Xbox Live Coming To Nintendo Switch, iOS, And Android, Microsoft Confirms
Microsoft plans to expand Xbox Live to other platforms, including Nintendo Switch and mobile. The company says bringing the network to more consoles will "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."
The move was teased in the description for an upcoming session at GDC, where the plans will presumably be revealed in more detail. The session, titled Xbox Live: Growing & Engaging Your Gaming Community Across iOS, Android, Switch, Xbox, and PC (Presented by Microsoft), will include details on the expansion, which Microsoft says will take Xbox Live to "over 2 billion devices with the release of our new cross-platform Xbox development kit."
The description continues: "Xbox Live players are highly engaged and active on Xbox and PC, but now they can take their gaming achievement history, their friends list, their clubs, and more with them to almost every screen." Further details are scant at present, but we'll learn more during GDC, which takes place from March 18-22.
While this news doesn't necessarily concern cross-play directly, Microsoft has been talking for years now about connecting rival platforms, like PS4 and Xbox One. Xbox boss Phil Spencer previously explained that success to Microsoft involves more than just sales of Xbox One. In fact, GameSpot's discussion with him back in late 2017 is quite telling and makes this Xbox Live news sound like something it's been contemplating for years.
"I think about how successful Xbox has been, and what I think about is how many people are in engaged with something to do with Xbox, playing our games, watching things on Mixer, on Xbox Live, on our console," Spencer said. "But I look at those in aggregate, and so it's not actually about how many Xbox One Xs do I go sell, or how any Ss do I sell, or even how many of one individual game that I go sell. I look at, are we growing the number of people who have a relationship with Xbox in some way? [It] could be an Android customer in China playing Minecraft, but that's a person who's connected to our platform who's able to use Mixer, who's able to connect to Xbox Live, meet their friends online. That's really the metric for growth right now.
"I think if you get so focused just on hardware sales at this point, as gamers, we lose sight of what's going on around the console business. Console's important. I love the console space, but it's part of the gaming business, it's not total. So I just don't define success by any one individual version of our console and how many we sell. Are we growing the business? Are we growing the number of customers?"
Taking Xbox Live to other consoles seems like the natural next step after the cross-platform play that exists within certain games, such as Fortnite or Minecraft. Sony has been less cooperative when it comes to cross-platform play and allowing other services on to its PlayStation Network, and it appears this Xbox Live expansion will not apply to PS4 as yet. However, Sony did enable Fortnite cross-play as a beta late last year, so perhaps further integration of the major gaming platforms will become a possibility down the line.
Why Xbox Live Coming To Nintendo Switch Isn't Surprising
Yes, you read that right. Microsoft has announced plans to bring Xbox Live to Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android, with more details coming in a GDC talk next month. The company says bringing the network to more consoles will "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."
Until the publisher reveals more at GDC, we're not entirely sure what the move will involve, precisely. What we do know is Microsoft wants us to take our Xbox profile, including our Achievement history, friends list, clubs we're in, and more, to every screen--even rival consoles.
That ties into a wider recent Microsoft strategy to get its services on as many devices as possible. Gone are the days when it only wanted you to buy an Xbox One to be your "all-in-one" entertainment solution; now the company wants you to buy a Switch and play with your Xbox friends on it. Trying to pressure everyone into buying a Windows Phone didn't work--and was costly, thanks to the $6.2 billion (£4.7bn) acquisition of Nokia. Now, Microsoft Office runs on iOS, with a subscription fee for professional use. Instances like ex-CEO Steve Ballmer calling open-source OS Linux a "cancer" are in the past; instead, current chief executive Satya Nadella declares the company's "love" for Linux. It only makes sense for this platform-agnostic approach for Microsoft as a whole to involve Xbox. Sure enough, it's possible to play a huge selection of Xbox games on PC with Play Anywhere, and taking Xbox Live to other platforms seems a natural next step.
"I think if you get so focused just on hardware sales at this point, as gamers, we lose sight of what's going on around the console business," Xbox boss Phil Spencer told GameSpot in 2017. "Console's important. I love the console space, but it's part of the gaming business, it's not total.
"I look at those in aggregate, and so it's not actually about how many Xbox One Xs do I sell, or how many Ss do I sell, or even how many of one individual game that I sell. I look at, are we growing the number of people who have a relationship with Xbox in some way? [It] could be an Android customer in China playing Minecraft, but that's a person who's connected to our platform who's able to use Mixer, who's able to connect to Xbox Live, meet their friends online. That's really the metric for growth right now."
Ultimately, the real metric for growth is money. Microsoft's latest financial report states the company's revenue has increased 12%. Profit has increased by 18%. The company's share prices have tripled in the five years since Nadalla took over and began implementing this collaborative strategy.
In that sense, it seems an obvious move to bring Xbox Live to other consoles and to mobiles: it gets the Xbox brand to, potentially, an additional 2 billion devices by Microsoft's calculations. Nintendo in particular are the gateway to gaming for millions of children around the world--Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida once said the games industry "needs Nintendo to be very successful" for this very reason. Those children will soon possess not only a gateway, but a direct pathway to the Xbox ecosystem.
But there's an elephant in the room: Sony is, thus far, not mentioned anywhere in Microsoft's plans for Xbox Live expansion. Whether that's because the PlayStation-maker wasn't asked, or because it didn't agree with Microsoft's collaborative strategy, isn't clear. What is clear is that the Japanese company has been less willing when it comes to joining forces than its competitors: it resisted the temptation of cross-play, for example, for many years, saying the PS4 was the best place to play and that's the end of it. It finally succumbed to the pressure, but only in Fortnite at first, and only in beta form.
What's odd is that Sony was once the frontrunner in this space: Portal 2 on PS3 allowed cross-play with PC players through Steam. More PlayStation games have allowed limited cross-play functionality since then, but only Fortnite and Rocket League allow full cross-play between PS4 and Xbox One. At least that's some sign of progress, though, and if Xbox Live on Switch is a success, more pressure will mount on Sony to follow suit and allow Microsoft's service on to PS4.
When I was growing up, the thought of playing Call of Duty or FIFA with my other-console-owning friends was a mere dream. With Microsoft's plans to bring Xbox Live to competitors' consoles, that dream is a step closer to becoming reality.
"When you look at Twitch and you look at Steam, look at PUBG, look at Minecraft," says Spencer. "People on Minecraft on Switch are playing with people on an iPhone. They don't own a Windows machine or an Xbox, but they own our game, and they're using Xbox Live across multiple devices. That's what gaming in the future's about, right?"