Earlier this week. Microsoft announced that it had plans to expand its Xbox Live service to other platforms, including the Nintendo Switch and various mobile devices. 

While this is no doubt a move to try and bridge the gap and gain access to more gamers, Microsoft also hopes that bringing the service to more platforms will allow 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 company hasn’t fully announced the move just yet, but instead has teased a full announcement that is planned for the upcoming Game Developers Conference taking place in March. There, Microsoft will have a session titled Xbox Live: Growing & Engaging Your Gaming Community Across iOS, Android, Switch, Xbox, and PC (Presented by Microsoft), which will include details on how the company plans to expand their service.

GDC 2019

In the brief description for the panel, Microsoft described how Xbox Live will reach “over 2 billion devices” once the cross-platform development kit is implemented. This is certainly an interesting development for Microsoft, but it’s something that might become incredibly beneficial for gamers as a whole. 

For years now, gamers have been pining for the ability to play with friends who happen to be on other gaming platforms. While games like Fortnite have begun to break the barrier and allow cross-play, there are still a couple of parties - namely, Sony - that don’t seem to be keen on allowing a true cross-play experience to happen.

Of course, Microsoft expanding their Xbox Live service doesn’t confirm or explicitly mean that cross-play features will be looked at more seriously, but it does show that the company is ready to begin engaging with gamers it hasn’t yet had the chance to. After a rocky launch, and watching the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch perform extremely well, Microsoft has slowly begun to move away from strictly advertising the Xbox One, and instead has started treating its platforms as one giant ecosystem. 

Ed Tomasi, Managing Director of esports at Subnation and Big Block added, “I believe that this move by Microsoft will further motivate game developers to offer cross-platform play in their future releases.  No longer will the platform limit your friends circle during game play.” This further echoes the thoughts of gamers across the globe who are eager to play games with their friends no matter what platform they choose to play on.

Allowing cross-play between PC and Xbox, introducing the Xbox Game Pass, and now this potential cross-play initiative, are all signs that Microsoft is one of the few large companies in gaming that is willing to attempt communicating with gamers outside of its own bubble. This isn’t new for Microsoft either, as executive Vice-President of Gaming, Phil Spencer, spoke to GameSpot in 2017 about similar issues.

Phil Spencer

"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.” He continued, saying, “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?"

Instead of focusing on strictly selling more Xbox One consoles or gatekeeping your Xbox Live profile, friends and achievements on one single device, Microsoft might finally be opening the doors, and telling gamers that it’s okay to check out what other companies have to offer, and that regardless of what console or device they choose, the Xbox ecosystem will still exist within it. 

During his 2017 talk, Spencer’s words didn’t seem to hold much weight, as the three major console companies acted and made decisions based around keeping gamers playing on their side of the fence. Two years later, however, and companies finally seem ready to embrace the change that gamers have been asking for. This might not mean that full cross-play is coming, but it does signal that the change may come much sooner than we think.

Keep an eye on Subnation as we'll have more on this evolving story following the GDC panel in March.