Project xCloud Beta: When Public Trials for the Streaming Service May Begin

Users could soon get their hands on it.

Microsoft is moving into the next phase of developing its cloud gaming service, dubbed Project xCloud. The company recently announced that users will soon be able to test drive a near-finalized version of the service, which will let gamers stream AAA titles without buying the game or even owning an Xbox.

The service is expected to be a pivotal part of the the upcoming Xbox “Scarlett” consoles, which isn’t set to begin rolling out until spring, 2020. Fortunately, interested users may be able to soon get a taste of Microsoft’s new service when it enters public trials.

We know this thanks to some remarks by Microsoft’s head of gaming, Phil Spencer, who tweeted on Tuesday that xCloud’s internal development stage has come to an end. Now, the engineers that built the cloud gaming platform will have a chance to try it outside office walls. After that, public tests will begin at an unspecified date this year.

“Congrats to Project xCloud team for completing their takehome release,” Spencer wrote. “Excited to get feedback from our internal teams ahead of public trials later this year.”

The timeline fits neatly into the forecasted launch date of both Xbox Scarlett consoles that are expected some time in 2020. Public tests for xCloud could begin in late 2019 and last until mid-to-late 2020 when Microsoft is expected to unveil its next-gen consoles.

The cloud service was unveiled at E3 2018 and since then, Microsoft has only demonstrated xCloud in test environments a handful of times. Trying the platform outside of its hardware center in Quincy, Washington will be a crucial step in determining if it’s ready for primetime.

Spencer said during an E3 2018 press conference he wants xCloud to deliver “console quality gaming on any device.” For that vision to be realized, the service has to be able to run smoothly using the average American consumer’s broadband internet speed. At this point, it has only been tested in controlled environments, and very likely using above average internet speeds.

A visualization of how xCloud's servers were designed.

Microsoft has not announced the minimum internet speed users will need to run xCloud without any lag. Stadia, Google’s cloud gaming service, will require at least 20 to 25 Mbps speeds to run, according to the company’s announcement. The average American household has access to download speeds of 96.25 Mbps and upload speeds of 32.88 in 2018, according to broadband metrics service Speedtest. These speeds seem equipped to handle xCloud, but they also don’t tell the story. Broadband speeds vary from state-to-state, this will present a big quality assurance challenge as the service rolls out.

Microsoft’s plan is to run the cloud service completely using stripped down Xbox One consoles placed on an array of server blades. 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 any of their devices.

The Game Developers Conference 2019 was the last we’ve heard about xCloud. Microsoft’s presentation largely revolved around how game designers could transfer their titles, which they specially make for consoles, to smaller gadgets. That technical showcase was largely upstaged by Google’s flashy Stadia announcement.

Microsoft is scheduled to take the stage at E3 2019 on June 9 starting at 4 p.m. Eastern. Expect an announcement of when public trials for xCloud could begin or, if we’re lucky, perhaps even a full-fledged launch. Xbox’s plan for its next-gen consoles will soon begin.