At the annual E3 trade show in June, Microsoft hinted at some kind of streaming service. Now it has a name (albeit a seemingly temporary one): Project xCloud.
The service is pretty much what you’d expect if you’ve been following all the chatter around game streaming. With xCloud, Xbox people will be able to play their games on a variety of different screens, from PC monitors to smartphones.
It’s a streaming thing, to be clear. Don’t confuse this with two other existing Microsoft offerings that give you access to Xbox games. Xbox Play Anywhere is more feature than service; most first-party Xbox games — which is to say, those made by Microsoft-owned studios — can be installed and played via the Windows 10 store, provided they support Play Anywhere.
Xbox Game Pass, on the other hand, is a monthly subscription service that gives members access to a library of games supported by Xbox. Many of the titles available are first-party releases, but not all of them. More importantly: Game Pass titles need to be downloaded and installed. No streaming here.
Project xCloud is more like a Netflix or — for the deep-cut PC gamers out there — OnLive. The hardware required to run a Halo or Gears of War is off in a data center somewhere, and the images you see on your screen are beamed there while your controller inputs are sent back to the data center and processed there.
It’s not new technology (see also: OnLive, Gaikai), but it’s never really been perfected. But some big companies are betting on streaming games now. PlayStation Now launched in 2015, though it focuses more on older games and is only available on PlayStation 4 and PC.
Google has a streaming games product of its own in development, Project Stream. It’s the company’s first real entry into the gaming space, but it’s not actually available yet. Nvidia’s GeForce Now service is similar in that it’s not out yet, but this one is built to stream games installed on your main PC.
Project xCloud, then, is Microsoft’s take on game streaming. A trailer runs through exactly how that works: Custom data centers equipped with rack-mounted units that each contain the guts of multiple Xbox One consoles.
It’s mostly talk at this point. Microsoft plans to start conducting public tests in 2019, but this video raises more questions than it answers. We’ll need to know what the price is, what the game library looks like, and how xCloud works with your save data (or not) if you also play games on an actual Xbox.
It’s clear from the trailer that game streaming will be supported on PC and mobile — definitely Android (it’s mentioned in the trailer) and likely iOS, given Apple’s ubiquity. Presumably, some kind of xCloud app will be available for Xbox consoles as well.
Don’t expect PlayStation to join the party, but Switch is a possibility. Nintendo’s demonstrated a willingness to work with its competitors in the console space, as evidenced by the Switch supporting cross-platform play in Fortnite and Minecraft.
Microsoft expects to start letting users in to text xCloud sometime in 2019. We’ll probably start hearing more about how the service around this streaming tech will work once the Xbox maker has a better sense of how the service actually works and is consumed by subscribers.
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