Microsoft announced that it's expanding into cloud-based gaming in a huge way, bolstering its Project xCloud platform with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate connectivity that'll go live in mid-September. With this move, Microsoft cements itself as the new leader in cloud-based gaming, trumping Google Stadia's fledgling lineup of games with the overwhelmingly robust list of Xbox titles available to Game Pass subscribers.
And all this less than three months before Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are slated to launch globally, so it's starting to seem like Microsoft could win the next-gen console war by dominating cloud-gaming first.
What is happening to Project xCloud? On Monday via Xbox Wire, Microsoft announced that Project xCloud support with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, their Netflix-like subscription service for games, would be established on September 15. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers in 22 countries, including the United States, will gain the ability to play over 100 Xbox games on Android phones and tablets via Project xCloud.
In other words, anyone who pays $14.99 a month for the service will be able to play games like Minecraft Dungeons, The Outer Worlds, Destiny 2, Yakuza Kiwami 2, and Gears 5 using the service at no additional charge. Microsoft also teased in the article that it is “committed to providing day-one access to new titles” created by Microsoft. This means you’ll probably be able to play the likes of Halo Infinite and Battletoads via Project xCloud with just an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription. You don’t even need a console.
The best deal in gaming is getting better and better.
What does this mean for Google Stadia and other cloud platforms? Bringing this kind of upgrade to Xbox Game Pass will make Project xCloud more appealing than any of its competition, each of which is struggling in their own ways.
A lot of eyes were on Google Stadia when it launched in 2019. Cloud-based gaming has been lauded by some experts as the future of the medium. But Stadia's launch was disappointing due to missing features and a lackluster game library that requires users to buy games individually. Despite being one of the four "big tech" companies, Google's entry into gaming was a total flop, and Stadia continues struggling to gain serious traction.
It's been heavily rumored since January 2019 that Amazon is also developing its own game streaming platform, so it seemed like Amazon's platform would be Stadia's biggest competition at one point in time. We still haven’t gotten any official announcement from Amazon about its cloud-based gaming strategy, but the company is already struggling with its middling hero shooter Crucible, so the wider gaming community doesn't have much faith in Amazon as a source for games.
Even though Xbox is typically thought of as a more traditional game console manufacturer, Project xCloud sets the highest standard for cloud gaming that'll be the most appealing once Xbox Game Pass Ultimate support is added. In fact, being a console manufacturer and game publisher gives Microsoft a major advantage in the cloud gaming wars. Microsoft already has a strong set of upcoming and legacy first-party games on Game Pass, so it won’t be scrambling for appealing exclusives like Google Stadia is.
Project xCloud with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will also be more immediately recognizable to casual gamers, and it will already have a bigger game library than Stadia when it fully launches on September 15. Other things like game saves, controller settings, friend lists, and achievements all carry over from Xbox console as well, so the service shouldn’t feel like it’s missing many features.
When gamers try deciding whether or not to buy a PS5 or Xbox Series X later this year, this new cloud-based functionality could be just enough to help them tip the scales in Microsoft's direction. It's a bold move for the company, but one that could very well pay off in both the short- and long-term.
100 Xbox Game Pass Ultimate games will be on Project xCloud on September 15, 2020.