Microsoft has recently released their Xbox Cloud Gaming service to their Xbox Windows program and Xbox Game Pass phone app. It was only available on browsers via their website until a few days ago. This service allows Xbox Game Pass Ultimate users to stream console games to a variety of devices. In the future Xbox One and Series S/X consoles will also get the ability.
Video game streaming is nothing new and has been around since around 2010 with the OnLive Game System. While that service ultimately failed, the difference now is that more people have stable internet connections and faster speeds. There is more investment and competition in this sector along with Google and Amazon also taking impotent stabs.
The service requires Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. This costs £10.99 a month which is about £132.00 a year.
What makes the Xbox Cloud Gaming service different is that it doesn’t require you to buy games more than once and it works. You benefit more if you use the service to carry on game progress while away from your console. It is also the first streaming service I have ever tried. I have mixed feelings about it.
I own a PC, a laptop, a Nintendo Switch, a Raspberry Pi, an Xbox One, amongst even older consoles. Why bother with this? I often use my laptop instead, and my Xbox One really struggles with modern games. I have given up on getting an Xbox Series X. Game streaming seems a viable option as it would allow me to stream Series X quality games with all those benefits on my laptop or Raspberry Pi.
I tried several games out: Empire of Sin, Gears Tactics, The Ascent, and The Bard’s Tale IV – Director’s Cut. The first impressions were good as the games loaded quickly, my progress was synced with Xbox One, and the game appeared fancier thanks to being optimised for Series S/X. However, throughout the games would sometimes change in visual quality as connection strength changed. Even though Microsoft has some of the best download servers compared to Steam and Sony I still saw pixelated haze. This was most likely due to my connection even though I have good internet where I live.
That being said, Xbox Cloud Gaming never froze or felt laggy. Most of the time games looked sharp and only occasionally looked like I was trying to tune a digital TV.
While I was impressed by the technology, the fact that I could stream a game on a digital watch if I really wanted to was pretty mind-boggling. It still gave me a niggling feeling of waste.
I have been struggling a lot recently with game ownership. Maybe it’s as I get older, I have started getting weird about physical goods. Of course, there are obvious benefits to physical and digital. The sole fact remains that having something physical means you own it. Digital products are suspect to service agreements and connecting to servers. While this limitation can be avoided by downloading everything onto hard drives and making backups, it still feels weird. I have even gone as far as stopping buying games on Steam. This might just be a faze, as who cares?
While I often stream music via Spotify and watch videos on YouTube, Twitch, and BBC iPlayer they don’t seem to use that much data. While I don’t have data caps (that I know of) every second a game was running with the Xbox Cloud Gaming service in the back of my head, I felt like I was draining resources. Like leaving the tap running while brushing my teeth or how my father feels central heating works.
While there is a varied selection of games on Game Pass the Xbox Cloud Gaming service is limited to a subset of these. You can also not stream the PC version of these games. For example, I was playing Empire of Sin but gave up playing it as the load times on Xbox One are long-drawn-out. Therefore I started playing the game on PC. It looked prettier, and the controls were better and loaded faster. Now I tried it on the Xbox Cloud Gaming service, and it loaded fast and looked comparable to the PC. But I was still playing the console version with its annoying controls. A choice should be given when possible between the two versions. In the future, it might be cool to play PC versions on the Xbox One.
If you use Remote Play you have access to even more of your games, but at that point, you might as well not bother. Just use the actual device to play them.
So the technology works well, there is no lag, it looks good, and is stable. The world, however, still lacks good internet, even if you have it, the games you play are not guaranteed to be 100% playable compared to the traditional methods of playing games. Xbox Cloud Gaming seems to be a good alternative for playing games in short bursts.
Personally, I can’t see myself playing games for hours on end via streaming. In the future, I might consider using the service to stream games on my Xbox One but that is still questionable. This would mean I wouldn’t need to get an Xbox Series X then why don’t I just get a Series S instead? The whole thing is a spider web of decisions you have to make and after everything has been said it is often easier to play the physical versions.
I don’t trust Valve, Microsoft, Nintendo, amongst others not to screw their consumers over if they ever go out of business. They won’t provide people with ways to access their digital games and they don’t have to. When you use a digital store you are agreeing to rent games. You definitely don’t own any of them.
You can’t even view Xbox achievements when you are offline like in the old days.
Technology like this is the future of gaming, entertainment, and life. But we are decades from living in a 100% digital-only world. A world where we spend most of our time in or using digital environments, products, and services versus the real world. Maybe I am not young enough to understand anymore?