Microsoft’s vision for the future of video games is almost here and we’re not talking about its next-gen console. Announced for September of this year, Microsoft’s long-anticipated cloud gaming service called Project xCloud will be arriving and for free for holders of its Game Pass membership. The service promises gamers the ability to “game” on the device of their choosing such as a phone, tablet, or console.
If that’s a promise you think you’ve heard before, well, let’s just say that Microsoft isn’t the first mover in this space. But they might be one of the biggest and sooner rather than later.
Of course, with the next-gen hardware right around the corner, people might not be as interested in or paying as much attention to things like a cloud-gaming service with the Xbox branding. Yet, for industry watchers, this news is probably as big as the details we got about the new console coming out. All of it paints a picture of a company dedicated to its gaming division – a fidelity that many people have questioned in the past. After all, let’s not even get into how wary some consumers are about Stadia given Google’s history with abandoning projects.
The chief of Microsoft’s Xbox division, Phil Spencer said of the new service in a blog post, “We’re bringing Xbox Game Pass and Project xCloud together at no additional cost for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members. With cloud gaming in Game Pass Ultimate, you will be able to play over 100 Xbox Game Pass titles on your phone or tablet.”
While some people are comparing it to rival services from Nvidia and Google, analysts point to one key distinguishing difference between the xCloud service and its rivals: The integration with Xbox Game Pass and the broader Xbox user base.
Highlighting this, the research director of games at analytics firm Ampere Analysis Piers Harding-Rolls told CNBC, “Integrating the offer into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate fully commercialises the technology and gives people using it the ability to game with the almost 100 million Xbox Live community of users across console, PC and mobile.”
Describing how it will bring streaming to a mass audience, Harding-Rolls continued:
“The fact the feature is free means that usage of the technology is likely to be widespread across the subscriber base and will give many the first taste of this distribution technology, its advantages, and its limitations.” There’s little doubt that streaming platforms will be a part of the future composition of the gaming landscape. It’s just a question of how important they are and the kind of value proposition they offer gamers. Another aspect of this debate is that “streaming” means different things in gaming than it does for the often-cited Netflix business model. Offering a Netflix-style library of triple-A games, as opposed to an iTunes style option of buying a game and then streaming it (a la Stadia), could be the true breakthrough moment for video games in the cloud space.