Microsoft unveiled its ambitious game streaming service Monday, promising a future where gamers can play on any device anywhere in the world. Project xCloud looks set to offer access to Xbox One games from tablets, smartphones and other devices, and it could prove the first big glimpse of Xbox Scarlett.

The project could change the dynamics of the gaming industry in a big way. It bears similarities to PlayStation Now, Sony’s streaming service that enables users to play hundreds of PS4, PS3 and PS2 games for $19.99 per month. It means players don’t have to buy a video game console and attach it to a TV, with the 4K-enabled Xbox One X starting at $499. It also means guaranteed access to a wide assortment of games, similar to how Netflix changed movies and Spotify changed music.

Microsoft is running xCloud tests right now, with a hardware center in Quincy, Washington, hosting the first server blades running with Xbox hardware. The company stripped down existing Xbox One consoles and placed their parts into a blade, with a design that supports multiple consoles in a single blade. Microsoft plans to start public trials in 2019, but its description of xCloud as a “multi-year journey” suggests a full public launch may take a while to arrive.

Microsoft xCloud in action.
Microsoft xCloud in action.

Microsoft announced that it was working on such a service at the E3 2018 conference in June. The firm’s head of the Xbox division Phil Spencer said during the event that “cloud engineers are building a game streaming network to unlock console-quality gaming on any device […] we are dedicated to perfecting your experience everywhere you want to play. On your Xbox, your PC or your phone.”

Subsequent reports have suggested that the service could play a key role in the company’s next video game console. A Thurrott report claimed that Microsoft’s successor to the Xbox One is codenamed “Scarlett,” and will launch in 2020 with two distinct offerings. One product is a traditional console, while the other is a cloud-focused streaming box around $100 to $125, running the same games as the other box but streamed over the internet. Games would be “sliced up,” so tasks like collision detection would be calculated on the low-powered box itself with the rest calculated on the servers. The result would be fast, responsive gaming that provides full streaming access but without the big delays from button inputs.

xCloud could be the first signs of this new offering. Microsoft claims the service will run over a connection of just 10 megabits per second, meaning players can stream over 4G while taking advantage of 5G networks as they roll out. Users will be able to play with an Xbox One controller connected via Bluetooth, or failing that a series of touch controls on the device itself.

Microsoft touts its 40 years of gaming experience and 54 Azure cloud service regions as reasons why it’s well-equipped to provide cloud gaming. With PlayStation Now still a relatively low-key offering compared to the PS4 itself, and previous firms like OnLive folding before realizing their dream, Microsoft is outlining a bold vision of a big shift in the market.

Photos via Microsoft