Microsoft confirmed its upcoming Xbox Project Scarlett console at its E3 2019 keynote on Sunday, and as expected cloud gaming will be at its core. During the presentation, Xbox chief Phil Spencer gave attendees a glimpse of xCloud’s capabilities while also revealing the time frame for its first public beta and the initial roster of games. But while many of the details confirmed prior leaks, it was also evident that Microsoft may be reconceptualizing its cloud gaming ambitions.
Before the keynote, a massive leak indicated that the keynote would focus on xCloud. This initially turned out to be incorrect, instead Microsoft chose to spend a majority of the show on game announcements, touching on xCloud only briefly. But during this part of the presentation, Microsoft introduced a new “Console Streaming” feature, which characterized xCloud less as a standalone cloud gaming service, and more of an imitation of Sony’s Remote Play capability.
Console Streaming transforms users’ Xbox One consoles into a personal cloud servers. That would ultimately give users remote access to all of the titles they own on their smartphones or tablets.
“It turns your Xbox One into your own personal and free xCloud server,” said Spencer. “Whether you’re using a console in our data center of your console at home, this October, you’ll be able to use our hybrid gaming cloud to play your games wherever you go.”
This suggests that, at least to start, xCloud will be more of a hybrid cloud gaming service than a cloud gaming marketplace, as many early reports anticipated it to be. Here are Microsoft’s announced plans for xCloud:
Project xCloud: Release Date and Public Trials
The Console Streaming preview will be available starting on an unspecified date in October. This will be the first ever public test trial of xCloud, and will lay the foundation for Microsoft’s finalized vision for cloud gaming.
The company made it clear that xCloud will the Xbox Scarlett’s defining feature, which could suggest it has bigger plans for it than just Console Streaming. Every xCloud demo we’ve seen has made it out to be full-fledge streaming service where users don’t need an Xbox to access titles. This may still be the plan, it just won’t happen right away.
Microsoft has already announced that Xbox Scarlett consoles will released in the fall of 2020. This means that the Console Streaming trials could run for a few months as Microsoft readies a complete version of its cloud gaming vision.
Project xCloud: Price
Microsoft hasn’t announced the price of an xCloud subscription, but there are a few available services to serve as hints.
Xbox Game Pass is described as the “Netflix of video games” and lets Xbox and PC users play a range of Xbox One and Xbox 360 games for $9.99 per month. xCloud will essentially be an upgraded version of this pass, and will work on more platforms, so it will likely cost more than $10.
Sony offers a similar service called PlayStation Now that costs $19.99 per month. It’s more likely that Microsoft will take up a similar price as PlayStation Now, seeing as it is xCloud’s direct competitor. So, expect a monthly fee of somewhere between $15 to $25.
These estimates don’t take into account the cost of next-gen hardware.
Project xCloud: When’s the Next Update?
October will kick off Console Streaming’s trials, so Microsoft will likely have to reveal more details about how to actually sign up this summer.
The company’s next games-focused press event will be a talk at Gamescom 2019 on August 20. It is very likely we will hear more about xCloud then.
Project xCloud: How It’ll Work
xCloud will still directly benefit anyone who wants to play graphically demanding games but doesn’t want to splash out thousands for a PC or a console.
So far, it looks like Microsoft has stripped down multiple Xbox One consoles and placed their parts into an array of server blades, as you can sort of see in the video below. xCloud users will simply select a game to run on their phone, the servers would then start it up, and stream the visuals right to the users’ phone.
A big possible downside is input latency. Every time a player presses a button, that information needs to be sent to the server and the in-game action needs to be sent back to the users in a never-ending loop. All that back-and-forth could result in a laggy experience if their internet connection isn’t optimal. However, there’s been chatter that Microsoft is working on a hybrid solution, according to Thurrott.
The publication reports that xCloud would stream all of the graphically-intensive aspects of a game through the internet, while input latency will be dealt with locally. Hardware would be necessary to pull this off, which suggests that users might need to buy the Scarlett consoles to use xCloud, at least at first.
Project xCloud: Compatible Devices
Microsoft will cast a wide next for xCloud, compatible devices include all Android devices, PCs, and Xboxes from the get-go. Apple devices are the obviously notable omission, but the fact that the company has made Xbox Live available on iOS devices suggests iPhone and iPads are next.
The company is even said to want to make the Xbox Live feature available on PlayStations and the Nintendo Switch. These partnerships would make for strange bedfellows, however, and already seem unlikely.
“Our goal is to really unite the 2 billion gamers of the world and we’re big fans of our Xbox Live community, but we don’t have any specific announcements as it relates to Switch,” Microsoft’s Kareem Choudhry told The Verge.
Project xCloud: Available Games
While the revelation that future customers will likely still need an Xbox to run the service is a little disappointing, there is a silver lining: Microsoft’s GDC keynote description suggests that all Xbox One Games will be available to stream on xCloud. It reads:
“Project xCloud is an open platform with a customizable client user design experience where streaming starts with Xbox game developers not having to modify a single line of existing game code.”
So far, the company has already shown off a number of titles, including Forza Horizon 4, Halo 5: Guardians, Gears of War 4, Sea of Thieves, and Cuphead, all of which it says are ready for xCloud streaming. And, of course, there are plenty more titles where those came from.
At E3 2019, attendees were the first in the world to able to play Halo 5: Guardians and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice on smartphones and tablets. The company also teased a massive roster of 28 unreleased games at the video game expo. All of these are expected to be eventually playable on the service:
- Halo Infinite coming fall 2020
- The Outer Worlds coming October 25, 2019.
- Bleeding Edge alpha starts June 27, 2019.
- Ori and the Will of the Wisps coming February 11, 2020.
- Minecraft Dungeons coming spring 2020.
- Blair Witch coming august 30, 2019.
- Cyberpunk 2077 coming April 16, 2020.
- Spiritfarer coming 2020.
- Battletoads no release date announced.
- Legend of Wright no release date announced.
- Microsoft Flight Simulator is coming to Xbox, but no release date.
- Age of Empire II Definitive Edition coming fall 2019.
- Wasteland 3 no release date announced.
- PsychoNauts 2 no release date announced.
- Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga coming sometime in 2020.
- Dragonball Z Kakarot coming early 2020.
- 12 Minutes no release date announced, but it’s said to be “coming soon.”
- Way to the Woods no release date announced.
- Gears 5 coming September 10, 2019.
- Dying Light coming spring 2020.
- Forza Horizon 4 Lego Speed Champions Expansion coming June 13, 2019.
- State of Decay Heartland is out now.
- Phantasy Star Online 2 coming to the U.S. spring 2020.
- Crossfire X coming to Xbox One in 2020.
- Tales of Arise coming to Xbox Store 2020.
- Borderlands 3 coming in September 13, 2019.
- Elden Ring no release date announced.
- Gears Pop! is only coming to mobile and will be available for pre-order “soon.”
Project xCloud: Stadia and Sony Comparison
xCloud has its work cut out for it. Google, Sony, Nvidia, and even Amazon either have cloud gaming services available, will be making them available, are rumored to be working on one. Microsoft will also need to differentiate itself from the pack if it plans to stay relevant.
Luckily for them, Sony is the only member of the bunch that actually has the same gaming industry chops as Microsoft. But Sony is arguably farther along in readying for console-free gaming, given its Sony’s stable of exclusive titles like Spider-man. For it to compete, xCloud (and by extension, Microsoft), will need to develop its own roster that you can’t get anywhere else.
For its part, Stadia has also had trouble living up to the sky-high expectations it set for itself, revealing in its announcement that, actually, you will need hardware to run the service. That said, Stadia’s barrier of entry will still be a fair bit lower, giving users access to a full roster of more than 30 games using only a $69.99 Chromecast dongle.
While their individual approaches may differ, one thing is increasingly clear: The future of game streaming looks a lot like the landscape for video streaming. Many of these services will happily coexist. After all, it’s hardly unusual for people to subscribe to Netflix, HBO, and Hulu. But with so many options, each service will have to create a meaningful incentive to subscribe. Exclusive titles, superior tech, or a more expansive roster are all ways that services may achieve this. Microsoft seems like it will try to strike a balance between the three.