Does cross-play between Nintendo and Microsoft signal the deterioration of the console wars?

E3 2018 wasn’t all that long ago, but for an event that typically focuses on upcoming releases, dominating the news cycle was the arrival of Epic Games’ Fortnite on the Nintendo Switch (the worst kept secret amongst a string of leaks). What’s more was the realisation that anyone who had linked their Epic Games account to a PSN account were unable to use it at all with their Switch, the only solution was to create a brand-new account.

Then last week Nintendo’s official media channels posted a video promoting the bedrock version of Minecraft that had just arrived on Switch (replacing the Switch Edition). During the video, two people are shown playing Minecraft, one on Switch and another on Xbox One, and ends with the screen divided into equal parts Xbox green and Switch red before displaying “Better Together”. This was followed by a social-media “bromance” between the Xbox and Nintendo Twitter accounts.

Inevitably attention turned to the elephant absent from the room, Sony, and the amount of shade emanating from the unofficial, yet somehow official, partnership taking place between Nintendo and Microsoft. Sony, of course, has not been averse to dishing out its own shade, as it infamously did so during 2013s E3 where they displayed how easy it was to trade physical PlayStation 4 games, compared to the potentially convoluted experience on Xbox One. The difference this time is that the focus between Nintendo and Microsoft (for the moment) has been on the positive elements brought about via the cooperation between these two companies and the benefits for their collective player-bases.

This is reminiscent of the Wii60 movement from the mid-2000s, which despite emerging from the meme culture that ridiculed Sony’s disastrous 2006 E3 conference, unified around the concept that owning a Wii and an Xbox 360 would provide a near complete console experience. Admittedly, this comparison doesn’t quite work today given the focus on cross-play, but at the time the notion that the console wars didn’t have to be completely adversarial seemed unheard of. It is that notion that is making a return here, but rather than highlighting the need to own both consoles, there seems like a suggestion that people can choose the platform that is right for them, but still has the ability to play the most popular games with everyone else. The fact that the Switch has and supports cross-play for Fortnite, Minecraft, and Rocket League is a testament to this.

Whilst console wars have helped to drive innovation through competition –  it’s partly responsible for the approach Nintendo took with the Switch by competing in a non-direct way – they also result in “gamers” taking sides which they proceed to take far too seriously; taking the enjoyment out of it. Video games are for everyone, which is why the approach by Nintendo and Microsoft as evident in the recent Minecraft video is so important. It’s about breaking down barriers within video games. One person has an Xbox, another has a Switch, but that’s not a problem as both can play together. This contributes to solving one of the key arguments that arose during console wars past, where one would defend their console choice over someone else’s, and trying to convince others to join their “side” so that there would be more people to play with.

However, we are now entering the twilight period of this console generation – even if Nintendo are happily doing their own thing. Meaning that whilst cross-play is deemed the right thing to do, either Microsoft, Nintendo, or both could suddenly decide to longer continue supporting the practice. Hopefully, though, this will not be the case, but for now, we can enjoy the fact that it is now easier for more of us to play together, and surely that is for the good of video games?

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