Microsoft appears to be streaming games from its xCloud cloud, not your local Xbox console.
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Microsoft’s Project xCloud remote-gaming service has faded somewhat as the world has retreated indoors. This September, however, Project xCloud will become part of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service for no additional cost.
Microsoft began calling for people to help test its Project xCloud service last September, and we went hands-on with Project xCloud soon after. Project xCloud works in two ways: You can either stream games that reside on your local Xbox at home, or else use Microsoft’s own servers as a virtual game host. There don’t appear to be any limitations on the technology, either, including how much you can use it.
Microsoft didn’t explicitly say which version will be supported, but a blog post released to support Microsoft’s announcement says that with “cloud gaming in Game Pass Ultimate, you will be able to play over 100 Xbox Game Pass titles on your phone or tablet.” That’s about the number of games that Microsoft supported with its original, hosted, Xbox trial, implying that they’re being hosted on Microsoft’s virtual Xboxes in the cloud.
While the ability to play streamed games has persisted since the days of OnLive, I found in my own hands-on that xCloud was limited more by the hardware, rather than the connection. Playing any sort of game on a phone can be fatiguing, and that’s never more true when the game’s UI was originally envisioned for a large TV screen in a living room or den. I found myself squinting at the screen in certain scenes.
Lag, too, was somewhat noticeable, though that will depend on numerous factors, such as your service plan, the distance your phone or tablet is from the tower, the network congestion, and much more. A turn-based game should prove to be an ideal xCloud experience; twitchy fighting games were surprisingly playable, though certainly not as enjoyable as a version played on a local Xbox.
Granted, I was testing it via a cellular connection, and Microsoft doesn’t seem to have ruled out simply streaming games via Wi-Fi or even over ethernet. Microsoft also hasn’t officially published an xCloud app for Windows 10, but one is assumed to be in the works. Microsoft isn’t announcing that today, though.
What’s nice about xCloud and Game Pass, however, is that the technology will preserve cloud saves on any device. So if you have a key move set up for a game like Civilization V (assuming that game is supported), you don’t have to worry about sneaking in “one more turn” before you have to head out—you can continue playing on your mobile device while you’re out and about. That’s the appeal of xCloud: taking PC (and Xbox) gaming anywhere you can get a cellular connection.
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As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats.