If you were to cast your mind back as far as you could in your era of gaming and be asked to predict the future, what do you think your mind would have predicted? There is always this concept of “If games look like this now, imagine what they would look like in ten years time”. I remember speaking these very words with every generation, the first time whilst thrashing through Green Hill Zone Act 1 on Sonic The Hedgehog after blowing dust from the inside of the cartridge.
It was November 1992 and this was my first vivid memory of something that truly wowed me in the video game world. Sure, I had previously had an Atari and even a Commodore, but this was the moment where you could see a shift in technology and the evolution from generation to generation. Seems so long ago, doesn’t it? You might even be reading this and wondering what I am banging on about, a typical ‘back in my day’ load of drivel. Don’t worry though, I’m not going to bore you with a lecture on gaming history and the retro high-flying titles; I just think its key for all of us as gamers to remember where we started and also where we are today. So whether you started with Space Invaders or Fortnite, always remember where you started your gaming journey – it is totally your adventure.
Today we are just settling into a new generation which is still in its early days and not quite yet proven, with the launch of Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S and PlayStation 5. Not only are we shifting a transition of gaming, we are also shifting into a digital world as physical media slowly but surely eclipses into extinction. Xbox attempted to make this transition clearly prematurely back when the Xbox One was first announced in early 2013. There were hints of the digital era on the cards along with the heavy push of the Xbox One being a media centre along with the revamped Kinect.
After the underwhelming pitch of 2013 we saw the announcement in 2014 of Phil Spencer taking command of a rocking ship as the Executive Vice President of Gaming at Microsoft. Thankfully Phil Spencer has guided that ship to calmer waters as the recovery of the last seven years has been a monumental task for the Xbox team. We’ve seen a plethora of new models of the last generation, the introduction of the hugely successful Xbox Game Pass and the surprise of Project xCloud.
Project xCloud was first shown off back in 2019, and whilst this technology and insight into the future was unveiled to the world, I don’t really think it gripped everyone’s interest and really engaged gamers. Little did we know at that stage that this was all part of the future strategy of play anywhere. With “game streaming” services such as GeForce NOW and Google Stadia launching before Project xCloud, it was really difficult to see whether this could be a hit for Xbox or a drop in the ocean.
When I first spoke to friends and fellow Xbox gamers about Project xCloud as I was testing the early phases of the service they couldn’t believe what I was telling them. “What do you mean you can play an Xbox One game on your phone or tablet, I don’t believe you!”.
The first time I booted up a game using a Huawei P20 Pro at the time it was Halo 5. Now, bearing in mind that Halo 5 is a monstrous 100GB+, personally I went in with the mindset that this would be a laggy mess even on a WiFi connection – surely it doesn’t work as well as sitting in front of the TV.
Now this is where I was blown away: xCloud on a stable connection performs incredibly well. This feature unlocks a whole feast of possibilities especially if you’re someone who is on the move all the time with work, or commutes regularly. As long as you have a connection, whether it be WiFi or your mobile data, you can access a wide range of Xbox titles alongside Game Pass games, if you’re a subscriber of course.
So you may be questioning what you need to set yourself up to play on the go with xCloud. Firstly it would be a compatible device – certainly the range of modern android smartphones and tablets will suffice. There have been some hurdles with Apple not allowing xCloud onto their devices in its current state. Don’t fret if you’re loyal to Apple though as Microsoft are working with Apple to make xCloud happen.
Now whether you are batting for the physical or digital media side of the coin, there is no denying that we are being gently ushered towards an all digital world, not just in gaming but everywhere. In fact it is an almost fifty-fifty split in the current day, so we should welcome xCloud with open arms and embrace it. Understandably not everyone is in a position to use this feature with it only being available in certain territories across the globe and the stumbling block of connection speeds and data allowances. But if you are in a position to use the service then I think it’s important to highlight the pros and cons.
Firstly xCloud can run games at speeds as low as 7-10mbps. This means that if you have a poor connection at home then there is some hope for you if your partner is watching the latest episode of some mind-numbing TV show you have zero interest in. Whilst holding consistent speed, your game will run smoothly and you won’t quite believe that it is being streamed down to your device.
The next impressive feature is that game progress will cascade down to your title, so you’ll be able to pick back up from where you left it on the console. We aren’t just talking indie titles here either; we are talking triple-A titles such as Gears, Forza Horizon and Halo whilst sat on the train or on a long distance journey in the back of the car.
Whilst you may be thinking that this is absolutely surreal and unbelievable that you can play these games included within your Ultimate Game Pass subscription on your commute to work, I wouldn’t suggest arranging to hook up with friends on Warzone. Whilst the multiplayer factor of games still function, there are noticeable drop-outs and there is a struggle with the extremely fast-paced titles.
You’ll also want to be using your Xbox controller with your device, so you’ll need to ensure that your device supports Android 6.0 and above with Bluetooth 4.0, which will enable your device to be compatible with wireless Xbox controllers. If you’re trying xCloud off the cuff then you’ll instantly notice that it is a real pain playing on a mobile phone as there is no real easy way to position it. This is where a controller clip will come in handy and there are several companies out there that sell these. As for use with a tablet I highly recommend a stand for it so that you can sit comfortably. Recently though there have been additions of selected titles which have been adapted for use without a controller, for that time where you’re bored at a relative’s house or just simply don’t want to lug your controller around. So if you fancy playing games like Minecraft Dungeons or Streets Of Rage 4 with just your fingers and thumbs, touch screen controls are there for you.
It is hard to imagine a world of purely streamed games, especially as Google Stadia has struggled to get off the ground with what is pretty much the same service. Sure, they are an entirely new platform and have to establish themselves, but it is massively underrated. I think what is fantastic though is that the Xbox team is attempting to cover every angle of gaming. Whether you want to play on the console, stream from the console itself to your device indoors or from connection to connection, or use the xCloud to stream your games, there are so many options now. The real advantage of streaming down a game is that there is no waiting for download times, no need to download patches and everything is done in an instant, if you have a good connection of course.
xCloud is just getting started, and with the continued refinement of stability, rollout of titles to the service and bringing awareness to gamers and making more countries available, I feel it will evolve over this generation. I would love to see it extend to the console being able to stream games, as it would free up precious hard drive space going forwards, giving the chance to test games out without waiting potentially minutes or hours for a download to finish.
Whatever happens though, the future is bright! The future is Xbox!
Of course, let us know your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to know what you think about streaming games and xCloud as a whole.