In a blog post, Microsoft VP Kareem Choudhry discusses the company’s new game-streaming venture, xCloud:
We are testing Project xCloud today. The test runs on devices (mobile phones, tablets) paired with an Xbox Wireless Controller through Bluetooth, and it is also playable using touch input. The immersive nature of console and PC games often requires controls that are mapped to multiple keys, buttons, sticks and triggers. We are developing a new, game-specific touch input overlay that provides maximum response in a minimal footprint for players who choose to play without a controller.
Some of the commentary I’ve seen on this points to similar services like the defunct OnLive or Sony’s PlayStation Now, but it’s pretty clear to me that the major target here is the Nintendo Switch. The Switch may not be the most graphically powerful game system out there, but its ability to let you pick up and take your games with you wherever you go is a huge advantage.
Microsoft’s not going to be able to squeeze the horsepower of an Xbox One into a portable device, so in a fascinating move it’s kind of gone in the other direction entirely, turning Xbox One hardware into a blade server running in a data center. As such Redmond gets to leverage its own advantages in cloud services, using its Azure system to deliver robust performance in gaming across the net.
Or so it says. How this will work in the real world is a real question, especially since the greatest enemy of online gaming is latency.
Microsoft is also making a move to solve one of the lingering problems of mobile gaming: control schemes. While the company suggests that it will provide onscreen controls for touchscreen devices, Microsoft also says you’ll be able to pair one of its Xbox One controllers—the latest model of which now supports Bluetooth—with any mobile device and use that. (Granted, now you have to carry a controller with you, which isn’t exactly great for subway play, but might be fine if you’re traveling.)
I’ve been looking forward to the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 on the Xbox One just a couple weeks from now, and the idea that I could take the game with me when I travel is definitely appealing. Unfortunately, though xCloud is in testing now, we average folks won’t get a chance to try it out until next year at the earliest.
In related news, Google has also announced its own Project Stream which it’s been demoing with the latest Assassin’s Creed title, but it appears to be limited (at least at present) to running in a browser on a PC or a Mac.