When will you be able to play your own Xbox games via the cloud? 'This year' says Xbox lead Phil Spencer.

GameSir G8 Galileo
(Image credit: Jez Corden - Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Xbox has a cloud gaming service, attached to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. 
  • Using Xbox Cloud Gaming, you can play a selection of a few hundred Xbox games on any supported device, without an Xbox console attached. 
  • For a long time, Microsoft has stated that it wants to bring games you actually own into the service as well, pending negotiations with license holders. 
  • A chat between Xbox lead Phil Spencer and an Xbox user named NASburg (that we have verified to be real) suggests that Microsoft is expecting "this year" to launch the new cloud feature. 

Xbox Cloud Gaming is a great service from Microsoft that gives you hundreds of games to play via the web, Windows PCs, Android devices, and some modern TVs (such as those offered by Samsung post-2021). For $15 per month as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you can choose between a truly huge amount of games to play on remote hardware, bypassing the need to have an Xbox console or powerful gaming PC to experience them. All of Microsoft's first-party titles are in there, including Halo, Gears of War, Forza, Flight Simulator, and so on, and the selection of games from third-party developers is also incredibly impressive. 

Xbox Cloud Gaming has grown steadily in recent years, and we've seen absolutely enormous queue times when certain games go viral into the service, such as January's Palworld. Microsoft is doubtless working to respond to the demand by boosting server capacity, and they may have their work cut out to meet that demand later this year if the latest news pans out as expected. 

A brief conversation between Xbox lead Phil Spencer and shared by HazzadorGamin on Twitter (X) offered a timeline for one of Xbox Cloud Gaming's most-demanded features — the ability to play your own digital games. 

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Responding to @sburg85 on Xbox Live, (and verified as genuine by us), Spencer replied "should be this year" to questions of when Xbox players would be able to access their own library from Microsoft's cloud array. 

Right now, if a game exits Xbox Game Pass, you can no longer play it via the cloud, which is a tad annoying. It's doubly annoying when we lose access to a game designed with good touch controls, since there aren't a huge amount of games that are super viable to play on smartphones without an attached Xbox controller or Xbox cloud gaming controller accessory. 

While there's already a great selection of games available in Xbox Cloud Gaming, being able to get a bigger variety of turn-based games and side-scrolling experiences would doubtless boost the service. Xbox Cloud Gaming sadly isn't as responsive as NVIDIA GeForce Now owing to the company's GPU dominance, but it's perfectly viable for 2D games or games with fixed camera isometric perspectives, such as Death's Door or HADES. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has also long been one of my go-to Xbox Cloud Gaming titles, but it exited the service for quite some time (although, it has since returned). 

Xbox cloud gaming future?

(Image credit: Future)

We all know how much Microsoft and its CEO Satya Nadella loves cloud services. Cloud catalysed Microsoft's rise back to the top of the stock market, which has now become turbo charged by the AI craze. AI may have a role to play in improving the responsiveness of cloud gaming video encoding. Right now, cloud gaming is incredibly expensive and energy intensive, and in some cases, commercially non-viable. Apple and Google actively work to reduce and suppress the ability for Microsoft, NVIDIA, and their partners to monetize. Regulators have begun taking notice, however, but Apple and Google are hard at work pushing back. Apple has started killing PWA (progressive web app) support specifically in the EU, for example, to prevent users from having a viable experience on their devices using web apps, such as Xbox Cloud Gaming.  

Microsoft, Epic Games, Spotify, and various others are calling on the EU to regulate Apple and Google, given that their duopoly over mobile computing is preventing innovations like cloud gaming from taking root. Regulators often struggle to get these types of things right, though. The UK CMA recently ruled that Microsoft had to sell the rights to its cloud gaming catalog to Ubisoft for the next 10 years to get its Activision acquisition over the finishing line. As a result, we've been told Diablo 4 will not be coming to Xbox Cloud Gaming when Diablo 4 hits Xbox Game Pass for console and PC in March. Great work on improving consumer choice there, UK CMA! 

In any case, Xbox Cloud Gaming is certainly not slowing down, but the challenges ahead of it remain numerous. 

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at 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 tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Fragslayer
    Yeah God bless the UK like Ubisoft mattered at all in the matter. I can think of so many reasons this makes zero sense.
  • fdruid
    Are we basing articles on such weak sources now? Come on.