utomik where the games themselves are streamed to the Switch, which would supersede the Switch’s lower specs when compared to the Xbox One and enable an enormous swath of games (177 at time or writing) to be played on the console at launch. This would be absolutely insane: the Halo, Crackdown, Forza, and Gears of War series, Sunset Overdrive, State of Decay and its sequel… and that’s just for starters! The downside here is of course a consistent internet connection which somewhat limits the ability of the console to be used in portable mode (or more specifically, outside of the house), but honestly for most I don’t think this would be a deal breaker for many given the library of games that would open up here. But it can’t be denied that one of the big sticking points for console gamers over the last two generations has been the fight against always-on connectivity requirements.
The second version is slightly more trimmed down, but comes with its own set of positives. Lower-spec games which could natively run on the Switch, but aren’t currently in the Nintendo Store for licensing reasons, could be ported and made available only under the Game Pass umbrella. This would open up games like Ori and the Blind Forest, which have insane appeal and have won countless awards, but have a limited user base due to their exclusivity. This would also cut out the issues with requiring the console to be connected to the internet throughout a play session, perhaps needing a once a day check-in or similar, and allow the console to be used while out and about as the gods of gaming intended.
Honestly, the first version seems the more likely route that the service (if it exists at all) will take. It doesn’t seem likely that Microsoft would go to all this trouble to port its titles to the competition, but Games as a Service seems to be a likely middle ground which would please both Microsoft and Nintendo. After all, why buy an Xbox if you can play its best games from your Switch? This also seems to gel more with what Phil Spencer was talking about last year regarding Xbox Game Pass becoming a streaming service for games that would work on “any device”. And the Switch is most certainly “any device”.
It might seem like a strange choice for Microsoft and Nintendo to get into bed together like this, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen unprecidented collaboration between the two: while Sony has dug its heels in regarding cross play, Microsoft and Nintendo have been making huge strides with the likes of Minecraft and Rocket League to encourage friends to play together regardless of their platform of choice. Play Anywhere also seems to have been a bit of a precursor to this initiative: allowing Xbox gamers to continue their progress on a Windows 10 version of the same game (and, if that game was bought digitally, you don’t even have to buy the other platform’s version– one size fits all).
We are currently living in a very interesting time for the gaming industry. Are we about to see the walls surrounding the consoles come down for the first time ever? Will Microsoft duck out of the console market like Sega did twenty years ago? Watch this space, and we’ll find out together.