Gaming

How to Play Xbox Game Pass Cloud Games on Steam Deck

Xbox Game Pass joins GOG, Epic and other game platforms you can shoehorn into this new handheld gaming PC.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

The Steam Deck is a new handheld gaming PC built around downloading and playing games from the online Steam game store. Even with almost 1,000 Steam games verified for the Steam Deck, one of the first questions gamers asked was: How do I get non-Steam games on there? 

The Steam Deck was built by Steam's parent company, Valve, and its SteamOS operating system allows you to buy and play games from the vast Steam library. But because this is a PC at heart (even if it's not running Windows), PC gamers expect, and insist on, access to games from many sources. 

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It is possible to play at least some of the games you've bought from the Epic Game store, GOG and other sources, as well as some cloud-based streaming games. Cloud gaming services beam content to you in real time from remote servers. That means you don't need particularly powerful hardware, just a strong internet connection, to play. 

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We've previously outlined how to get games from the Epic Game Store working on the Steam Deck (although still not Epic's biggest game, Fortnite), and cloud services like Nvidia GeForce Now and Google Stadia have been shown to work in limited cases, usually depending on controller limitations. 

Forza 5, via Xbox Cloud Gaming, on the Steam Deck.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass is one of the services gamers most want to see on the Steam Deck, as it provides a huge library of games under a single subscription. The standard Game Pass app doesn't run (yet), as it's so completely baked into the Windows OS. But the cloud streaming version of Game Pass, called Xbox Cloud Gaming, now works, thanks to some backend work by Microsoft

The cloud version of Game Pass works via a web browser, and requires switching to the Steam Deck's desktop view to install. Like almost everything about the Steam Deck, some level of tinkering is required. That's part of why the system appeals to PC gamers, who often find the troubleshooting and optimizing of PC games part of the platform's appeal. 

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Microsoft posted its initial instructions on Reddit, and following them, I was able to play a wide variety of Game Pass games, including recent games like Forza 5, Tunic and Shredders (a new snowboarding game). Cloud gaming is very network-dependent, but I had a mostly lag-free experience. 

Microsoft Edge on Steam Deck

You'll have to install the Microsoft Edge browser from the Linux desktop mode. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Why would you run a cloud-based game on a device like the Steam Deck that has powerful PC graphics capabilities? Saving on internal storage space is the most obvious reason, as well as the ability to play the same game across multiple platforms, such as Xbox, PCs, or iPhones and iPads using Game Pass cloud gaming. Here are the basic steps, and more detailed instructions are here on Reddit

1. Go to the Steam Deck's desktop mode.

2. Use the built-in Discover app to find and install the Microsoft Edge Beta.

3. Add the Edge browser to Steam by right-clicking on its launch icon and selecting Add to Steam.

Then it gets a little complex. 

4. Launch the Konsole app in SteamOS (Applications > System > Konsole) and add this command: flatpak --user override --filesystem=/run/udev:ro com.microsoft.Edge

5. Open Steam (still in Desktop mode), find the Microsoft Edge Beta in your Steam games list.

6. Right-click on it and select: Properties > Launch Options. In that launch options field, add this text to the end of the string already there: --window-size=1024,640 --force-device-scale-factor=1.25 --device-scale-factor=1.25  --kiosk "https://www.xbox.com/play"

That jumps you to the Game Pass cloud gaming page and forces the browser into fullscreen mode when you launch it via Steam. 

After that, leave the desktop mode and boot back into the SteamOS interface. In your library, under Non-Steam Apps, you'll see the Microsoft Edge Beta. Launch that and you're in the Game Pass cloud gaming menu and can access games directly. 

There are other tweaks you can make for a cleaner experience, such as renaming the shortcut ("Game Pass" as opposed to Microsoft Edge, for example), or adding custom thumbnail art. The Reddit post was enough to get me started, but Microsoft has more detailed instructions here

It takes a little time to set up, but having access to a large library of streaming games is worth the effort. Playing games natively installed on the Steam Deck will still provide the best overall experience, but looping in games from Epic, GOG, Game Pass and other platforms reinforces the idea that the Steam Deck is more of a PC than a standalone gaming gadget like the Nintendo Switch.