Forgive us for going back over old ground we've already covered, but could Microsoft and Nintendo please just stop flirting with one another and hook up? The fact that the two firms have enormous respect for one another isn't fresh information – heck, they collaborated so that Banjo and Kazooie could appear in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, for crying out loud – but as the next-generation war looms ever closer, the timing becomes ever more perfect for the kind of Microsoft-Nintendo alliance that hasn't been seen since the "Wii60" days.
Let's consider the lay of the land here. Microsoft is about to launch its Xbox Series X console, which will be going up against Sony's PlayStation 5 – the latter of which we'll be seeing a lot more of tomorrow. While Nintendo fans naturally have no skin in this particular game, it's fair to say that Sony – as the current market leader – is holding most of the decent cards. The PS4 has utterly trounced the Xbox One in terms of global sales to the point where Microsoft stopped officially stating how many machines it has sold some time ago, and Sony's enviable stable of internal development studios has churned out smash hit after smash hit, including Spider-Man, Horizon Zero Dawn and the upcoming The Last of Us: Part II, which – despite a rather bumpy ride of late – is shaping up to be something truly special. Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to be saving its powder for the impending next-gen war, although its promise to support both Xbox One and Series X for the next few years is interesting.
Nintendo has protected its market to a degree by providing consumers with something that neither Microsoft nor Sony is offering
The battle lines are being drawn for what could be one of the biggest console wars in history, with Sony appearing to be the sure bet at the time of writing – but where does Nintendo fit in all of this? The Japanese veteran has positioned itself outside of the traditional arena by creating a console that acts as both a domestic and portable system, and that strategy has enabled it to sell 55 million units since 2017. In terms of momentum, the Switch is the console of the moment, but whether that will remain the case once new hardware hits store shelves remains to be seen. Nintendo has protected its market to a degree by providing consumers with something that neither Microsoft nor Sony is offering – a handheld games console which delivers true AAA experiences – but, as we've discussed before, the already-worrying power gap that exists between the Switch and its rivals is only going to expand by the time the PS5 and Xbox Series X touch down.
So, where does this leave the three major players? Sony is understandably happy to continue as it always has done; sure, it's working with Microsoft on cloud technology and is making moves to bring its first-party games to a wider audience by releasing older games like Horizon Zero Dawn on PC, but ultimately Sony knows that it's in a strong position in the console market and has no reason to work any more closely with one of its rivals when it comes to software or hardware. Sony as a company is heavily reliant on its PlayStation division right now, and that means it has to make the PS5 as big a commercial success as it can.
Microsoft, on the other hand, has long been adamant that it wants its games and services to reach as many people as possible, and only this week Xbox boss Phil Spencer stated that the company's focus is the player and not the device. Microsoft is trying its hardest to make its Game Pass subscription service as successful as possible, and also has Project xCloud waiting in the wings. Currently in testing, this cloud-based service will allow active subscribers to play Xbox games across a wide range of systems, including computers, smartphones and tablets, and will enable Microsoft to turn people who don't even own an Xbox console into loyal, paying subscribers. The company knows that we're inevitably moving towards a hardware-agnostic future, and is doing everything it can to make sure it has the foundations in place to capitalise on that shift.
We're in the unique situation where the three main players in the console hardware arena all have slightly different objectives
Nintendo has a console which has a massive market share and offers millions of turned-on players who have already gobbled up what Microsoft is offering. Cuphead, Ori and the Blind Forest and Minecraft Dungeons (the latter of which has the distinction of recently topping both the Xbox and eShop charts) have all launched on Switch to commercial success, which shows that Microsoft sees the benefit of opening up its catalogue of IP to a rival system in order to reach a hitherto unobtainable audience. It's a sensible approach; turn off your loyalties for certain hardware vendors and that is obvious. If the aim is to sell as many copies of a game as possible, why limit yourself to just one system when another console can bring millions of extra sales? This tactic makes even more sense when your current home system is struggling for air, of course.
Which brings us to Rare, and our traditional appeal to Microsoft to allow Rare Replay to come to Switch. While that cry might be getting quite old now, we're still not entirely sure why Microsoft hasn't already released the UK studio's back catalogue on Switch. Nintendo fans would lap up the likes of Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, Blast Corps, Diddy Kong Racing and Conker's Bad Fur Day – as well as the countless other NES, SNES and Game Boy titles the company produced in such high volumes back in the '80s and '90s. It's a revenue stream that could only really make sense via a Nintendo platform, and it feels like an open goal that Microsoft has yet to notice.
Of course, Nintendo could argue that the idea of allowing xCloud to come to Switch – which, lest we forget, is based on the same mobile architecture seen in the many tablets and phones which Microsoft intends to support with the service – would undermine sales of its own software, but we're sure there's some way around such a situation; perhaps a small kickback for every Switch owner who subscribes to the service? While the complexities of business will no doubt play a vital role here, xCloud coming to Switch is a tangible benefit for both companies – Microsoft reaches a wider audience and gains more subs, while Nintendo could potentially see the Switch given additional longevity at a point where it begins to look very long in the tooth compared to PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Whatever happens, we're in the unique situation where the three main players in the console hardware arena all have slightly different objectives. Sony is taking the traditional route of dominating the living room with killer exclusives and gaming-focused hardware, while Microsoft sees the Xbox Series X as just one pillar in a strategy that also includes cloud and PC gaming. Meanwhile, Nintendo has long abandoned the tiresome technology war and instead offers a totally unique experience which can't be found elsewhere. Contrast this to the situation the industry was in back at the dawn of the millennium when the PS2, Xbox and GameCube were all similarly powered and therefore aiming for largely the same audience (as was evidenced by the high volume of third-party titles that launched across all three systems).
It will be interesting to see what the lay of the land looks like in 2021, but from our perspective, Microsoft and Nintendo only have gains to make if they decide to work more closely than they do already. But what do you think? Would this alliance benefit the two giants? Or should they instead focus on standing apart? Let us know with a comment.