Microsoft remains committed to offering Xbox One and PC fans a variety of ways to play their favorite games, whether that be through physical discs, paid digital downloads, free Xbox Games with Gold titles, or the vault from Xbox Game Pass. One upcoming service, Project xCloud, will allow players to enjoy their favorite games instantly, whether they are playing on a console, PC, or even a mobile phone. The service has the potential to completely change how we experience games — and you’ll be able to try it out very soon. Here’s everything we know about Microsoft xCloud.
What is Project xCloud?
Project xCloud is Microsoft’s video game streaming service, allowing players to instantly stream console and PC games to their device of choice using an internet connection (like an Android smartphone, for example). Similar to the system used by Google Stadia, you won’t download the games you play in Project xCloud. Instead, they’ll be streamed from Microsoft’s own servers, which make use of the Azure Cloud architecture that has been implemented in games like Crackdown 3 and Titanfall. There are 54 different Azure regions around the globe, which should provide stable service to users regardless of their location.
Project xCloud is not designed to replace traditional disc-based and digital gaming. Instead, Microsoft hopes for it to open up console-quality gaming to those who currently lack the necessary hardware to do so or can only play on mobile devices. It also means players will be able to enjoy a particular Xbox or PC game they’re interested in without having to purchase an entire system.
It isn’t clear yet what the quality limit will be on Project xCloud. In a blog post in March 2019, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Gaming Cloud Kareem Choudhry said that the company still values the console experience, as it allows for 4K gaming with HDR, while xCloud so far has been focused on mobile devices where resolution isn’t as important as it is for streaming on something like the Stadia.
How does Project xCloud work?
Project xCloud uses Microsoft’s Azure data centers’ hardware to render gaming experiences remotely, and the games will then be streamed to your device of choice. Each server blade has the internals of four Xbox One S systems, if the demonstration video Microsoft released is accurate.
The same cloud saving system currently used to make Xbox Play Anywhere — the cross-buy program for Xbox One and PC — possible will also be used in Project xCloud. This means that if you are playing a game at home and need to leave, you will be able to pick up directly where you left off.
During a demonstration on Inside Xbox in March, we got to see our first look at Project xCloud in action. Running on the Azure data centers’ servers, Forza Horizon 4 was shown streaming to an Android phone, with quality similar to that of the console game. The frame rate appeared to be identical, allowing for an experience that was not pared down in any way to work through streaming.
To optimize the experience for mobile players, Microsoft will offer multiple control options. These include the ability to use an Xbox One controller via Bluetooth — a feature all-new Xbox One controllers have — and touch support will also be offered. Rather than using a one-size-fits-all control scheme for touchscreens, games will also get their own unique setups to best suit the actions players will be doing.
Thus far, Project xCloud is available for free as part of the Game Pass Ultimate subscription, which costs $15 per month. It is not available in any other form, and Microsoft does not appear ready to launch it as an independent service for the foreseeable future. There are some additional costs if you want to buy a Bluetooth controller specifically for xCloud streaming, but the newer Bluetooth-supporting Xbox controllers work just fine, and if a game supports touch controls, you don’t even need to use a controller.
The first Android beta
While the entirety of xCloud is still technically in beta, Microsoft is holding brief preview betas as part of rolling out the service. The first beta for xCloud supported only Android devices, and officially ended on September 1, 2020, before the launch of the service on Game Pass Ultimate later that month. Beta testers were able to save game progress to their Xbox profiles so it could carry over after the beta was finished.
During this period, more than 50 games were available to play. They include Gears 5, Madden NFL 20, Devil May Cry 5, and Tekken 7, although not all games tested in the beta were later made available via Game Pass.
The second iOS/PC beta
Microsoft was not able to offer xCloud on iOS during its first beta due to a confrontation with Apple’s notoriously strict App Store policies. Microsoft decided on a workaround using a mobile web browser for iOS and skipping App Store headaches altogether. In early 2021, the company announced via a blog post that iOS support for xCloud would begin with a beta for both iOS and PC in spring 2021.
Thus far, no specific release date has been announced. It’s not yet certain if this will be a shorter preview beta as with Android before a more official rollout of iOS support, or if iOS capabilities will be added to xCloud without a preview period.
Following the first beta, Microsoft announced the launch of Project xCloud on September 15 for Android as a bundle with the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription for $15 a month. As long as users have Game Pass Ultimate and an Android device with Android 6.0 or later, they can play more than 100 games on their device for no additional charge. Some of the playable games include Minecraft Dungeons, Destiny 2, Tell Me Why, Gears 5, Sea of Thieves, and Yakuza Kiwami 2. There are no plans for exclusive games via xCloud.
“As the world around us changes and entertainment is readily available no matter the device, it’s our vision to make games accessible in a variety of scenarios,” Microsoft said. “All the experiences you expect on Xbox and your gaming profile travel with you on mobile, including your friends list, achievements, controller settings, and saved game progress.”
There are currently a number of gaming accessories you can purchase specifically for Android gaming with xCloud, including the Razer Kishi mobile gaming device, the Moga XP5-X Plus controller with Android phone attachment, and more options. Microsoft also continues to expand regional support, with 2021 plans for bringing the services to Australia, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico.
So far, there are no rumors of a stand-alone service for xCloud. However, Microsoft has repeatedly referred to xCloud as a multi-year project with future updates. The next phase of this project appears to be bringing support to iOS devices, which Microsoft confirmed was on track for spring of 2021.