Following a year of public preview, Microsoft’s Cloud Gaming (Project xCloud) finally launched in September as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. As of today, subscribers can access over 100 Xbox Game Pass games on Android devices via Microsoft’s Cloud Gaming technology, and the company keeps adding more compatible games every month.
Integrating the Cloud Gaming service with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is a great way to add value to the service and make it more compelling next to Google Stadia Pro, though Microsoft’s Cloud Gaming strategy still leaves a lot to be desired. As of today, you can’t use it to play any game you want via the cloud, as only select Xbox Game Pass games are currently available on Android devices.
As of today, the new Remote Play feature on the Xbox apps for iOS and Android allows owners of Xbox consoles to stream any of their installed games to their mobile devices, but Cloud Gaming could eventually make that unnecessary. In the latest episode of Major Nelson’s podcast, Xbox head Phil Spencer said that he was open to idea of letting customers buy Xbox games, and follow what Google has been doing with its Stadia Store.
Our long-term aspiration is to make xCloud a great way for new gamers to come into the ecosystem. (…) Now, we want to give people the ability to buy. We've talked about that. We don't want to make it just about the subscription because we know certain people want to be able to buy their games and still play them via the cloud. So they get that convenience feature of being connected to their library. There's so much opportunity as we're looking at new screens that we can bring xCloud to. It opens up massive device categories that we don't even really think about today in terms of where these games can show up.
Spencer didn't go as far as suggesting a "buy once, pay anywhere" scenario where all Xbox games you buy on the Microsoft Store, though that would be the ideal scenario. This is pretty much what Microsoft tried to do with its "Xbox Play Anywhere" initiative, a system that lets customers buy a game once on the Microsoft Store and play it on both Xbox consoles and PC at no additional cost. Adding Cloud Gaming to the mix would really push Xbox Play Anywhere to the next level, though Microsoft will likely need publishers to agree to make their Xbox games available for streaming in the first place.
Google's Stadia may not be getting a lot of mindshare since launch, though the cloud gaming service remains an easy way to buy and play some of the latest blockbuster games such as Cyberpunk 2077 or Assassin's Creed Valhalla on almost any device. Microsoft went a different route by restricting to Android devices and select Xbox Game Pass at launch, but things could change soon.
"We're going to get to iOS. We're going to get to PC. We're going to get to different devices in 2021, continue to expand the regions that we're in. We're getting so much learning from just people using the products, using the games, and telling us what they like, areas that we need to improve", Spencer also said in the interview with Major Nelson. It's still early days for Cloud Gaming, but Microsoft has the opportunity to become an early leader in that space thanks to its established Xbox ecosystem and cloud expertise with Azure.