Project xCloud: What do we know about Microsoft’s take on cloud gaming?

According to the Xbox head Phil Spencer, invitations to the public beta preview of the Microsoft Project xCloud have begun to be released. But what do we know about this innovative new video games platform? Let’s take a look at what has been released thus far.
Microsoft's xCloud cloud gaming service shown being used
Project xCloud promises a unique streaming experience. Photo: Microsoft.

Streaming Xbox

The first thing to note about Project xCloud is that Microsoft intends to make it possible to stream console and PC games to any mobile device or platform. This has been a sought-after concept for some time, but Microsoft asserts that its Project xCloud will make it a reality. This would make it possible to play Xbox One games on the go, for example, much in the fashion of the existing Nintendo Switch.

Cloud technology is heavily involved in the Project xCloud process, with Microsoft confirming that it will use its proprietary Azure cloud computing hardware and software. The servers are available in 54 locations dotted all over the planet, meaning that there is wide access to gamers in all markets.

Cloud servers

Microsoft has confirmed that it has already tested Project xCloud from a cloud server located in Washington. The company claims that the final system will offer gamers an outstanding streaming experience regardless of their physical location.

xCloud streaming service being used on an Apple iPad
Streaming game services are becoming increasingly popular. Photo: Microsoft.

However, past problems with streaming across multiple platforms and mediums suggest that the reality may be slightly more logistically problematical than Microsoft has suggested. Microsoft will be fully aware that it needs to address issues related to latency, the graphical quality delivered, and playable frame rates.

There is controller and touchscreen support built into Project xCloud, with controllers connecting with the technology via Bluetooth. Microsoft has also confirmed that it has developed a touch input overlay, which makes it possible to play Xbox One games via the touchscreen of a smartphone or tablet, removing the need for a games controller.

Internal testing

Microsoft has tested Project xCloud internally, and even allowed employees at the company to use the system in their own homes, in order to test stability and functionality. Download speeds from the system of 10MB per second have been recorded, with Microsoft stating that the xCloud will be fully compatible with both the current 4G cellular network as well as the forthcoming 5G. Any Android phone or tablet using the Project xCloud system will require Android 6.0 with Bluetooth 4.0 installed.

Project xCloud blades have also been established in data centers across North America, Asia, and Europe. Publishers such as Capcom and Paradox Interactive are already using the service in order to test games, enabling them to put their software through its paces, without the need to port to alternative platforms.

Every Xbox game

Microsoft claims that Project xCloud will support every Xbox One game that has ever been released, along with Xbox and Xbox 360 games that are compatible with the Xbox One console. This would mean that over 3,500 titles would be playable on Project xCloud, with many more planned for the future.

Project xCloud being used with an Xbox controller
Project xCloud will face technical challenges in delivering console quality gaming via streaming. Photo: Microsoft.

There is no word yet on pricing or release date for Project xCloud, but this may become clearer when Microsoft hosts its initial public events. The concept certainly sounds like an exciting one, and is indicative of the future direction of the gaming industry. But there will also be question marks regarding whether Microsoft can indeed deliver a sustainable system which provides the quality of gaming that a demanding market will require.

Project xCloud will also have to compete in an increasingly crowded marketplace, alongside the likes of Google Stadia and Apple Arcade.

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