Today is (yet another) big day for Microsoft, as it formally launches cloud gaming as part of Xbox Game Pass. The project xCloud name is being retired and in its place cloud gaming is now just a part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and accessed via the Xbox Game Pass app.
The service is still in beta, and at time of writing we haven’t been able to test it for ourselves as the options to stream games hadn’t been added to our devices. But despite that Microsoft is launching the new service strongly, covering 22 countries with more than 150 games from its Game Pass service.
Right now, the service is only available on Android, due to Apple’s unwillingness to support game streaming without the service jumping through numerous hoops – such as registering every game on the service individually with Apple and re-registering them everytime an update is made – a restriction the platform doesn’t apply to say music, TV or movies on services such as Spotify or Netflix.
Another point to note is that while a Bluetooth connected controller, such as a standard Xbox controller, is recommended, Microsoft is already adding touch controls for some games, such as Minecraft Dungeons, to let consumers play whenever they feel the need. This should help break down the barrier to entry for those thinking about trying out the service on a free trial. And there’s a $1 first month trial available to further tempt new users. It’s hard to see what more Microsoft could do.
The big question of course, is whether the long-discussed predictions of a huge new addressable audience will come to pass. It seems that consoles are a fairly acceptable and accessible item for those in the core markets. However such services may well allow Xbox, and partners such as EA, to grow their base in countries where consoles have failed to penetrate the market.
The question then is whether, like trying to sell Call of Duty into Japan say (which has only ever seen moderate success), the content in Game Pass is actually relevant to the local market. Will Game Pass be looking to buy up console RPGs that appeal to Chinese gamers for instance. Will it start to support languages for South-East Asia or South American markets in order to try and grow its business there? It’s early days, but Game Pass may well see it’s first successes where the core of industry watchers isn’t looking.
More traditionally, it could allow console-owning players to add more hours of playtime into their days, whether that be at home but away from the main TV, or on the move (depending on the availability of 5G and public Wi-Fi data connections). This may allow the console segment of the market to eat into the market share of mobile games – although launching a mobile version of your game, as Fortnite did, is probably a better (and more robust) option in many cases. Though a bigger engineering feat, and one that won’t suit many developers or types of game.
One sidenote, we do bemoan the loss of an easily definable name for the service. We understand that’s to try and break down the barriers between playing on different devices, but xCloud sounded cool and gave an easy shorthand, ‘Oh, are you playing that on xCloud?’ for example.
This is the real test of cloud gaming, can an established platform, such as Xbox, actually benefit from a cloud infrastructure, through greater audience or engagement, or will it remain something of a white elephant technology, cool to have but not really wanted by consumers.
We hope it works well enough to be the former, but deep down we feel it might be the latter.