Microsoft gave its cloud gaming platform a considerable boost in September when they officially included it into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for free. Essentially adding a third pillar to its ecosystem and also placing the debut platform, mobile gaming, on par with its console and PC counterparts. Currently, the $15 monthly charge provides gamers three different ways to experience what Xbox Game Pass has to offer, and each with their own set of games as well.
Now, Microsoft, according to Xbox Wire, is expanding the cloud portion of their service to PC players sometime in Spring 2021 through the Xbox App and browser. Along with also adding IOS devices through mobile web browsers too.
Basically, This allows for a wider variety of PCs and Laptops to handle more graphics-intensive games like Doom Eternal. Leveling the playing field between monster rigs and a Microsoft Surface and opening video games to more people who don’t have the means or want to spend major money on a home console or a costly PC.
What is Xbox Game Pass?
At its core, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is “Netflix for video games.” There are a set of titles that come to the service each week and are available for an undefined amount of time. Microsoft Game Studios titles are available on the first day of release and remain permanently on the service. Most games have a length of stay of around three months, if not more. However, any third-party title can be removed at any time. And although the Xbox Game Pass team does a good job in giving constant notifications and reminders of when titles are set to leave, it can also give you a stark reminder that you don’t actually own any of the titles on Xbox Game Pass. To be fair, you do get a nice discount to purchase any game available on the service before it exits.
Xbox Game Pass titles can be played on any of the Xbox family of consoles. This includes: Xbox One, Xbox One X, or the Xbox Series X/S consoles via downloading the game to your system. There’s also Xbox Game Pass for PC, which is the same thing except there are certain games that are only available on console. However, it is also vice versa, with games that are only available on PC as well.
How Cloud Gaming Makes Remote Play With Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Possible
As I mentioned earlier, September saw the addition of Android as a third cog. It also has its own list of games that are compatible natively. However, unlike PC (for now), Android and potentially IOS, users have access to any Xbox Game Pass game available on their home console through Remote Play as well. Not to mention, you can also play any game you actually own on that console and stream it to your mobile device. Although, unlike console and PC, the quality of your internet connection, and the console that you own, greatly determine the quality of your experience.
Per Microsoft, remote play requires an Xbox Controller with Bluetooth capabilities, a device that runs at least Android 6.0, and at least 7-10 mbps of download speed on a 5ghz connection to work well. 2.4ghz does work, but it isn’t optimized for it yet. I have played a lot of Yakuza: Like a Dragon on my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 with a 25mbps download connection in a completely separate location from where my consoles reside. Although I should note that those consoles are also connected over Wi-Fi and not ethernet.
I did have about a week to test out Remote Play with a base Xbox One before my Xbox Series X arrived and it vastly improved my experience. Using the Xbox One, the game did have some framerate dips and slowdowns at times, but it mostly played fine. However, once I moved over to the Xbox Series X everything completely changed. The game played flawlessly and featured the same load times as on the console itself, albeit at a 1080p fidelity. This finally felt like a true second-screen experience and one I could have from anywhere with a decent Wi-FI connection. Being able to play the same game, with my save transferring over in just a few seconds as well due to the cloud, on a portable device is pretty neat.
Looking at Potential: What Cloud Gaming on Android could showcase for PC Players
Ultimately though, this is not anything truly new in the gaming space, as Sony’s been doing this for years, and PC players up until the release of the Xbox Series consoles could use the Xbox Companion app, albeit all of this was only over their own home connections. It is entirely possible Microsoft is waiting for the release of Cloud gaming on PC to update the app for the new consoles. Thus providing another way to have accessibility and provide remote play.
Cloud Gaming with Xbox Game Pass takes things a step further allowing you to stream games available to subscribers over not just Wi-Fi but also a data connection as well. On Wi-Fi, I’ve had no issues with cloud gaming at all. It works extremely well and I could pop in and out of games with no issues. Just make sure you save often because it is still an app and if you leave it on pause for too long, your phone will eventually go to its Lock Screen. Thus potentially causing you to have to close the game out completely. Although, I only had that issue happen to me once in several hours of playtime.
A Data Connection Also Proves Itself Useful
My biggest surprise came from playing games over a data connection. I’ve tested this out a few times in other locations, but during a recent trip to a family member’s house I played Control and Doom: Eternal over a 4G connection for about an hour and it worked great. I had no slow down at all. My controller was just as responsive as if I was playing on my console and it looked fantastic too. This should be encouraging to PC players that don’t have a PC that can run the latest and greatest releases. If Microsoft’s Azure technology can do this with a mobile device over 4G, imagine what it can do for playing games on PCs? There are a lot of possibilities here.
On a side note, I recently was able to purchase a PlayStation 5 and Sony have a partnership with Microsoft to use Azure technology as well. Previously, to even be able to use Remote Play at all on Playstation 4 you had to have the console ethernet connected. Although it does require at least a Wi-Fi connection, I was able to use Remote play with my PS5 Wi-Fi connected at a different location on both my phone and my PC without one single issue. They both ran amazingly well.
Obviously, a lot of that has to do with it running off the supremely superior PS5, but again the technology is there for PC players to be enthused. As someone that is already beginning to see some games released this year start to really tax my gaming laptop, I very much welcome the chance to play games with no issues over a stream and not having to update or buy a new laptop at all.
However, what about those that don’t have a console or a PC, and don’t really want to use their phone or tablet for games? Microsoft may soon have a solution to that too.
The Future of Cloud Gaming Lies With Smart TVs
Phil Spencer has long stated that he’s no longer just competing with Sony and it’s PlayStation brand. They are also competing against tech giants like Google with its game streaming service, Google Stadia and Amazon with its recently released Amazon Luna. Providing game streaming to PC players finally puts them straight into a head to head battle. And while Google and Amazon may have the streaming technology, their services pale in comparison to the juggernaut that is Xbox Game Pass. If this venture succeeds and it leads to even more subscribers, Phil Spencer could pull the trigger on an idea that Google Stadia already uses.
Phil Spencer recently told The Verge that his idea to expand Xbox Game Pass lies with Smart TVs. Google already does this using a controller that connects via Wi-Fi and then connects the service to televisions through its Chromecast devices. Microsoft could make this even simpler using something it already has.
“You could imagine us even having something that we just included in the Game Pass subscription that gave you an ability to stream xCloud games to your television and buying the controller.”
So think about turning on any Smart television you already own, downloading the Xbox Game Pass app to it, or it comes included with a new TV you buy, and either purchasing or using an Xbox controller you already own. Hey presto, you immediately have access to hundreds of games that are just streaming on the big screen. Suddenly, you open gaming up to even more players and ones that would potentially have a lot more money to invest in software because they didn’t spend $300-500 to buy a console. The truth is though, this is all still potential.
The Harsh Reality: Will the Majority of People Accept Cloud Gaming
Although Microsoft has increased its subscriber base by a large amount in just this year alone, going from 10 Million to 15 Million thanks in large part due to the recent announcements of the Zenimax acquisition and bringing EA Play into the service, it still faces large hurdles.
One of them is a pretty big one, profitability. General Manager of Xbox Marketing, Aaron Greenberg, told What’s Good Games in July that right now the profit isn’t there for the service. But obviously, all of these acquisitions, improvements, additions, and yes, potential growth could provide Xbox with some major financial success. The proof is already there that Game Pass is a major help for developers and publishers that choose to use it.
Another major issue is that most of the world still doesn’t have the infrastructure to do cloud gaming en masse. The further increase in Fiber internet and 5G could help alleviate those concerns for some, but for the foreseeable future, this is going to be a deterrent for many people to get into gaming this way. Even with these two concerns, there’s no doubt that Xbox Game Pass offers something we really haven’t seen in the gaming space from a service – tremendous value.
The Trump Card: Adding Even More, But With Games
The crux of the entire reason why the cloud gaming on PC announcement matters, even if you don’t ever plan on using it, is because it helps make the service seem even more incredible. I already outlined what the service can already do, what it could mean for PC players, and what it could potentially do to make major AAA gaming even more accessible. All of this adds tremendous value to the service. Something a brand like Xbox truly needs, as they are still dealing with the aftershock of what happened to them after the dour launch of the Xbox One in 2013.
However, all of these extra things are great, knowing you can play your games from virtually anywhere and on any device is fantastic. Improving the service and adding in more ways for both traditional and non-traditional gamers to play games is genius. Creating more partnerships with third parties and indie titles for Game Pass is a tip of the cap. Finding more ways to push crossplay and make the service available is absolutely commendable. Making backwards compatibility a priority and using it as an asset is great too. But the way Netflix has truly made themselves valuable is by increasing their original output. People will easily figure out how to deal with any of the technological hurdles if you are producing content that they want to seek out.
Sony has made its brand by producing quality titles on a yearly basis with their internal studios and making key partnerships with third parties. Just this year, they released three games, The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales that are all up for various awards. Plus, Bluepoint Games remade Demon’s Souls as the only true PS5 exclusive title. Insomniac also remastered the beloved Marvel’s Spider-Man as an incentive to get folks to pay a little more for Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Furthermore, Square-Enix helped give PlayStation another major win with the currently console exclusive Final Fantasy VII Remake as well.
The Final Piece: Removing the Stigma of Game Pass
The thing is with PlayStation Studios titles they have a track record of producing outstanding experiences that define not only its year of release but also console generations. On the other hand, Microsoft’s studios produce a myriad of enjoyably good to great titles but feature very few standout ones. Since the inception of Xbox Game Pass in June 2017, I’d say that only four games would come even close to reaching the heights seen by Sony’s classics.
Forza Horizon 4(2018), Gears 5(2019), Ori and the Will of the Wisps (2020), and Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020). Microsoft really needs some of these studio acquisitions to start delivering. Right now this is the biggest issue facing Xbox Game Pass. It has a major stigma that it cannot seem to shake, a glass ceiling it cannot break, and it was felt majorly during the launch of their brand new consoles. It isn’t a bad idea to bring in quality from the outside as they do all the time, but a majority of those games are also available outside of the Xbox ecosystem. People need a true reason to keep subscribing every month. Netflix certainly produces a lot of stuff, but it feels like every month they have something like Queen’s Gambit that consumes the cultural zeitgeist for a while.
Obviously, the biggest miss for Xbox right now is having to delay Halo: Infinite to Fall 2021. However, this was the better decision because Halo: Infinite cannot fail. Xbox cannot afford another apathetic vibe as the one Halo 5 received, or the disaster that was the launch of multiplayer for Halo: The Master Chief Collection. To their credit, the team worked hard to fix everything and have now ported the entire collection to PC as well. But the pressure is certainly on for Halo: Infinite to cement itself once again as the choice First Person Shooter.
The Future is Coming in 2022 and Beyond
Thankfully, for once, Master Chief is not alone in carrying the load. Outside of Halo, 2021 sees the aforementioned Microsoft Flight Simulator come to consoles and the long-awaited release of Psychonauts 2. Everything else, including the major titles from newly acquired Bethesda, Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI are a mystery. Certainly, many of these studios games have their own hype such as Playground Games‘s reboot of Fable, Obsidian‘s Avowed, and Ninja Theory‘s Hellblade 2: Senua’s Sacrifice. Of course, Microsoft added even more hype to the proceedings at last nights Game Awards 2020 by revealing The Initiative is working on a reboot of Rare‘s Perfect Dark as well.
The thing is, there’s no doubt that Xbox Game Pass is a fantastic value and has the potential to bring in so many new gamers by continuing to add on features. Not to mention, Phil Spencer has said multiple times that Xbox is not done making moves either. So even more great content could come to the service at a moment’s notice.
It still truly amazes me that I consistently find something new to try out and play every week on the service. But I am also a part-time game reviewer and it is my duty to always seek out something new. I pay attention to games both big and small from many different genres. This is not the case for most people that are into this hobby. They really just want to play the next great showcase game. It took them a while to realize this, but it looks like Xbox finally understands that if you truly want to make waves in the industry, it’s all about the games in the end.