Microsoft is working on its own cloud gaming platform that will enter public trials later this year.
Project xCloud was first teased during E3 2018 and more flesh has been added to its bones since then.
Here is everything you need to know about the Xbox cloud games service, including what devices will be compatible and when you might be able to try it out.
What is Project xCloud?
Project xCloud is the codename given to Microsoft’s forthcoming cloud gaming platform that is planned to be a complementary service to its Xbox One games consoles.
It is a streaming service, in that all games will be hosted on remote servers and live gameplay video will be sent to a compatible device over the internet. In return, controller codes are sent in the other direction so, for all intents and purposes, it feels like you are playing a game loaded on the device itself, whether it be a smart TV, PC, tablet or smartphone.
It is not a new idea; PlayStation Now already offers a similar experience on PS4 consoles, while Nvidia is back into the beta testing phase of its GeForce Now service. Google too is planning to launch a cloud gaming platform this year, currently codenamed Project Yeti. However, Microsoft believes it has a distinct advantage over the others as it will utilise specific data centres in 54 different regions around the world.
These, plus the company’s Azure cloud server network, will ensure that game requests can be served locally rather than across continents, potentially reducing latency by shortening the distance between the end user and the data centre.
Latency is the enemy of cloud gaming, often adding many milliseconds between button presses and actions performed on screen. And while that doesn’t sound like much, milliseconds are vital when it comes to gaming. Say you press the button to shoot an onrushing enemy, a few milliseconds of latency can be the difference between hitting them and not. Or in a car game, such as Forza Horizon 4, the difference between successfully drifting around a corner or ending up wrapped around a tree.
If Microsoft can dramatically reduce latency in comparison to cloud gaming services we’ve tested before, it could be onto a winner.
Does that mean my Xbox One or other games console will be defunct?
Project xCloud is not designed to replace existing or future games consoles. Microsoft believes that it will be a different kind of service that caters for a different kind of user.
For starters, while it will likely be accessible through the Xbox One family of machines (plus Xbox Two, or whatever the next-generation console ends up being called), Project xCloud will also be available on phones, tablets, set-top-boxes, TVs, etc. Basically, anything that has a screen and an internet connection.
“We’re developing Project xCloud not as a replacement for game consoles, but as a way to provide the same choice and versatility that lovers of music and video enjoy today. We’re adding more ways to play Xbox games,” said Microsoft’s CVP of cloud gaming, Kareen Choudry.
“[It] will also open the world of Xbox to those who may not otherwise own traditional, dedicated gaming hardware. True console-quality gaming will become available on mobile devices, providing the 2 billion-plus gamers around the world a new gateway to previously console- and PC-exclusive content.”
What games will be available?
At the beginning, Microsoft said it plans to host hundreds of Xbox games – more than likely referring to current and archive titles from its Xbox One and Xbox 360 line-ups. Maybe even a few original Xbox games.
However, since then it has claimed that it has the technical ability to stream many more games from the back catalogues of its three generations of consoles. Unlike with Google Stadia, developers don’t actually have to alter or adapt their games to work. If they already work on an Xbox One, they will work on xCloud: “Project xCloud has the technical capability to stream more than 3,500 games, without any changes or modifications required by a developer,” Xbox’s Major Nelson said in a blog posting.
“In other words, developers will be able to dramatically scale their existing games across devices, with no additional development, no additional code base maintenance and no separate updates. When a developer updates the Xbox One version of their title, those updates will also apply to all versions available on Project xCloud without any additional work.”
In addition to existing games, there are more than 1,900 others in development for Xbox One – all of which have the potential to be on xCloud too.
When will I be able to use Project xCloud?
It is not yet known when Project xCloud will launch, but Microsoft revealed that it will be hosting public trials this year, 2019.
“We’re excited to share more about the technology and our progress in the coming months, including the first details of how and when you can help us test it in real-world scenarios later this year,” Choudry added.
Microsoft employees are already using the platform in alpha test mode, as part of the company’s “take home” program.
Congrats to Project xCloud team for completing their takehome release. Excited to get feedback from our internal teams ahead of public trials later this year. pic.twitter.com/un1T8mg0d4
— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) May 1, 2019
We expect to find out more during the Xbox media briefing in LA in June, held on the Sunday before E3.
How much will xCloud cost?
This is the million dollar question and we hope the answer isn’t exactly that.
Project xCloud will almost certainly be a subscription service eventually – possibly not at the public trial stage – but an actual price is a long way off.
Sony’s rival service, PlayStation Now, currently costs £12.99 per month in the UK, so that could be an indication. Although Google has hinted that its Yeti equivalent will be cheaper than that, so that could be more indicative to Microsoft’s eventual pricing structure.
Xbox Game Pass, the all-you-can-eat digital download service for Xbox One is £7.99 per month. xCloud could be more in that region.
What devices will it be available for?
We don’t yet know the exact list of devices that could support xCloud but Inside Xbox has shown it running on an Android phone linked to an Xbox One controller.
Unfortunately, iOS devices – iPhone and iPad – are not compatible with same controller (unless they are jailbroken) so we’re not sure how Microsoft plans to get around that hurdle. Or if it will even support them at all.
It has said that on-screen touch controls will be developed for games, so that’s one way of providing the experience, but we’re not that keen on the idea of trying to navigate through a hardcore session of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 using touch.
Other than those, it is thought that Project xCloud access will be provided through TVs and set-top-boxes too, such as Samsung and LG smart TVs and Android TV boxes.
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