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Fortnite Now Free to Play on Xbox Cloud Gaming for Mobile, Desktop, Console

The tech giant is experimenting with offering free-to-play games through its streaming service.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
2 min read
Fortnite logo

Fortnite is one of the most popular games in the world.

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Since Microsoft's Xbox Cloud Gaming launched two years ago, more than 10 million people worldwide have streamed games through the service. That number's likely to jump a bit higher as a result of a partnership Microsoft struck with Epic Games to offer Epic's hit title Fortnite for free through Xbox Cloud Gaming. The move will effectively let people play Fortnite in a way similar to how they stream videos from companies like Netflix, regardless of how beefy their gaming device is.

Unlike previous efforts, Microsoft said this agreement applies to anyone who wants to play, with or without a subscription. Gamers will be able to play on an iPhone or iPad or a device powered by Google's Android software, even though both Apple and Google have banned Fortnite from their respective app stores amid an ongoing legal dispute

"This is just the beginning for us -- we're going to learn, implement feedback, and in time look to bring even more free-to-play titles to players through the cloud," Microsoft said in a statement. The service will be available for free in 26 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Japan, Mexico and the US.

Microsoft's hit Forza Horizon 5 racing game, running on a Valve Steam Deck through Xbox Cloud Gaming.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Microsoft's bid to offer Fortnite for free through its Xbox Cloud Gaming service comes at a time when game streaming technology is still finding its footing. For more than a decade, streaming technology has promised to change the video game world by offering people a way to play visually complex games without the need for a hefty computer or powerful mobile device. But the reality hasn't quite lived up to the promise, as companies ranging from startups to behemoths like Google have struggled to deliver the quality they promise or to find sustainable business models.

For its part, Microsoft's Xbox team has said it believes game streaming will be a key way for people to play but has also tempered expectations for how quickly it'll catch on. Still, that hasn't stopped companies including Google, Amazon and Netflix from investing in the technology as they attempt to compete with industry mainstays like the Xbox, Sony's PlayStation and Nintendo's Switch.

Chipmaker Nvidia has also jumped into the fray, offering game streaming through its GeForce Now subscription service. Earlier this year, the company said it too would offer Fortnite with touch controls through its service, though it's still in testing.

Microsoft said it plans to add more games to its new "free-to-play" streaming service, particularly for mobile devices. The company said Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers, who pay $15 per month for access to hundreds of games for download and streaming, currently have access to more than 150 streaming games that work with touchscreen mobile devices. So far, the company added, 20% of Xbox Gaming users use touch exclusively to play.