Despite xCloud game streaming, Microsoft thinks there will always be a need for consoles

Xbox One X
Xbox One X (Image credit: Microsoft)

What you need to know

  • "Project xCloud" is Microsoft's upcoming game streaming service.
  • Microsoft wants to give gamers the choice of where they want to game.
  • Xbox's Mike Ybarra thinks that there will always be a need for dedicated hardware.

With "Project xCloud" and Google Stadia on the horizon, many gamers have been questioning the future of dedicated hardware that sits under your TV. While Google thinks that it's not necessary – despite Stadia's known 166-millisecond input lag – Microsoft thinks differently.

Our very own Jez Corden managed to interview Microsoft's Gaming Corporate Vice President Mike Ybarra and Partner Director of Program Management Jason Ronald to find out more about the company's vision for the future of gaming across Xbox, Project xCloud, and PC. The following excerpt discusses the conversation about dedicated hardware.

'I believe there will always be a need for local hardware,' Ybarra said, referring to home consoles. 'There'll be a need for cloud computing too. We need to give gamers the choice to play local, to play via the cloud, to mix it. I'm going to do everything. It's about giving them the freedom, and the choice to game the way they want. If that means local hardware, right? We're there.' Ronald impressed that the whole point of streaming is to appeal to gamers who might not want a console at all, not to simply replace consoles. 'At the same time, we're trying to appeal to two billion gamers across the world. And everybody plays different kinds of games, some people prefer console, some people prefer PC, there will be customers that will not want to have either device and xCloud streaming is a great solution for them.

Given current streaming technology and the promise of consoles even more powerful than Stadia, it's understandable why many gamers would want to purchase those devices. Additionally, given the fact that you never truly own your titles if they can't be downloaded, that's another reason to keep traditional consoles alive.

With that said, it's up to gamers to decide where they want to play. There's no way to predict what will happen in the future, but this is a transformative period which will change gaming as we know it.

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Asher Madan handles gaming news for Windows Central. Before joining Windows Central in 2017, Asher worked for a number of different gaming outlets. He has a background in medical science and is passionate about all forms of entertainment, cooking, and antiquing.

  • I still believe that consoles are a huge waste of money development wise (why spend money to produce devices which are loss leaders on every sale anyway, when you can focus on data centres and just recoup in subscriptions), and once internet speeds and data limits allow it, that a lot more companies will start moving to digital/streaming options. From a consumer point of view, I guess what it boils down to is do you want to pay $400 now, plus monthly fees for online/whatever plus game costs, or do you want to just pay a monthly fee plus the cost of games? As it stands, to get the full functionality out of either the XO or PS4 you still have to pay a yearly subscription, so if you're already going to have to pay for some kind of subscription, why wouldn't you get rid of the large up front cost? Again, this isn't a now scenario, we simply do not have the infrastructure in place to maintain the World's streaming needs, but it's going to happen.
  • I tend to agree with most of that, especially the need for infrastructure to improve. I think there will always be a place for the local side being the powerhouse machine and the streaming to be 'good enough'.
  • Until the service stops or goes away. Then you get none of your money back. Including the money you spent on purchasing games. Consoles will not suffer from this. Internet is down? You can still play. And latency is a bigger problem to solve than bandwidth. Most people still conflate bandwidth with speed, when they're not the same thing at all. Bandwidth only translates to speed in regards to sending more data at once, so if you were previously saturating your connection and then upgraded, yes it'd appear 'faster.' But your data still takes the same amount of time from your house to the endpoint. It'd require a big infrastructure upgrade to really address that problem. Streaming is already going to strain bandwidth and with companies slowing down upgrades and not increasing, this is going to hit a bottleneck that even if the ISPs start to address, will take a long time to fix. They haven't even started trying to fix it. Google might not take off as expected and it might not be any fault of their own. The latency they state is basically the *minimum* you will experience. It may be worse for others. And it sounds small, but in games that require reaction times that are basically reflexes... it can hurt the game.
  • The real issue right now is poor internet speeds for many (US) and data caps for those with fast enough connections. Until both are remedied streaming is cool, but not practical as a full replacement.
  • And if your consoles breaks and you are unable to purchase a new one then you also can't play any of your games any more.
  • > you are unable to purchase a new one
    Unable to purchase a new one but able to stream gaming?
    Maybe better solution would be to game on a cheapest tier or 2nd hand machines for local gaming?
  • Well, what if a huge solar flare happens and knocks out half the salilites knocking the internet offline, then I couldn't play. What if a meteorite falls on my entertainment center and destroys my console, then I couldn't play? What if Trump decides to show his ass to North Korea one too many times and then we actually use our stockpile of nuclear weapons. Then the world ends, and I can't play!!! See where this is going?
  • Sorry, the sarcasm of my post didn't come across, that was my point, basing a decision on a random "what if" future scenario seems a little silly.
  • Exactly my point and intent as well. There are strong points to be made for both sides, which is exactly why they will both remain for the foreseeable future and this argument is futile.
  • Yeah, I know. And I probably argue it way too much, but I just really, really want it to happen. And everything that companies are doing now (except Sony, unless they make some drastic advancements to PS Now) is strongly leaning towards it becoming the norm so I'm really surprised other people don't see it.
  • You can believe what you want, it doesn't make you right.
  • I'm going to take a stab in the dark and assume you only read the first sentence, in fact, probably not even that, you likely stopped at the parenthesis.
  • I will always have a local console for as long as they are available, as I use my Xbox for more than playing games. I choose Xbox because it does everything I want it to the way I want it to. I don't see them streaming the entire Xbox experience anytime soon, and what about physical media that I want to display on my TV such as Blu-ray discs or a flash drive with photos and videos on it for example. I don't want to have to upload photos and videos that I take, to the cloud first before I am able to see them on my TV if I wish. I think there will always be a need for physical local console unless the Xbox becomes a machine that only plays games and nothing else and the internet becomes 100%reliable with no data caps in all areas.
  • I have no problem with streaming, however my ISP and their 1TB data cap says otherwise.
  • The major threat to streaming is greedy ISPs with data caps, which is the most pressing issue (it doesn't matter the latency or speed if you have X GB or TB per month...). Unlimited Internet including mobile connections together with low latency is the key enabler and could allow streaming to all devices but I would still expect consoles to be made, either a very basic "streaming box" or more powerful models. I am not particularly sure about game streaming to become a smart TV thing, i.e. that you buy a set and then install "Xbox", "PlayStation" or "Stadia" as apps. I would expect some kind of hardware to go along with it. One thing is for sure: The biggest threat to all streaming providers are the ISPs since their pricing, data caps and service quality is the factor determine the consumer behavior.
  • Streaming is for the masses. It's not for hardcore gamers. It's the spotify of gaming, it's netflix versus kodi or plex. It'll be on phones and smart tv's not consoles primarily. In fact, it'll probably be often for low-income families. Sure hardcore gamers will use it for convenience and mobility. But they'll always have their boxes. Particularly as VR rises. Even in the age of audio and tv/movie streaming, there are large numbers of collectors. People who want a) high fidelity b) to own their stuff, will never die. MSFT has the right idea with 'intelligent edge', local supplemented by cloud. All cloud will never be a reality. You'll never get 100 percent of people to rent what they could own.
  • Today, I learned I'm immortal and will never die. :)
  • You sure do talk a lot to say absolutely nothing.
  • "You never really own titles if they can't be downloaded" Fact: you never really own any title unless you wrote it yourself. You may own the physical medium, but the contents are always only licensed to you. All digital downloading and streaming do is eliminate the illusion of ownership by eliminating the physical medium.
  • ofc they would say that. They have a new console launching soon. They won't say "this is one of the last XB console". Also he can't say the opposite considering Stadia. I see a lot of people saying that in the future there will be only streaming services. And future generation will look back at our time and say "WTF They used to buy individual games?"
    I don't believe in this. I think there will always be a buy/selling market as long as there is a demand for it. And I think that even if companies will want to push streaming-only, there will always be the market for buy/sell.
  • "WHEN" internet / mobile internet is dirt cheap, stable, available everywhere, uncapped, then why not? Why won't that happen?
    Maybe 10, 20 years later, no one knows... Right now it's an add-on service. With some compromises, you get to continue your progress when you are away from your console.
  • Why? Because not everyone like to stream.
    My internet is dirt cheap, stable, fast and uncapped. I will not stream games because I prefer to buy games. The only reason I'll ever spend money on Stadia, is to play their exclusives. I'll never put money in game pass, PS Now, EA access or that ubisoft service
  • So you basically agree with Phil then, despite your first comment?
  • From both the Stadia and xCloud annoucements I don't see streaming being a real option until true unlimited 5G data plans are readily available. So... console aficionados have nothing to fear for some time. Especially in the US, where 5G will lag behind Europe and Asia 5 to 10 years. And even then you will pay a steep price for said privilege.
  • In Australia, having a unlimited 5G data plan isn't the issue, it already exists (for $199 a month mind you), but it only covers a very small area, and is also only available with specific mobile phone plans. And the drop down to 4G, while decent, is still significantly slower, and spread out asking a LOT of people.