In a recently deleted post, Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, tweeted the first details of a ten-year deal with Nintendo.
The deal involves plans to bring gaming franchise Call of Duty (COD) and other popular Xbox titles to Nintendo platforms. COD: Modern Warfare 2 was the biggest-selling game of 2022, with the series generating over $30 billion (£25 billion) in the 20 years since its first release.
In an updated tweet, Smith added that these new deals are contingent on Microsoft’s planned $69 billion acquisition of the owners of the COD series – Blizzard Entertainment – as well as several popular titles such as World of Warcraft, Overwatch and Starcraft.
There are fears that such a high-level acquisition will cause market stagnation and allow Microsoft to form a monopoly on the gaming industry. The Blizzard acquisition has invoked several anticompetition lawsuits against Microsoft by antitrust authorities in the UK, Europe and the US.
What could this mean for Nintendo fans?
Microsoft’s main gaming competitor, Sony, has been vehemently against the Blizzard acquisition and has refused to sign a similar 10 year COD deal to the one offered to Nintendo. Game developer Valve also declined a similar offer from Microsoft for its online gaming platform, Steam, saying a long-term commitment “wasn’t necessary”.
The last time Nintendo fans could play COD was back in 2013, with Call of Duty: Ghosts, which was graphically pared down for the Nintendo Wii U console.
Nintendo has been excluded from the franchise for nearly a decade mostly because of its ethos of using old technology in innovative ways. This has allowed it to produce less powerful but extremely successful consoles aimed at everyone, not just “gamers”.
For example, its 1980s handheld console, the Game Boy, featured a black and white screen when competitors were championing colour. The resulting cheaper production costs and long battery life helped the Game Boy sell more units during its lifespan than all other competing systems combined managed.
Although an effective strategy, this ethos has made releasing COD for its most recent console, the Nintendo Switch, nearly impossible, as its memory and processing power are much more constrained than modern systems such as the latest Playstation, Xbox and PC hardware.
The new Microsoft deal may be exciting for Nintendo fans, who have been starved of high-fidelity modern gaming for decades. Smith’s tweet describes “feature and content parity” with COD releases for other consoles.
From a technical perspective, there are only two ways this could be feasible. Firstly, they could release COD on the Switch via a game streaming service.
Brands such as Google’s Stadia have previously attempted to provide the latest games via streaming to users with low-end machines. Google hosted each game on a network of ultra-high-spec gaming computers and streamed the video and controls remotely to players. This circumvented the need for them to purchase expensive hardware and instead they paid for a monthly subscription service.
Several problems with this concept led to Stadia’s closure earlier this year. The most obvious was a lack of high-speed internet infrastructure in the UK and the US compared to countries like South Korea. If users cannot access a decent internet connection, they will not be able to consistently stream the HD video needed for an enjoyable gaming experience.
The other issue was latency, the time it takes from the player hitting an input to the result being shown on screen. For many popular titles such as COD, even a few milliseconds delay can adversely affect a player’s chances of winning.
It could be argued that current technology and internet infrastructure cannot support Nintendo’s purported “feature and content parity” with COD titles via streaming in western countries. This is, however, subjective to the player. Some more casual gamers may not care about these issues, so long as they are invited to the party.
Another possibility for Nintendo fans is a new COD game that runs directly on their Nintendo hardware. This could be an indicator of a more powerful Nintendo console on the horizon, on par with its competitors. There are already rumours of Xbox series X and PlayStation 5 (PS5) upgrades coming soon.
Sony released a pro version of its console with more processing power and improved graphics, approximately halfway through the life cycle of the PS4. As both the PS5 and Xbox Series X are approaching their third birthdays, there is a good chance that Nintendo could pull a new gaming system out of the bag.
That system could be capable of running the latest graphically impressive COD titles – much to the rapture of Nintendo fans.