ZeniMax's 'Orion,' and how it will boost Microsoft's Xbox xCloud streaming tech

Bethesda Orion
Bethesda Orion (Image credit: Bethesda)

Microsoft shook the industry this week when it revealed its $7.5 billion acquisition of ZeniMax Media, which gives it the rights to legendary IP like The Elder Scrolls, DOOM, Fallout, and all of the talented studios known for making these epic, lasting experiences. One of the biggest criticisms of Xbox since practically forever has been the quality of its internal portfolio, which leaned incredibly heavily on Halo as its primary exclusive offering. With ZeniMax under its belt, that narrative is well and truly shattered — but there's another vastly important aspect to this acquisition that is being overlooked.

At its 2019 E3 showcase, Bethesda revealed Orion, its patented cloud streaming SDK, which it says its easy to integrate into existing games. Bethesda claims Orion allows games to run at "max settings" with minimal bandwidth usage, even if you live far away from a data center. To demonstrate these claims, Bethesda and id Software who are leading development of this SDK, demonstrated DOOM 2016 at 4K 60 frames per second, running on a smartphone. We've uploaded the presentation clip so you can take a look below.

ZeniMax has several job listings related to the Orion SDK on its website, and has a public test offering on its website as well, although it's unclear if the closed tests are still open to new users.

Microsoft's own streaming tech Project xCloud is potent in of its own right, but it only streams at 720p, up to 30 FPS, and even then, most of the time you can feel the latency. While this makes it perfectly usable for turn-based experiences and games that don't require pinpoint precision, like brawlers maybe, 3D shooters do suffer a fair bit unless you're in absolutely optimal conditions.

This could be a shot of adrenaline Project xCloud needs

Some of the biggest barriers to xCloud isn't necessarily the speed of your network, but the conditions too, namely 5GHz WiFi, or high-quality 5G (with a compatible smartphone). Bethesda's Orion demo showcases DOOM 2016 running at 4K, with 60 frames per second, with "no perceptible latency," which is most likely the ideal end-goal of Microsoft's xCloud tech for Xbox Game Pass Cloud Gaming.

If it truly works as Bethesda describes, this could be a shot of adrenaline Project xCloud needs to propel the user experience into meetings Xbox lead Phil Spencer's vision of "console-quality" game streaming. The patents associated with this technology and the sole rights to distribution to the SDK will give Microsoft's xCloud another big leap over Google Stadia.

Source: Bethesda (Image credit: Source: Bethesda)

Stadia is struggling to catch up on the basics right now — namely content — even if they have the technology and server infrastructure down. The acquisition shows that Microsoft isn't complacent to the idea that one day, Google or one of Microsoft's other competitors could pull ahead in this space.

It all just further slams home that ZeniMax was a perfect acquisition for Microsoft, with almost every aspect of the operation fitting nicely into Microsoft's wider goals for its gaming division in 2021 and beyond. You can try Project xCloud gaming for yourself right now on an Android device, with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.

Thanks for the tip Rekenber and thanks to YaBoyTwiz!

Xbox Game Streaming


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!