Microsoft's Xbox streaming app isn't official yet, but it's already way better than Google's new video game service
- Project xCloud is a new video game streaming service from Microsoft that lets gamers stream any Xbox One game directly to an Android phone.
- During its test period, Project xCloud is giving users access to dozens of free games in Microsoft's cloud, or they can stream their own collection from their Xbox at home.
- Project xCloud uses technology similar to Google's Stadia, another streaming video game service that launched earlier this week. However, Google is asking Stadia users to spend $130 to access the service, and users only have access to about 20 games - many of which are being sold at full price.
- Microsoft is positioning Project xCloud as a supplement to its existing Xbox business, while Google is hoping that gamers will ditch their home consoles in favour of its streaming-only Stadia service.
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Streaming is the future of video games - no less than five major companies are testing or have already launched cloud gaming services that can stream blockbuster games directly to Android phones, laptops, and other devices.
Earlier this week Google launched Stadia, an ambitious streaming-only video game platform meant to challenge industry juggernauts like Microsoft and Sony. Google claims that Stadia will eliminate the need for expensive Xbox and PlayStation consoles, telling Stadia users that they will have access to 4K graphics and the strongest possible computers thanks to Google's breakthrough streaming technology.
Microsoft's video game streaming service, Project xCloud, entered beta tests just a few weeks ago with a very different approach. Google has lauded Stadia as the next step for the gaming industry, but Project xCloud is designed to supplement Microsoft's hardware business and give gamers more ways to access the existing Xbox ecosystem.
Together, Microsoft and Google are giving us an early look at how competition between cloud gaming services could shape the way we play games.
Stadia works, but there's a long list of drawbacks
Early impressions of Stadia have been mixed.
Gaining access to the service requires a $130 investment. Early adopters get a Stadia controller, two free games, and three months of Stadia's premium 4K streaming service. Stadia launched with 22 available titles, and users are expected to buy games to expand their collection. However, those games constantly require an internet connection to play, and can only be played on three types of devices - computers, Google's Chromecast Ultra, and Google's Pixel phones.
Stadia reviews described the service as generally stable, but overall less consistent than playing on a traditional video game console. Technical tests showed that Stadia's streaming tech resulted in slightly delayed controls, and some games were streaming in a lower quality than their Xbox counterparts.
Stadia also lacks many of the robust community features that allow players on Xbox and PlayStation to communicate and play with each other.
Google wants you to invest in Stadia instead of buying the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles next year, but the experience doesn't compare yet.
Considering all the early drawbacks, Stadia feels subpar in comparison to the current PlayStation and Xbox consoles, and it seems unlikely that the experience will improve beyond what the PlayStation 5 and Microsoft's new Xbox will offer when they're released next fall.
Google is essentially asking gamers to start over from scratch when they come to Stadia - you have to build a new friends list and buy a new collection of games in exchange for having portable access to your games. However, because your library is tied to an internet connection, the quality and convenience will vary greatly based on your location.
Project xCloud doesn't promise 4K streaming, but it has twice as many games as Stadia, for free.
While Google believes Stadia can outmatch the PlayStation and Xbox hardware, Microsoft wants Project xCloud to bring new players into the existing Xbox ecosystem.
Project xCloud will lower the entry cost for gamers who may only own a smartphone, and leverages the well-known Xbox catalogue to draw players with free games. The Project xCloud app is available on all Android devices, and Microsoft will launch the service on PC early next year. New users are being added to the service on a rolling basis.
As an added bonus, gamers who already own an Xbox can stream from their home console and access all the games they already own. Project xCloud is already a part of the Xbox Live network too, so players can use their existing profiles and save data as soon as they start streaming.
Microsoft's streaming technology is far from flawless, but Project xCloud is positioned as an alternative to console gaming, not a replacement. Gamers can continue to invest in Xbox as a platform and gradually explore Project xCloud as the service grows, without spending hundreds on streaming-only software that may become useless in a few years.
It's unclear how Microsoft will monetise Project xCloud, but the company said it will work in conjunction with other Xbox services. Microsoft has been steadily expanding Xbox Game Pass, a monthly subscription service offering hundreds of games, and its likely that Game Pass titles will eventually be available for streaming via xCloud.
Project xCloud isn't about turning your phone into an Xbox, it just brings the best of Xbox to your phone.
Project xCloud is impressive because it builds on the greatest strengths of the Xbox brand. The app gives players access to dozens of free and exclusive games, immediately connects them with millions of existing Xbox players, and lets players make use of their own Xbox hardware.
In an interview with Business Insider, Microsoft's vice president of cloud gaming said the company isn't too concerned with bringing 4K streaming to phones. Instead, Microsoft is more focused on making Project xCloud a stable experience across all devices.
The competition between Microsoft and Google is less about who has the superior technology, and more about who has a stable business model. As it stands, Microsoft can bide its time and see how interest in Project xCloud develops over the next year, while Google will be left to compete with the new Xbox and whatever the finished version of xCloud looks like.
Video game streaming still has a long way to go, and there's no sure path yet.
Google and Microsoft aren't the only players in the video game streaming space. Sony, NVIDIA, and Electronic Arts are all looking to secure longterm footholds in the streaming business too.
Each service has strengths and weaknesses, but the goal is to bring in as many players as possible. However, there are some structural changes to overcome, like the limitations of 4G data networks, and the massive amount of data video game streaming uses.
Ultimately it's unclear if streaming video games will revolutionise gaming in the way that streaming video changed television. After decades of building an industry around premium console launches, collectible hardware, and platform exclusive games, getting gamers to fully embrace streaming will require a major cultural shift.
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