Cuphead has just landed on the Nintendo Switch, and it has gotten everyone talking about the sheer heresy of one of Xbox One’s best exclusives in recent memory appearing on a rival system with everyone’s blessing. Still, this isn’t the first time Microsoft and Xbox have permitted their own IP to appear on a non-Xbox branded game system, because when Microsoft bought Rare it didn’t quite mark the immediate end of Rare’s Nintendo efforts. There were still a few Banjo Kazooie Game Boy Advance titles released, but even more jarring was a version of Xbox 360’s Viva Pinata on the Nintendo DS. Still, it’s not like Microsoft had their own handheld system, which is why Cuphead appearing on a console rivalling their own brand is certainly alarming by comparison.
A traditional response to something like this is basically viewing it as a red flag, signalling the end of the Xbox console brand as we know it, and yet Microsoft has been unphased by the whole notion of exclusive games. In the last few years the Xbox One has been content with timed (typically a year) exclusivity deals with the likes of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Tomb Raider. Even the term “Only on Xbox” has since been revised to “Xbox One Console Exclusive” with Microsoft enabling Xbox to integrate with Windows 10 (PC). This may make gamers wonder why the Xbox console brand even exists, and I suppose at the end of the day it may simply be the case of convenience.
Convenience seems to be the selling point of Xbox One systems whether it’s the original iteration of the hardware or the alternate versions that have launched since. Until the PlayStation 5 launches, you’ll get a pretty good deal with the almighty Xbox One X to get the most out of any game with or without a 4K television. The recently announced Xbox One S All-Digital Edition provides an economical plug and play solution for most gaming needs. Ultimately, it looks like the Xbox brand is aiming to enhance its quality of service rather than the uniqueness of its library – even what little unique games it has left now seem to be on their way to the Nintendo Switch.
That being said, Microsoft and Xbox are perhaps future proofing themselves for the inevitable, a path that Sony is likely to take as well and perhaps even Nintendo someday. The whole notion of the video game console is quickly phasing out, because like most forms of entertainment, video games too are heading towards a digital subscription service model. Steam set the bar for it, similar sites followed, but even more interesting are publishers establishing their own subscription platforms with the likes of EA Access and the Epic Games Store. Internet giant Google has now announced their own video game service too with Stadia, and Microsoft, staying true to their roots, would be foolish not to reinvent their Xbox Live service. What has kept the Xbox console brand alive all this time is arguably the Xbox Live service, and to use this strength to pave their future is anything but heretical.
Crazier things have happened in this rapidly evolving video game industry, things we never imagined would ever be possible. Final Fantasy characters sharing a universe with Disney, Sonic appearing in Nintendo games, and now Microsoft embracing the all-digital subscription gaming future to be shared with all, including Nintendo Switch. When you think about it, SEGA’s triumph came after its departure from console manufacturing and reestablishing itself as a third-party developer. Unlike SEGA, whose ideas were almost always too far ahead of their time, Microsoft and Xbox have always got the timing of their ideas just right, and even now as we see the entertainment distribution landscape change for better or worse, being able to log into Xbox Live from your Nintendo Switch or perhaps even your PlayStation 5 may not be such a crazy thing after all.
As the concept of “console wars” eventually becomes a relic of the past, the future is quite literally “Play Anywhere”.