xCloud, now Xbox cloud gaming: Games, pricing and more you need to know
Microsoft's cloud gaming capability is officially part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. It's time to gear up.
Lori GruninSenior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
ExpertisePhotography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Microsoft has been testing its xCloud cloud-gaming platform, the technology that lets you play Xboxgames on your phone, streamed from remote servers, for more than a year. Now we've come to the part where the free ride for testers ends and it's time to pony up for the privilege via a subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. And as frequently happens with many a clever project name, "xCloud" has been swept into obscurity; Microsoft considers the technology an integral part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and now refers to it generically as "cloud gaming" and "game streaming." We're going to keep calling it xCloud, though, at least until there's a less ambiguous shorthand for it.
How much does xCloud cost and when can I get it?
At the moment, you can only get it as part of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate plan for $15 per month. (It's £11 per month in the UK. Sorry, it's not available yet in Australia.) Microsoft says you'll have other ways to access it in the future, but hasn't said when, how or how much. I'm guessing a standalone subscription for streaming games you already own is at the top of the list.
Some people consider the fact that Xbox Game Pass comes as part of the streaming deal makes it a winner compared with Stadia, which is still ramping up on games, and GeForce Now, which is a bring-your-own-game platform. You can't stream all games in Game Pass Ultimate, just a select subset.
What devices can I play on and what are the requirements?
Keep in mind, though, that as with all cloud gaming it's about more than bandwidth. Microsoft doesn't specify minimum latency or jitter for a playable experience, and those make a big difference. It also depends on your phone's hardware, especially its Wi-Fi modem and power to decode the incoming stream.
XGS doesn't include streaming to PC like Stadia and GFN do, so it's not a solution for playing on low-power potato PC or playing Windows games on a Mac. You can play XGP games on a PC via Xbox Game Pass PC -- also part of Game Pass Ultimate or available for $10/month by itself -- but those are installed and played on your local system.
Watch this: My impressions of Microsoft xCloud after one week
On the upside, that includes Day 1 play of many new titles from Xbox Game Studios. If you choose to buy a game, your membership entitles you to discounts on titles in the catalog. They all support crossplay with PC and console versions, as well as any crossplay already supported on other platforms, like the
What games can I play?
Microsoft says "100-plus games" will be available for play on mobile at launch. As of this writing, the beta has 173, many of them Xbox Game Studios titles. They include:
The list includes some titles that weren't in the beta, though, such as The Outer Worlds, so hopefully there will be some surprises. But, as with all of these services, games move in and out of the catalog. Those are not pleasant surprises.
Can I chat? What about streaming gameplay?
You can chat in-game with the phone's mic. To stream gameplay you'll need a third-party app; there's no in-game support. That's too bad, because you could probably get far better quality if you could render and transmit the broadcast stream via the server rather than locally on your phone.
If you stop subscribing, you keep your progress and achievements if you buy the game from Microsoft, but obviously lose the ability to play on mobile.