In the wake of Microsoft’s press conference yesterday following crucial talks about the Activision Blizzard merger, the platform owner announced new deals it says will bring Xbox games to more gamers than ever before. Ten-year deals with two major players in the industry confirmed: Nintendo and Nvidia. This is very exciting news for users of GeForce Now — hands down the best cloud streaming service available — and for Nintendo players, too, who can expect full-featured versions of Call of Duty should the acquisition close. So, how important is Nvidia’s collaboration and how successfully can COD transition to Nintendo’s platform?
Let’s address Nintendo’s question first, as there are multiple ways forward for Microsoft to ensure a full feature offering of Call of Duty can make its way to a portable console platform. Legitimate questions have been raised about how the Switch can run an engine as advanced as the IW9 technology found in Modern Warfare 2 in a world where many games struggle once ported to Nintendo’s hybrid machine. It won’t be easy, and if Infinity Ward downgrades its engine to Switch the way Epic does with Fortnite, there are underlying concerns that the inevitable drop to 30fps will be a step too far in compromising the core experience.
There are two possible answers to this question, and the timing of Nintendo’s ports is crucial. Even if the deal were approved today, the reality is that the time required to reconfigure Activision’s current technology would effectively preclude this year’s Call of Duty show, whatever form it takes. 2024? That’s a bigger possibility and at this point, there’s a very strong possibility that Nintendo’s core platform will ‘shift’ into a next-gen offering capabilities far beyond the current machine.
The specifications of the Switch heir have yet to be announced, but all evidence via respected leaks suggests that Nintendo will be using a custom version of the Orin NX processor that Nvidia uses in its Jetson hobbyist board and its automotive line. The launched Tegra T239 pairs an ARM Cortex A78C CPU with an Nvidia GPU based on the RTX 3000 Ampere architecture with 1536 CUDA potential. This is an exciting key point for a new mobile console, but performance must be balanced against battery life, which means moderate clock speeds – just as we saw with the original Switch.
Can these specs bring a full-featured Call of Duty game to life? Obviously, we can only make a basic guess. However, Steam Deck running Windows 11 can Play Warzone 2.0 as this video demonstrates, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a future mobile device with a more streamlined operating system, a dedicated graphics API, and a hyper-focused team of engineers adapting the game specifically for the fixed hardware platform could deliver exactly what Microsoft proposes. Perhaps it helped me understand that COD support for PS4 gen devices isn’t going away anytime soon. If COD can be played on Xbox One S, I’d venture to suggest that the next-gen converter should hold up.
The concept of Call of Duty being restricted to the next-gen Switch – not the current model – limits Microsoft’s claims of bringing the franchise to 150 million new players, of course, but there’s absolutely no reason these older systems couldn’t receive a cloud copy of the game. Based on our experiences with Switch cloud gaming it would be a great experience but based on what I’ve played with xCloud there should be a quality improvement with the Microsoft platform – but still nothing beats the crisp and responsive local experience. However, it will at least meet the brief and can be easily deployed to what would then be a legacy platform.
While not explicitly announced by Microsoft, there are also strong hints that other Xbox titles will be heading to Switch as well, but there is a distinct lack of detail there. Overall, this makes sense, and would be an expansion of existing strategy: Xbox exclusives like Ori and Hellblade have already successfully ported to Switch.
There’s far less speculation regarding the Nvidia GeForce Now side of the press briefing — clearly and unequivocally, we should expect to see a whole host of PC versions of Xbox games appear on what’s essentially a competitor to Microsoft’s streaming platform. If we’re really lucky, we’ll also get some sort of Game Pass implementation as well, as I see few – if any – business complaints from Nvidia in making that happen.
GeForce Now has various levels of access – including free accounts – but the jewel in the crown is its premium offering, based on 16-core AMD Ryzen 5000 server processors paired with hardware generally equivalent to a desktop GPU RTX 4080. I tried this a few weeks ago. It is simply exceptional. Even at 4K at 120Hz with HDR, the picture quality is still very good. RTX 4080-level performance far exceeds the Xbox Series X, even without taking into account Nvidia’s ray tracing or the acceleration factor in DLSS. Cloud Rendering 4080 includes support for creating DLSS 3 frames, which still works well despite the latency penalty.
I’m looking forward to reviewing the latest GeForce Now version soon, but the raw numbers are very convincing: even at 4K at 60Hz, GeForce Now offers similar – and sometimes better – latency than the Xbox Series X. There are still lingering issues with the cloud in general – not least Quality of service on backhaul connections – but as infrastructure moves to fiber technology to bandwidth-heavy workplaces, a lot of those issues are going away. Let’s put it this way: my experience with GeForce Now and xCloud is noticeably superior in terms of consistency over 1Gbps FTTP now than it was with SpaceX Starlink and standard UK fiber connections.
The strategy behind Microsoft’s ads is clear. The main argument made against ABK’s acquisitions centers around lower competition and more difficult availability for its titles and to counter that, Xbox games and Call of Duty titles specifically will now appear more prevalent on Nintendo systems where they weren’t before. Meanwhile, the Nvidia deal sees Xbox titles stream not just on its own platform but on a competitor’s higher-end system, powering more capable hardware — at its premium level, at least. It’s a big concession but as an occasional GeForce Now user and a gamer, I’m excited about it.
In introducing its games to a wider audience by bringing Nintendo into the fold while emphasizing that COD is still on PlayStation, Microsoft’s idea is clearly to isolate its competitor, while also pointing to the market advantages Sony enjoys via its exclusivity strategies. However, previous investment reports indicated that Sony had its own plans to expand its audience outside of the console business. We’re starting to see the success of those previously exclusive games on PC, but streaming will also become more important in the near to medium future. This makes me wonder if the The unlikely Microsoft/Sony cloud alliance agreed in 2019 It will actually lead to anything meaningful…
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