Here at Ars, we tend to be skeptical of the regularly recurring rumors that two major video game competitors are going to be merging or teaming up in some way. From the early 2000s whispers that Microsoft would buy a struggling Sega to suggestions that Apple should buy Nintendo, these rumors often reflect wishful thinking at least as much as actual insider knowledge.
That said, we’re still intrigued by recent rumors that Microsoft could be bringing certain Xbox One games—and a version of its Xbox Game Pass subscription service—to the Nintendo Switch and other consoles.
As the current scuttlebutt has it, an Xbox app to be released for the Switch would let players with a Games Pass subscription play a selection of Xbox One games on Nintendo’s hardware. High-end games would work on Nintendo’s lower-end hardware thanks to streaming via Microsoft’s recently announced Project xCloud. Meanwhile, Microsoft would also sell certain low-end first-party Xbox One games, like the series, to the Switch directly, according to the rumors.
These latest reports originate with a video from Direct Feed Games, who cites “several” unnamed sources creating “teasing and hinting [that] has reached a point to which I can no longer ignore it.” The Direct Feed Games channel is mainly known for extremely basic gameplay videos, though, and it has a spotty history of accurate rumor reporting. Last March, the channel confidently but incorrectly stated that ” will come to Switch in 2018,” for instance.
But Game Informer also cites its own sources as saying that Xbox Game Pass on Switch could be announced “this year.” And the usually reliable Windows Central says that they’ve been “hearing for almost a year that Microsoft was aiming to put Xbox Game Pass on Nintendo Switch, and even PlayStation 4.”
Venturing outside the walls
The idea of Microsoft bringing its games and services to competing consoles isn’t as ridiculous as it might seem at first. Xbox’s Phil Spencer may have already hinted at it in a December interview with Gamespot, where he said Game Pass “started on console, it will come to PC, and eventually it will come to every device.” Back at E3 2018, Spencer similarly said a future Microsoft “game streaming network” would bring “console quality gaming on any device.” He specifically cited phones and PCs at the time, but the Nintendo Switch definitely counts as “any device.”
There have been other signs Microsoft is interested in opening up its walled console garden. Just this month, the company revealed that it will soon let Xbox Live integrate with Switch and mobile games, letting players bring their “gaming achievement history, their friends list, their clubs, and more” along with them beyond Xbox hardware. That comes years after Microsoft opened up cross-platform gameplay for Xbox One titles and introduced a “Play Anywhere” initative linking PC and Xbox One purchases and game progress.
On top of all that, there’s Microsoft’s PlayFab Multiplayer Servers, which have maintained SDKs for Xbox, Windows, PlayStation, Switch, iOS, and Android despite a Microsoft buyout in early 2018.
Microsoft has taken baby steps to bringing its own games to competing platforms in the past, as well. is the biggest example, but that game was already a multi-platform behemoth well before Microsoft bought publisher Mojang, and the game simply remained so under the new regime. But there have been Microsoft-published games on Steam and iOS/Android, and Microsoft-owned properties like and have shown up on the Nintendo DS, too.
One among many
Add it all together, and you can paint a picture of a Microsoft that is less interested in continuing to fight another battle in the traditional my-way-or-the-highway console wars. Microsoft is currently losing that war pretty badly, as measured purely by hardware sales (Microsoft says that is not how it measures things, for what it’s worth). Microsoft has also been struggling a bit to attract as many big-name exclusives to its platform, making the walled console garden approach look even less viable for the company these days.
Letting previously exclusive games and services outside the Xbox hardware ecosystem probably wouldn’t the consumer appeal of Microsoft’s own console offerings. But getting Xbox-branded games and services onto other platforms would let the company bring in revenue from a much bigger pool of potential players—even if Microsoft’s share of that revenue would be smaller than that directly from Xbox hardware.
For Nintendo, allowing Xbox-branded Game Pass streaming is another checkbox that could help drive already healthy Switch sales, and such a move would let the company extract an easy cut of any Switch-based revenue Microsoft generates. Nintendo has already used server-side game streaming to bring high-end games like to the Switch in Japan, so the concept isn’t an entirely new one.
Even if the rumors are true, none of this means Microsoft will be pulling a post-Dreamcast Sega-style departure from the console hardware business. After all, at the last E3 Spencer said that it was “deep into architecting the next Xbox consoles [that will] set the benchmark for console gaming.”
What Microsoft might be setting up is a situation more akin to its place in PC gaming. There, Microsoft publishes its own games, runs its own online storefront, makes its own hardware, and even provides the operating system that runs it all. But despite worries from some corners, Microsoft hasn’t taken any real steps to flex its muscles and try to make PC gaming a console-style walled garden.
That could be because such a system would be harder to pull off on an open platform like the PC, or it could be because today’s Microsoft is growing to accept a world where it provides games and services to multiple platforms, not just its own. If rumors are to be believed, perhaps we should all get more used to that approach, even in the console space.