In a perfect world, we’d all have RTX 2080 graphics cards running on Core i9-9900K processors, Xbox One X consoles, and PlayStation 4 Pro consoles. Those of us that do get a top-tier gaming experience that those without can’t hope to replicate. But companies like Microsoft, Google, and maybe even Valve are trying to bring that experience to the rest of us. Google is launching Stadia very soon, and Microsoft is hard at work on Project xCloud. Yesterday at their X019 Inside Xbox presentation, Microsoft announced a bunch of games and made a very good argument for its xCloud gaming platform.
xCloud is coming to PC and to Xbox Game Pass
First and foremost, Microsoft is bringing its xCloud streaming tech to Xbox Game Pass next year, and it’ll be playable on PC, too. The technology is already in preview on some mobile devices, and Microsoft is bringing another 50 games to the service for the test right now.
But bringing the system to Game Pass means that any games on Microsoft’s Game Pass service and any games we already own on the Xbox ecosystem will be playable on any platform you can connect a Bluetooth controller to. Microsoft hasn’t said for sure whether or not this will come with an additional charge on top of the current Game Pass charge, but the company seems to be positioning Xcloud as an addition to the service.
Speaking of controllers, Microsoft is continuing its philosophy of “bring your stuff with you.” While we can definitely use our Xbox controllers with xCloud games, we’ll also be able to use other Bluetooth controllers. Microsoft specifically called out the Sony Dualshock 4 controller; that means that next year, we’ll be able to play Halo Reach with a PlayStation controller without it being any kind of hack. Razer gamepads are on the list, too. Keyboards and mice will also work for Xbox Game Pass for PC games and any Xbox games that allow it. That’s a pretty solid set of options.
Caveats everywhere you look
Of course, there are caveats here and they should be mentioned in any story about any of these platforms. Even while streaming improves, transfer caps are still a concern. 1080p gaming uses upwards of 9 GB/hr, and 4K gaming can use almost 16 GB/hr. That’s an average of 3 hours of gaming a day to use up a standard American 1 TB data transfer cap, and that’s assuming you’re not streaming video, downloading games, or any of the other ways you can use bandwidth.
And while Microsoft has the Xbox Game Pass library and your already-owned Xbox games as a starter library (every game that works on Xbox One works on xCloud), it’s limited by whatever the most powerful Xbox is on the market at the moment. The Xbox One X is a powerful machine, but Stadia has almost twice as much processing power as an Xbox One X. That will change when the next Xbox, currently codenamed Project Scarlett, comes out, but for now, Google has the power advantage and can truly deliver on the promise of 4K games at Ultra settings in a way that Microsoft can’t just yet.
Microsoft also has a disadvantage in the latency department. Once Google fully rolls out Stadia, the official Stadia controllers will connect directly to our wireless networks instead of to our computers, taking crucial milliseconds out of the equation. It seems likely that Microsoft has its own answer similar to Google’s “negative latency” tech, though. Microsoft has been researching this since at least 2014.
More competition is better
Game streaming is never going to be the best way to play games, just like Netflix will never be as good an experience as a 4K UHD Blu-ray, but these options are starting to look very tantalizing. The idea of being able to try any of the 200-plus games on Xbox Game Pass at a moment’s notice without committing to buying it (as you would on Stadia as it currently stands), is an exciting idea.