One of the prevailing narratives I often see revolving around Xbox Game Pass cloud streaming is this idea that Microsoft wants to eliminate the home console completely. It's this notion that their ultimate goal is to move everyone over to the cloud and a subscription service, wresting you of some kind of control over your home content and entertainment experiences. Indeed, Microsoft itself confirmed last week that they're working on streaming-only Xbox Game Pass apps for smart TVs, and streaming-only Xbox console boxes in the future.
In an interview posted on Bloomberg TV, Microsoft's head of creator experiences for Xbox Sarah Bond offered some details on exactly how Redmond is positioning gaming. She even said in the interview that Microsoft views retail outlets like Gamestop as integral to offering consumers choice over how they want to play. Yet, despite that, Bloomberg TV slapped a large banner across the screen reading "Games move to TV, ditch consoles," prompting a wave of fear in my DMs.
I think it's a tad disingenuous, or at least erroneous, of media outlets and other commentators to continue with this idea that cloud gaming is designed to be anything other than supplementary for Xbox. Perhaps it's the struggle to separate Xbox Game Pass from the effects Netflix and Spotify have had on their respective industries. In a virtual Xbox press briefing offered to Windows Central and most likely Bloomberg as well last week, Xbox head Phil Spencer and his team spoke up about how Xbox Game Pass cloud streaming (formerly known as xCloud) is designed to be an option, aimed at people who can't afford a console, don't want a console, or simply want more ways to get at their content.
Spencer also said explicitly that he expects that there will always be a home console option from Xbox, while noting that new hardware is already being incubated.
"Of course, there's still a place for console and PC, and frankly, there always will be. Through the cloud, we'll be able to give a robust gaming experience to anyone connected to the internet, even on the least powerful and least powerful devices, devices people already own."
"When I was a kid, it was crazy to think about having a Galaga or a Ms. PacMan machine in your house. You had to go to the arcade. More recently, if you couldn't spend the hundreds of dollars on a console or thousands of dollars on a high-end PC, you simply couldn't participate in the global gaming community in a significant way. The cloud will allow us to completely remove these barriers to play.
"What makes us different from a service like Netflix, is that give players both players, a subscription package and a full retail store. [...] On console, we believe we'll see share growth this generation, as we have the lowest next-gen console on the market, and the most powerful next-gen console on the market. Game Pass is becoming a deciding factor in people choosing which console to buy. The majority of new gen-9 console sales attach Game Pass."
Cloud IS an Xbox console
Even if you don't believe Phil Spencer is being honest, it's potentially irrelevant. There are technical reasons why Xbox Game Pass cloud servers will remain an option. The greatest maneuver Phil Spencer and his team pulled in his tenure as lead of Xbox was bringing the gaming division into closer alignment with Microsoft's cloud-oriented vision, leading to huge investments from the top down. Instead of playing along with the established idea of what gaming is, Microsoft is redefining what gaming is, giving you access to all the best Xbox games across any device, anywhere, at any time.
And yes, it will be an option. And why? The cloud is literally powered by Xbox home console hardware, and the home console development environment. By making the cloud effectively a console, it creates a win-win scenario where Microsoft can move outside of the established and relatively static console install base, and find growth on devices that have, historically, been too underpowered to offer high-end gaming experiences.
Is there a sci-fi future where we'll play video games via brain implants and cloud-based Windows Mixed Reality holograms projected straight onto our ocular nerve? Sure, maybe. But as long as global demand remains strong for console hardware, you needn't worry about Microsoft getting out of the game.