Back in June, during the Xbox E3 2018 press briefing, Xbox head Phil Spencer announced that cloud engineers were building a game streaming network that would be capable streaming console-quality games on any connected device. Microsoft has been hinting at such a platform for quite some time, but on Monday, the company officially announced Project xCloud, giving us a glimpse at a service that will begin public testing next year.
As Microsoft explains, there are billions of gamers all over the world, but not all of them own or are even interested in owning gaming consoles. The only way to reach as many people as possible is to give them the ability to play games on whichever device they happen to use, be it a phone, tablet, or computer.
To that end, Microsoft has built custom hardware called ‘blades’ using the components inside Xbox One consoles and has begun installing those blades in Azure datacenters worldwide. Testing of the cloud streaming tech has begun, but Microsoft will scale up over time. Microsoft says that the test runs on devices paired with an Xbox Wireless Controller through Bluetooth, but that a game-specific touch input overlay is also being developed.
“Cloud game-streaming is a multi-faceted, complex challenge,” explains Microsoft’s Gaming Cloud Corporate VP Kareem Choudhry. “Unlike other forms of digital entertainment, games are interactive experiences that dynamically change based on player input. Delivering a high-quality experience across a variety of devices must account for different obstacles, such as low-latency video streamed remotely, and support a large, multi-user network. In addition to solving latency, other important considerations are supporting the graphical fidelity and framerates that preserve the artist’s original intentions, and the type of input a player has available.”
Don’t expect a release date any time soon, as Microsoft says that scaling and building Project xCloud will be a “multi-year journey.” But you won’t have to wait too much longer to see it in action though, as public trials are expected to begin in 2019 (though that’s as specific as Microsoft would get for now).