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Facebook is gross, but it could be critical to the future of Xbox's Project xCloud

Razer Kishi Wide
Razer Kishi Wide (Image credit: Windows Central)

Facebook is a sickening, disgusting company for various reasons. CEO Mark Zuckerberg's dismissive, robotic demeanor nonwithstanding, a simple glance over its company history reveals a much darker side to the platform that has enabled some of humanity's most horrific traits to coalesce and organize. This includes eroding privacy and disrupting democracy at best, and being a platform where people incite genocide at worst.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced it was closing down its Mixer streaming service, partnering with Facebook instead. Why would Microsoft, desperate to maintain a squeaky-clean image, want to partner with such a controversial firm, led by a CEO who is a modern-day supervillain?

Facebook's social power is utterly undeniable, even for a company as large and powerful as Microsoft itself. Xbox ultimately has a social problem that could seriously hurt it in the coming years, which may see massive disruption in the gaming industry, unlike anything we've seen since smartphones. It may also amount to nothing but speculation and hype, but not having a plan in place for the potential disruption would be irresponsible.

Why xCloud is critical

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Project xCloud could represent the future of gaming growth for Microsoft. I don't think video game consoles will go away any time soon, but the ease of access provided by cloud platforms will change the way gaming divisions see their growth potential. The market for consoles hasn't grown significantly in years, with most "normies" uninterested in owning a separate, dedicated gaming device. Many would rather game from their phones, or indeed, perhaps via an app on their TV or their tablet.

You could argue the question, "why does it need to grow?" Well, the ultimate answer is, if Microsoft doesn't pivot and fill in future niches, other companies will, and you may not like the companies that do. They could end up more lucrative, and Xbox and even PlayStation could get left behind by developers entirely if the userbase shifts into a social-connected gaming cloud, which improves access for a new generation.

Source: Dan Thorp-Lancaster/Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Dan Thorp-Lancaster/Windows Central)

Project xCloud bridges the gap between the cloud and the local console since it all uses the same developer environment. As long as xCloud and indeed PlayStation Now exist and are profitable, it anchors the home-grown console as an environment developers can use to target both the cloud and local hardware. And who knows? Maybe new users will see the benefits of getting local hardware to offset some of the bandwidth limitations of the cloud.

The point is, competing for products like Google Stadia, and whatever Amazon and TenCent are working on in this space will gain way more instantaneous exposure due to their social platforms. Critically, integration features that Microsoft would otherwise not have access to.

The Facebook angle

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft sank hundreds of millions of dollars into Mixer, from the initial purchase of Beam to the acquisition of major streamers like Ninja and Gothalion. I believe the company ultimately had a deadline to grow to a specific point, to coincide with the 2020 launch of Project xCloud, growth that it ultimately failed to meet.

As the pandemic bit down earlier this year, many streaming platforms saw triple-digit growth, while Mixer remained flat. That was indicative that the platform was most likely unviable without massive cash injections that could've been spent elsewhere, namely on internal game studio growth, which has been an area of weakness Xbox's platform this gen. Moving the Mixer operation to Facebook comes with an essential strategic collaboration that could prove crucial in the future.

Update: June 26, 2020: Removed the wording here that stated Microsoft sold Mixer to Facebook. Both companies have confirmed that this in fact wasn't the case.

Source: Google (Image credit: Source: Google)

Google Stadia might be a joke in 2020, but that may not always be the case. Google is awash with cash of its own and is intent on growing its own streaming platform YouTube Gaming within the broader YouTube operation. YouTube is a huge social platform and far outstrips anything Microsoft has in that space. Let's not forget Google Search as well, which is the homepage of the internet for billions of people.

Google could push Stadia out to billions of users at a mere click, giving instant access to games directly from watching a YouTube video or performing a Google search

When (or rather, if) Stadia becomes ready, Google could push Stadia out to billions of users at a mere click, giving instant access to games directly from watching a YouTube video or performing a Google search. The same is true for Amazon with Twitch, and TenCent, which owns massive social media platforms in Asia, including WeChat. Tencent is potentially the most significant threat here, as it picks up stakes in virtually every media industry on Earth, putting cash into operations like Epic Games and others. Game developers and publishers will go wherever the users and money are. With Tencent tangled up in the Chinese government, it sets a chilling potential precedent for censorship and dictatorial propaganda seeping into our entertainment platforms.

Microsoft simply doesn't have the kind of social clout it needs to quickly and easily push out these services. It has buried Skype as a gaming communication tool, and Xbox Live has only tens of millions of users, rather than the billions Facebook can offer. It enables scenarios described previously by Google Stadia, where users watching a game on YouTube or searching for it can instantly jump into live play, without a console or a gaming PC, thanks to game streaming. Without Facebook, Microsoft would've been at a massive disadvantage here.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

These may seem like far-fetched, far-flung scenarios. Still, they're possibilities that would be irresponsible for Microsoft to ignore, especially if it wants to maintain the health and longevity of its gaming operation. There's no evidence Google would play nice with Project xCloud on its services.

Even now, when you reach Google using Microsoft Edge or Firefox, the firm asks you to try Chrome instead. It could certainly do the same when viewing Project xCloud streams through Google services, too, potentially. The same is true for Amazon and Twitch, would they continue to play nice with Microsoft, if they eventually had a competing product? And on the flip side, would Amazon and Google necessarily want to put their services onto Facebook, where they directly compete with social video in gaming? It's a smart strategic play that ultimately became more valuable than trying to grow Mixer itself. The tragedy is, as usual, the human cost.

Mixer's death sucks, but it was sadly necessary

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft clearly hoped it could've taken advantage of the relative nascence of the game streaming market to grow Mixer to a point where it could at least begin to catch up to Twitch, which is why they made some big plays buying up Ninja and others last year.

It wasn't fair to keep stringing Mixer streamers along for years like Microsoft did with Windows Phone developers

Microsoft spent hundreds of millions on the platform. I would argue that mishandling of the budget, and allocating money for Ninja rather than home-grown talent or, indeed, a bigger dev team to address the pace of innovation, was probably a mistake. Indeed, Twitch was able to pivot rapidly and adopt all of Mixer's unique features in the blink of an eye. Microsoft would've been smarter to spend more growing Mixer as a product, rather than a brand, before shoving it into the limelight with celebrity-purchases.

It's just a shame it came to this, instead of Mixer itself growing into a competitive place. I'd argue it wasn't fair to keep stringing Mixer streamers along for years like Microsoft did with Windows Phone developers in the past, who were kept in the dark about the future of the platform for years. At the same time, Microsoft slowly wound it down, announcing its death via a random tweet reply. I also lament for the staff at Mixer who worked incredibly hard, while being incredibly underfunded, trying to compete with titans like Twitch and YouTube.

Source: Matt Brown / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Matt Brown / Windows Central)

As a Mixer streamer, as someone who made dozens of friends and made countless happy memories streaming on the platform, it's hard to acknowledge the harsh reality that Microsoft made the right decision for the Xbox business. At this point, it should be investing future funds into areas where it can find success, such as Project xCloud, Xbox Game Pass, games like Minecraft, and its broader Xbox Game Studios offering.

Putting Mixer on an underfunded, slow-death cycle like Windows Phone would've been a far more drawn out and painful process, in the long run. For Xbox fans, this gives Microsoft a chance to reinvest back into its strengths — actual gaming — while building up a relationship with the world's largest social provider to expand Xbox's userbase, bringing more games to users, and more cash for developers to innovate, and advance the art of the medium.

Addendum (June 25, 2020)

I just wanted to add this note in here, given the concerns I've seen from people that think Xbox is going to give Facebook carte blanche access to your data as a result of this partnership. The answer is emphatically no, at least according to Microsoft. There's no reason to think they will give Facebook access to your information without permission, as particularly in the case of the EU, this would be a massive privacy law violation.

Major Nelson offered some clarity on the partnership on reddit recently, noting that Facebook Gaming will compete with Twitch and YouTube Gaming on Xbox on equal footing.

Source: Reddit (Image credit: Source: Reddit)

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Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

55 Comments
  • I wonder if there will be any social aspect to this. I don't want them to integrate with Facebook per se, but I always wanted XBL to be a better competitor to Discord. The Facebook stuff leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I have to applaud Phil and them for fixing what I seen as a MAJOR hole for xcloud. Get Gamepass/xcloud on switch and it's game over 😂
  • Gamepass and Xcloud on Switch would be the best endgame deal. I know I'd get the hardware if that happened.
  • Gamepass and Xcloud on Switch, and a family plan... Sony has gone. The same would be true the other way.
  • I'd love to see Microsoft take on Discord (or just buy them). It kills me that the go-to app for gamers has the Chinese government behind it and all the privacy concerns that comes with.
  • Discord runs on Chinese money???
  • Discord is funded by Tencent "for an undisclosed amount". Undisclosed to avoid making people uncomfortable I'm sure. Pretty much all large Chinese companies are forced to provide the Chinese government unfettered access. So whatever access Tencent has, the PRC has.
  • Your comments on Zuckerberg are a bit ambiguous. I just can't really tell whether you like him or not.
  • Nah... I think if people had problem for real with Facebook they would delete the accounts they have...
  • I do (have a real problem with Facebook) and so don't have a FB account.
  • Are you out of Instagram and Whatsapp as well? If so, that's really impressive!
    Unfortunately Facebook owns the social platforms that are relevant to my connections.
  • There doesn't seem to be much choice in the current technology landscape. You can't escape Google either, not if you want to have a phone (and don't like Appel either). Or watch videos.
  • I have never had FB or Instagram. I got WhatsApp, before FB got involved. I needed it to organise kids' sports (I resisted for ages... But had to yield). As it happens, Windows Central (before it was called WC) was my first foray into signing up to anything (aside from Xbox Live). I really hope, though have little confidence, that MS will keep FB at arm's length in terms of integration. I see the need, and Jez nailed the points, but man, this is probably the 2nd misstep of the upcoming gen. They had so much goodwill, and were leaving Sony in the dust. Then they had the gameplay reveal, that wasn't quite what was advertised. Then this, which is a link up with a pretty poor track record and reputation. If Phil is smart, they'll avoid too much push towards FB. FB, for many, is a tarnished and toxic brand.
  • The brand may have a bad privacy reputation, but because signup typically takes email/phone number and there is a real name "policy", theres a much lower percentage of viewers making criminal threats or behaving badly than you would find on twitch or youtube. i'll admit that i like twitch and youtube better, and I expect not owning mixer will make it a lot easier for microsoft to support streaming services on potentially hostile platforms (since amazon will inevitably use twitch as a home for their cloud gaming service, and likewise with youtube and stadia).
  • You make a good point. Some will say it's fascist or whatever, but I think real names and profiles bring a lot of honesty to online interactions. It's easier to be toxic when you're hiding behind a nickname and fake avatar. On the contrary, seeing you're interacting with real people, humans like you could help trigger some people's empathy. And this makes those who do wrong more accountable.
  • So people must support the service of the devil facebook for the sake of MS or XB's success?
    XB & PS needs to succeed in streaming service or else the "evil" Google, Amazon and TenCent will take over gaming?
    hmm personally I don't really give a **** of companies and brand loyalties. I'll continue support traditional gaming. And will not support XCloud/PSNow. I don't want streaming to be the future of gaming.
    And when it comes to streaming, who is to say that the "evil" companies won't provide a better support than traditional ones?
  • Sadly, or rather, not sadly but matter of factly, the future won't ask anyone for their opinion. Streaming is a more convenient way of playing for people, and for companies to make their product reach an audience. They won't need a dedicated gaming machine. This is exactly like Netflix vs Blockbuster.
    Of course, anyone is free to keep doing things the way they do. But Jez is right, there are worse alternatives coming with Google and Tencent (god is Epic HUNGRY for a piece of the pie, and they have botomless pockets). So in this one I want to see MS and Xcloud succeed. Which means I'll have to stomach Facebook. I have yet to decide whether I hate them more than Google.
  • Tencent would be worse probably yeah, but if this means Facebook trackers within xCloud than I think even Google would be better to be frank (except for possible future integration with Surface/Windows devices). We will see I guess, for now personally I think Steam and GOG are much better bang for buck in the long term.
  • I wouldn't mind paying to play my Steam library out of the cloud, frankly. But no, Google would be no good for gaming at all. They simply don't care. Amazon don't care either. And Facebook are just vampires.
  • Try Parsec with steam.
  • Yeah, we'll see. You said the future won't ask anyone for their opinion and that also goes for your opinion.
    I wouldn't compare streaming music and movies to streaming games. It's not the same thing.
    The future is not set in stone, we'll just wait and see what happens... Jez being right or wrong remains just an opinion. What's good or bad is subjective.
    MS has been far from perfect when it comes to gaming. For all the few positives here and there, they are one of the main publishers pushing for games as service, microtransactions, lootbox or pay for advantages. making paying to play online a norm, pushing for timed deals with 3rd parties... Sorry but I find loving and hating companies really weird. I'll wait and see the products and GAMES they release.
  • Convinced me, I'm gonna start streaming/watching on Facebook Gaming. But only for the sake of Microsoft's future. And because I want Xcloud to succeed.
  • I'd expect Microsoft to integrate better support for twitch and youtube streaming now that they don't awkwardly also own mixer. But enjoy facebook gaming, it's a lot less toxic, even if the interface needs some help.
  • Yeah, I think this way Microsoft has the opportunity to integrate to Twitch as well since it is now more open not having its own game streaming service. Not sure about YouTube Gaming though, Microsoft and Google are still not exactly best buds, though they do collaborate on some things more lately. Thing is, Google wants the game streaming pie, and Microsoft is a direct competitor for their Stadia ambition. Google is far hungrier for more domination than Amazon would be. Even Apple is happy having its own niche.
  • Google and MS won't be buddies on this, because of Stadia, as you said. But MS and FB, that's something we're gonna see more of lately. The lines have been drawn, and others will ally with either in the future.
  • One of the things that puts me away from Twitch is the toxicity and how trite everything is. I don't aim to be a streamer personality, I just want to casually share some stuff.
  • I need to fill this space with text to illustrate how I really feel.............. 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
  • I don't see how partnering with Facebook is going to deliver the jump in to a game you're watching scenario. No one watches games on Facebook, nor do they sign in the YouTube or Twitch with a Facebook ID. They should have stuck with Mixer.
  • As I said above, never had FB. Never seen FB gaming. But with they're user base, they could make huge in roads. Their number 3 at the minute, and have seen some decent growth. Much will depend on the integration. I sincerely hope that share button doesn't need me to have a damned account with FB. Hopefully it'll be similar, where you can post to Twitter etc. Oh, and I don't produce or watch streams, so my input is to be taken with a lorry load of salt.
  • Nobody watches games on Facebook? You're joking, right? Facebook Gaming is already bigger in terms of watch time than Mixer which is now going away. So you know...maybe look into facts first.
  • Millions of people watch games on facebook in the US. Outside of that, Facebook paid to bring better internet to a bunch of countries, and in those countries it's the #1 or #2 game streaming service next to twitch.
  • Likely you don't have Facebook account to say this, which is understandable if you don't like Facebook at all. But Facebook Gaming is already big, which is no surprise since they already the largest social network, so its easy for them to promote their own services for existing userbase. Idk where you are, but there are regions that Facebook is still dominant social network. In my case, virtually all of my friends and family have Facebook, though some may not use that often. It is a primary communication tool for the masses whether we like it or not. So Microsoft will benefit alot for their xCloud partnering with Facebook just for the userbase alone. There are alot of game streamers on Facebook as well. It may not be a gaming brand for gamers, but it is becoming one and it is relevant to most people.
  • This is false, given the data that Facebook Gaming is many millions of viewing hours bigger than Mixer.
  • How did those first 2 paragraphs ever make it past an editor? The bias on this article is gross. There's got to be a line between op-ed and just trash talking a company. The streaming platforms that matter are youtube and twitch. Microsoft can't add good youtube or twitch streaming support while they own mixer. Passing off their clients to another company lets XBox position itself for better streaming experiences for all XBox users. Does Facebook gaming have some problems? Maybe. Not being so easily anonymous could go a long way towards reducing toxicity in game streaming, and it will be much, much harder to bot. But that lack of anonymity also comes with increased risk for female gamers who may not want to get stalked or anyone who doesn't want to be haunted by their teenage comments years later. With Google entering the cloud gaming market, Amazon being a year or two away from entering the cloud gaming market, and Microsoft owning a stake in Facebook, this was the best move they could have made.
  • I agree, I was like WTF did this really get a thumbs up?
    It sounds less like journalism and more like some whiny brat throwing in his diatribe.
  • A bit too much, or it could be said in other terms.
  • Not here to protect your feelings mate, don't like my opinion don't read it. I provided links to back up my thoughts on Facebook being trash.
  • You claimed that they incited genocide and disrupted democracy. Users on their platform may have encouraged those activities, and I think many people would agree that not policing their platform makes it's users vulnerable to propaganda and it's consequences, but that is very different from being actively complicit or inciting those activities. If the standard is that a company is complicit for any actions of it's users that it fails to moderate, then Reddit is guilty of everything from conspiracy to murder to narcotics trade to child porn distribution. Referring to Zuckerberg as a sociopath and a supervillain also comes off as really unnecessary. Plenty of good people suffer from sociopathic disorder and don't enjoy hurting others. While there's plenty of speculation that he may have some degree of aspergers, sociopathic disorders are very hard to recognize from sporadic observation and are not easily distinguishable from traditional population. Because his personality is so obviously odd it's very unlikely that his problem is sociopathy.
  • I agree that I perhaps shouldn't have called him a sociopath so flippantly, and will remove that as per your feedback. However, I also disagree wholeheartedly that Facebook isn't actively complicit in the negative things that happen on its platform, given how rich the company is, and given Zuckerberg's dismissals of concerns over its handling of various controversies.
  • Censorship is bad.
    Simple reason, who defines hate? You can’t answer Jez.
    Some things are clear like incitement, but don’t let the left wing media convince you that disagreeing with BLM or that all lives matter is racist - because clearly that is acceptable and isn’t. Nobody should be telling people what they can and cannot publish. (Bar actual incitement. ) The BBC pumps our biased drivel daily and gets away with it. So boo boo someone countered that during elections. I’ve seen sites say that George Soros does not fund BLM. I’d suggest people do a little research and make their own minds up.
  • "How did those first 2 paragraphs ever make it past an editor?" You are assuming there IS an editor. You must be new here.
  • My thoughts exactly (about the article). My professional view of Jez dipped with the vitriolic way he wrote this article, that I felt was not necessary in the first place. He is not setting or changing anyone's personal conclusions about Mark Zuckerberg or Facebook (if that was intended) but this just comes across as unprofessional. Forget the editor. This article should not have been penned like this in the first place. Too sensationalist.
  • The whole article is sensationalist or just the intro? I agree that I could've been a little more tactful in the intro, but I wasn't in the best frame of mind when I wrote