Microsoft is attempting to circumvent some of the most frustrating barriers to play in the modern era: lengthy download times and limited hard drive space. Announced as part of the Xbox Gamescom 2021 showcase, Cloud Gaming is coming to Xbox Series X and Xbox One this holiday, a move that could help you get into the games that you want to play faster than ever before.
Cloud Gaming – previously known as Project xCloud – gives Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members the opportunity to play more than 100 of the games available through the service straight from the cloud. With no downloads, no installs, getting into the action with your friends, or trying a game that caught your eye, is little more than a button press away... if your internet has the necessary bandwidth to support it.
This could be transformative for Xbox players. In recent years, we've seen the video game industry shift increasingly toward supporting always-online experiences and serving digital releases. While this has certainly helped increase visibility and accessibility for games across the AAA and indie spectrum, the size of installs and frequency of updates has become a real barrier to entry. And, if we're being honest, a perpetual pain in the ass.
You need only look at some of the standout Game Pass releases as evidence of this: Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Destiny 2 can require over 100GB of available hard drive space to download and install, while games likes Gears 5, GTA 5, and Forza Horizon 4 require over 50GB. With Cloud Gaming, Microsoft believes it can reduce a major point of friction in the modern gaming experience – circumventing both lengthy download times and the need to delete games you're still enjoying to take a chance on something new.
"We've been listening to our gamers and have heard their feedback loud and clear: they want to try new games fast without waiting for an install to finish. Xbox Cloud Gaming (Beta) on Xbox consoles lets you play new games faster than ever, optimizing space and saving you time," Catherine Gluckstein, vice president & head of product & strategy for Xbox Cloud Gaming, tells GamesRadar.
Titles included in the Cloud Gaming service will have their own place in the Xbox Game Pass store and, when an applicable title is selected, you'll have the option to either press the Cloud icon to launch it immediately or install it to local storage as you would have previously. Microsoft has also noted that you'll be able to get straight into multiplayer games with friends too – transitioning into a Sea of Thieves lobby from an invite, regardless of whether you have the pirate simulator installed on your system.
Enhancing Xbox One
Xbox Cloud Gaming is due to arrive on Xbox Series X and Xbox One later this year, arriving initially for members of the Xbox Insider program so that Microsoft can gather feedback and stabilise the service – similar to how it managed the rollout of xCloud on PC and mobile devices earlier this year. This is when we'll likely learn which of the 100+ Game Pass titles are actually supported, and whether that includes any of the titles in the EA Play library. As it stands, it's down to developers to decide whether they will invest in cloud support for their games, although Microsoft will work with studios on a case-by-case basis to remove as much friction from the process as possible.
One element of Xbox Cloud Gaming that we'll need to try to truly believe is the promise of the service opening up and improving the baseline Xbox One experience. Kareem Choudhry, CVP of cloud gaming at Microsoft, told us that the decision to switch the Azure cloud network from banks of Xbox One consoles to Series X hardware (opens in new tab) would "change the landscape of what is possible with Xbox", and we're beginning to see the result of that now.
With Cloud Gaming powered by custom Series X hardware in Microsoft's datacenters, Xbox One owners will actually be able to experience new-gen exclusives – such as The Medium and Microsoft Flight Simulator. More intriguing still, those of you with the ageing console will even be able to access the Xbox Series X version of existing releases (should they be Cloud Gaming enabled and in Game Pass).
Here's an example: Gears 5 runs at a locked (and stable-ish) 30fps on Xbox One but, should you access the game via Cloud Gaming, you'll be able to experience it at 60fps just as Xbox Series X owners do. Xbox Cloud Gaming will support 1080p and up to 60fps at launch, and that's reason enough for One owners to return to some of the biggest releases of recent years past. Much of this functionality will, of course, be dependent on the quality and reliability of your internet connection – broadband infrastructure remains one step behind ambitions in the cloud space – but this is a positive step forward. Now all Phil Spencer needs to do is get Activision on the phone, pull the Call of Duty titles into Game Pass and the Xbox Cloud Gaming beta, so that I can reclaim a few hundred gigabytes of my Series X storage.
The Xbox Cloud Gaming service is set to launch later this year, and should include some of the most exciting upcoming Xbox Series X games.