Microsoft just accidentally revealed its plans to expand Xbox Live to more platforms, and it could help break down longstanding barriers in the gaming industry

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  • Microsoft has revealed plans to bring the Xbox Live online video game platform to the Nintendo Switch, Apple's iOS, and Android devices.
  • Details were included in the description of an upcoming panel hosted by Microsoft at the 2019 Game Developers Conference.
  • Expanding Xbox Live services would allow gamers to stay connected regardless of whether they're using a video game console or a smartphone, which has been a longstanding barrier in the industry.

Microsoft has revealed plans to bring its Xbox Live video gaming platform to the Nintendo Switch, Apple's iOS, and Android devices, an effort that will connect players across different devices and bring Xbox games to a new audience.

The tech giant's plans were revealed ahead of the 2019 Game Developers Conference (GDC), an annual gathering of video game professionals happening in San Francisco next month. Microsoft is hosting a GDC panel titled "Xbox Live: Growing & Engaging Your Gaming Community Across Platforms," and the panel description on the GDC website teased specific details about Microsoft's Xbox Live gaming service expanding to new platforms.

The description has since been scrubbed from the website, but Windows Central has published the full text of the panel description.

"Xbox Live is about to get MUCH bigger. Xbox Live is expanding from 400M gaming devices and a reach to over 68M active players to over 2B devices with the release of our new cross-platform XDK," the description for the GDC panel read. "Get a first look at the SDK to enable game developers to connect players between iOS, Android, and Switch in addition to Xbox and any game in the Microsoft Store on Windows PCs."

Expanding Xbox Live services could be the spark of a shift in the gaming industry. Here's why it's meaningful:

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Xbox Live is Microsoft's online gaming platform.

Xbox Live is Microsoft's online gaming platform.

Xbox Live encompasses the online components of Microsoft's video game services. Players use Xbox Live to connect and play games together, download new releases, build their own friend lists, voice chat, and share messages and video clips. Until now, Xbox Live has mostly been exclusive to Microsoft's Xbox One video game console and Windows computers.

The decision to bring Xbox Live to competing devices is a major change for the video game industry, where console makers are often battling for exclusivity and looking for new ways to get gamers invested in their hardware. But recently, Xbox has shown that it's willing to work alongside its competition.

"Minecraft" is one of the first Microsoft games to let Xbox and Nintendo Switch players play together. The game uses Microsoft accounts on the Nintendo Switch.

"Minecraft" is one of the first Microsoft games to let Xbox and Nintendo Switch players play together. The game uses Microsoft accounts on the Nintendo Switch.

The Nintendo Switch version of Minecraft, Microsoft's best-selling game, let players join in with users on Xbox.

It was a rare cooperative effort for the two companies, but not the last – others popular games like "Fortnite" and "Rocket League" now let players communicate from different platforms, too.

As cross-platform play becomes more common, Microsoft says they want to make it easier for developers to keep their communities connected.

Microsoft wants to make it easier for developers to release games on multiple platforms.

Microsoft wants to make it easier for developers to release games on multiple platforms.

Microsoft's PlayFab suite provides tools designed for developers to manage and monetize their game's online community. Microsoft acquired PlayFab in January 2018, and the company's services are already used to connect more than one billion players across more than 1,200 cloud-connected games.

"This will break down barriers for developers that want their communities to mingle more freely across platforms," Microsoft's GDC panel description read. "Combined with PlayFab gaming services, this means less work for game developers and more time to focus on making games fun."

Project xCloud, Microsoft's upcoming video game streaming service, could benefit from the expansion of Xbox Live

Project xCloud, Microsoft's upcoming video game streaming service, could benefit from the expansion of Xbox Live

Expanding the reach of Xbox Live could benefit more of Microsoft's future gaming plans. Last year, Microsoft unveiled Project xCloud, a cloud gaming service that would stream high quality video games to smartphones and other devices. Microsoft executive Phil Spencer said Project xCloud's goal is to reach gamers on whatever device they choose to play on.

Bringing Xbox Live to more devices could introduce new users to the service and help Microsoft manage early expectations before Project xCloud is rolled out across multiple platforms. Public tests for the cloud gaming service are expected to start later this year.

Microsoft's panel on Xbox Live will be delivered during GDC 2019 from March 18 to 22; scheduling details are not yet final.

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