Microsoft has lifted the lid on what could be a game-changer for the world of interactive entertainment: Project xCloud.
This new streaming service – which is expected to go into public testing next year and was hinted at during this year’s E3 presentation – allows you to stream Xbox games to your Android phone or tablet. Gameplay is streamed directly to your mobile device and you connect using a Bluetooth controller.
“Project xCloud’s state-of-the-art global game-streaming technology will offer you the freedom to play on the device you want without being locked to a particular device,” said Microsoft’s corporate vice president for cloud gaming, Kareem Choudhry, in a recent post announcing the service.
The company states that the 2018 public tests will help it develop the service to ensure it can cope with the user load when it finally launches. It has also revealed that it has been building custom server hardware – built using multiple Xbox One consoles – to operate Project xCloud, and that scaling up on the hardware side of things is possible, should the demand prove higher than expected.
The core vision is simple; instead of being tied to a particular device, you’ll be able to sign up to this service and play on a wide range of platforms. Microsoft is clearly thinking along the lines of services like Spotify and Netflix, where you can access loads of content across multiple devices, rather than being tied to your MP3 player or Blu-Ray player.
But games aren’t a passive form of entertainment; they rely on input from the user which has to be acknowledged instantaneously, otherwise, the illusion of control is broken. Such technology relies on the speed of the end user’s connection, and sluggish network speeds will result in muddy visuals, slow response time and jerky movement. However, Microsoft says it is working hard to overcome latency problems.
“Developers and researchers at Microsoft Research are creating ways to combat latency through advances in networking topology, and video encoding and decoding,” added Choudhry. “Project xCloud will have the capability to make game streaming possible on 4G networks and will dynamically scale to push against the outer limits of what’s possible on 5G networks as they roll out globally. Currently, the test experience is running at 10 megabits per second. Our goal is to deliver high-quality experiences at the lowest possible bitrate that work across the widest possible networks, taking into consideration the uniqueness of every device and network.”
The promise of playing Halo, Gears of War and Forza on your smartphone without having to fork out hundreds of pounds for a new Xbox every 5 years is a tantalising one, and you could argue that Microsoft has nothing to lose by embracing cloud gaming – its Xbox One console is struggling against the dominance of the PlayStation 4, and Nintendo’s Switch – which only launched last year – is gaining on it fast. Perhaps by removing the need for an expensive home system, Microsoft can steal a march on its rivals in the cloud gaming war?