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How Project xCloud streaming will change Xbox One gaming

Microsoft is scaling its Xbox "Project xCloud" game-streaming service, bringing top Xbox One titles across devices of all forms and dimensions. Major players are jumping into the streaming space and full-fledged gaming on-the-go will only be more prominent going forward. xCloud public demos are on the horizon for 2019, and we're continuing to learn more about the ambitious service.

However, with Project xCloud expanding to all-new product categories, existing Xbox One games will need to change. Here's what xCloud needs to consider to mobilize the Xbox portfolio.

Xbox Project xCloud game streaming: Everything we know

A smaller screen means bigger problems

Xbox Project xCloud

Xbox Project xCloud (Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft's first rollout of Project xCloud will target Android devices, paired with the benefits of the open mobile platform. While likely to expand to more mobiles, PCs, and consoles, the preliminary shift to Google's mobile OS packs the most significant hurdles ahead. Moving an existing game portfolio to the cloud and new devices isn't easy; with countless obstacles to address during its early days. The underlying cloud technology remains Microsoft's key innovation, though considering its target devices is equally crucial.

One fundamental change will be the display, switching out that spacious 60-inch TV setup for a six-inch handheld panel. On the surface, this means addressing TV-tailored design, by scaling menus, user interfaces, and text to account for reduced real estate. It also extends to more nuanced implications, where changes to visual cues and visibility will inevitably impact the phone experience.

Following its early Project xCloud reveal, Microsoft has addressed this concept at Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2019, discussing its "Cloud Aware" API to account for new devices. The fresh toolset will enable developers to build upon existing Xbox One code with streaming-specific changes and consider touch-enabled glass. And while dependent on developers tailoring games for the platform, increased interest from Google, Microsoft, and Sony will help drive adoption.

The differences of a mobile world

Project xCloud

Project xCloud (Image credit: Microsoft)

Project xCloud's promises will also change how Xbox One games play, with new device families likely bringing changes to expectations and experiences. In traditional console gaming, it's accepted to play multiple hours in a day, sometimes even in one sitting. Meanwhile, the mobile world fosters shorter play sessions; sometimes just minutes at a time. Expectations for Project xCloud shouldn't align with your typical mobile game, but lesser investment is unavoidable on mobile.

As game streaming births mobile portals to console experiences, we may see more developers accounting for the concept. Microsoft has already touched on plans to address this during GDC 2019, under its Cloud Aware tools. Using the example of frequent save points, it shows how restructuring titles around devices can help accommodate the wider handheld market.

The cost of Xbox gaming is going to change

Xbox Game Pass at Gamescom 2018

Xbox Game Pass at Gamescom 2018 (Image credit: Matt Brown / Windows Central)

While Microsoft and Google talk future streaming services, pricing remains an untouched topic for both firms. The Google Stadia reveal sidestepped its financial angle entirely, while Microsoft is teasing xCloud and Xbox Game Pass will "co-exist in some reasonable way." The Netflix-style subscription approach has revolutionized video and music distribution, now presenting similar value for gamers. Though $60 pricing might be the norm for consoles, it needs to evolve for its mobile reach.

Most subscription services in video, music, and gaming split subscription revenue among developers based on viewership. However, without the original price for ownership, we may see more publishers push purchases beyond the cost of entry.

We've seen countless examples of deeper monetization, whether through microtransactions, expansions, exclusive passes, and other ways to retain post-purchase revenue. Following the success of free-to-play hits like Fortnite and Apex Legends too, similar monetization is fit for streaming platforms. However, with tough times for smaller indies and single-player games, this uncertain landscape for some is only here to stay.

It's still early days for Xbox Project xCloud and innumerable unanswered questions lay in the months ahead. However, game streaming is more advanced than ever, and 2019 could be a massive break for Microsoft's cloud ambitions. Let us know your thoughts on the current state of Project xCloud in the comments.

Matt Brown is Windows Central's Senior Games Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

21 Comments
  • I predict xCloud will be a Gold sub add-on, allowing you to play the games you own a digital license to or on Game Pass.
  • Let's hope that's the case, cause it will fail if it has 3 separate subscription plan.
  • It'll likely be a Game Pass addon. It would be great if they could offer the beta without a price increase.
  • Agreed, They will likely have 2 SKUS of XCloud bundle. XCloud + XBL Gold and XCloud + Game Pass + XBL Gold.
  • If XCloud is an extra payment on top of Game Pass they can, quite simply, **** right off. It needs to be included in the cost seeing as xCloud is literally just allowing you access to games you already have access to. Really it should actually be included in the cost of Gold instead, with Game Pass remaining as a separate subscription.
  • This is what I'm leaning towards.
  • Google has a clear strategy. You don't need to buy a powerful console or PC to play in 4k.
    Sony's main strategy is the same. The same console market. Their new version of consoles that sold on average around 110 per generation. MS are between the two. Like someone said in the other other topic, I think it's not a clear strategy.
    I'm not talking about the fans of MS who'll buy every console and subscribe for every service. I'm talking about the general public.
    ofc it will all depend on how the service costs but if people can get everything by simply streaming will they buy the console and make XB their main console? Right now, I wonder how successful these services will actually be.
    I don't think it'll change games too much; It'll depend on how successful this is.
    I've been talking about how with a renting service, teams may try to rush games into the service. Quality may come after quantity.
    ofc this might also encourage companies to make games that focuses on how to make money through in-game purchases...
  • Microsoft don't care if people buy the console, that's the whole point of implementing a streaming service, they are aiming for customers who aren't interested in a home console. I do agree that this is a very bad thing for gaming, for all the reasons you mentioned. Streaming, while great for the company offering the streaming service, is financially terrible for the people providing their products.
  • I think they should care about the number of consoles sold. They are trying to be jack of all trades here. Traditionally a console maker used to invest in making a console, then invest heavily in studios to produce exclusives or console sellers, making the console attractive for gamers. Once people invest in the console they would keep spending via services like gold or PS+, and they would keep buying games for the system. That's how console makers made most of their money. Google aren't investing in making consoles but they are investing in servers. Here MS are investing on design and manufacture of consoles, game studios and servers for their XCloud thing. Again, it will all depend on the pricing. But speaking from the point of view of a gamer (non-XB fan) if the message is "our games will be available on every platform day one and you can play online for free on those platform", then these people would naturally not buy a XB console and stay on the platform they already own.
    Yes, MS will get money from the few times these people will rent a game but it'll would be a lot less than if the person invest on a XB console and bought most of their games there. Companies are going to try to push a streaming and an all digital future because it's great for them. People say that this is the future and 100% digital will happen sooner or later.
    I'll just wait for that. I want to see who really wants this 100% digital streaming world where these big companies have the monopoly of the market.
    PC gamers? I doubt they want to be in a closed system. Console gamers? Maybe some, but we've seen in 2013, many people were against it. Casual gamers/Non gamers? Maybe, I don't know about this one. It would be really interesting to see the numbers of game pass and gold member but MS hardly communicate on number that actually matters.
  • It's a fact, manufacturers lose money on consoles, that's just the way it is. Microsoft will be in an infinitely better position if they have 100 million people paying 10 bucks a month for xCloud than if they have 40 million people buying a console. Unfortunately, regardless of an individuals stance on game streaming that is where we are going. The big issue is that you are going to end up with a plethora of streaming services because the financial gain for content providers is significantly less, so every publisher (that can afford to) will throw their hand into the subscription ring. It's quite obvious already when you look at the third party content in the likes of Game Pass (or lack thereof), outside of a handful of titles it's all smaller, independent games. Simply because developers and publisher will not make anywhere near as much money by providing their titles on someone else's service. So what we can expect to see is all the big names throwing their steaming services into the ring and if you actually want to play everything, sure it can be done on one device, but you'll be paying 50-100 bucks a month for the privilege. In terms of streaming options, xCloud is arguably the most beneficial for both consumers and developers as it allows people to access their existing library, so even if you have purchased a game from Activision, you can still stream it on xCloud. Stadia may offer a similar advantage, but we don't know enough about it yet.
  • I just can't see how they'll reach 100 million regular game pass members.
    Netflix has 135m subscriber and it took the more than a decade to reach where they are.
    And here we are talking about a service that has more content, there is a much bigger market for movies/TV series and it probably needs much lower internet speed. Like you said game pass is unlikely to have all those major 3rd party games because they'll get a lot less money from MS. I don't think there are many gamers that will play exclusively on game pass. Personally, I actually don't mind big names competing with each other. As long as they don't pay for 3rd party timed exclusive, it would be great to see Google, Amazon invest into making games along with Nintendo, Sony and MS.
    I'll still buy games as the priority and if I need to rent or stream to play some game I'll do it. I just won't keep subscription going on and on. So far we know very little of both xCloud and Stadia, so far it's really difficult to compare both services.
  • 100 million was just a random number I pulled from the air, my point being that with xCloud there is definitely the potential to reach a lot more people than simple console sales will allow.
  • Personally MS are IMO approaching this really well. Back in 2013 MS got bad press because they were going to force everyone to adopt the DRM model. Here MS aren't cutting there nose off to spite their face. They are still offering cutting edge Hardware in Xbox 2. But also offering arguabky the most fully fledged Streaming service over the competition. As I understood Xcloud isnt renting games. You purchase games outright. That digital purchase is then playable on console or Xcloud. Of course they also have Gamepass as an option to. But I think it's really important that MS isn't forcing the consumer to have to adopt Streaming if they don't want to. The consumer can choose to now or not. And still access all the same games they own on console on Xcloud.
  • "As I understood Xcloud isnt renting games. You purchase games outright. That digital purchase is then playable on console or Xcloud."
    So you're saying that if I buy say Ori on the MS store I'll be able to play it for free using xCloud for free? I think that's what they should do but I don't think that's what they'll end up doing.
    I think they'll ask me some kind of monthly fee to stream the game I just bought on my phone.
    So yeah, I think Xcloud will eventually be a renting service, where I rent games I already own.
    I surely hope this won't be the case and you'll be free to play games you already own. Also I think XCloud should be free for game pass members. People and MS want to compare game pass to netflix. Well, Netflix doesn't charge you twice.
    PSNow lets you download games and stream them. Netflix allows you to stream content and download them. This is just another way of accessing the content that you're renting. Anyway pricing is key here imo.
  • In theory xCloud should be tied to a Gold subscription as it technically isn't "adding" to what you already have, merely opening up opportunities for new places to play. In reality, I suspect it will have it's own separate subscription and also come "free" with Game Pass for those who opt to subscribe to game pass (which given how often that service has sales, I'm surprised more people don't use, I've paid less than twenty bucks Australian, around 15 US, for six months of game pass).
  • I really hope they tie it to the Gold service (if they keep Gold around), this can be further justification for them of the divide between paying for Gold on consoles and not having to on PC (and now other services).
  • Including XCloud with gold would make sense. And yes, it would be a justification for XB console owners paying for it. XCloud included with Game pass with no extra cost is the minimum for me. I think if they want non-XB fans to join the service they'll need to do everything to make the service attractive enough.
  • The pricing of Xcloud is unknown. I really can't comment on that. Like yourself and everyone else, I think Xcloud will be tied to Gamepass or Gold. Or both. They may even do a bundle price for 12 months with all of that incorporated. But yeah, several interviews I've seen with Phil Spencer on Xcloud, he says think of it as taking your console with you wherever. All the games you own right there with you. Same dashboard, community. Everything. What I understand is don't think of Xcloud as some thing different. It's simply your Xbox but streaming. The same store, the same everything. That's what I got from all the info so far. That's why they have said multiple times, a developer doesn't need to make any changes whatsoever to have their game run on Xcloud. Just make the Xbox version, and it will run on Xcloud as it is. All existing made Xbox One games will work straight away on Xcloud with 0 amendments.
  • @Richard
    Yes, we don't know the price but what do you thing?
    You say that if I buy a game on XCloud, shouldn't I be able to play it for free on XCloud after the purchase? Do you think I should keep paying a fee just to play the game I bought? Shouldn't XCloud be included with game pass without extra cost? Shouldn't XCloud be included in gold subscroption without extra cost?
    I'm not asking what they'll do but what do you thing?
  • The service will cost to run. Free would be lovely. I would be happy with something in the region of £3.99/month to use the streaming service. Maybe offer a bundle price of Gamepass, Live and Cloud which saves you money on each if bought individually. I feel £3.99 is reasonable to keep the upkeep of the service.
  • There will be no XPA and xvc equivalent, and Stadia on the train / flight or in some cafe's basement is actually unrealistic.
    Kids watching YT and want to join the game. Asking kids to pay $60 upfront before joining the game?
    sub? ads? AAA on day1?
    Can ads cover electricity bills generated by better-than-top-tier-consumer-gaming HW? How many watts per game session you reckon?
    If Steam cannot convince devs to go all in with Linux gaming, Google can?
    Video streaming? Kahawai, Outatime equivalent?
    MS has more servers and undersea cables than Google if I'm not wrong. No one knows how MS gonna sell xCloud and I don't think it's gonna be free. However, MS has GamePass and Gold. So, xCloud will be available to you as long as you have either one?
    * cross-platform unlimited storage cloud save is free tho.