Microsoft is sweetening the deal for its Xbox video game consoles, adding cloud gaming features in September that will allow you to play games over the internet in similar ways you stream Netflix movies today.
This new streaming feature, codenamed Project xCloud, will come at first to anyone paying for its $15 per month Xbox Games Pass Ultimate service sometime in September. The subscription, which includes access to more than 100 games per month on console and PC, as well as access to Microsoft’s Xbox Live gaming social network, first launched two years ago.
Through xCloud, players can access games on smartphones and tablets while on the go, streaming visually rich games from Microsoft’s servers to deliver console-quality experiences on a comparatively less capable device. Sony’s PlayStation Now, Google’s Stadia, both of whose subscriptions cost $10 per month, and Nvidia’s GeForce Now at $5 per month, offer similar functionality.
However Microsoft won’t restrict its xCloud gaming service just to subscribers. The company plans to offer the technology in other ways in the future. But it chose the Xbox Games Pass Ultimate service to debut its streaming technology because subscriptions have become so popular, said Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s head of Xbox.
“Many of our subscribers are there because they’re a console owner, and all of a sudden they’re going to be able to play over 100 games on their mobile phone,” he said.
Spencer added the move is the latest in a series of efforts the company’s taken to offer more consumer-friendly features and value. The Xbox Series X will work with thousands of older Xbox games when it launches. Microsoft is also offering upgrades on many games bought on 2013’s Xbox One. When the Xbox Series X is released this fall, players will be able to upgrade to the higher fidelity Xbox Series X version for free.
For Spencer this move is partly about perception of Xbox as a brand. Sure, he wants people to buy a newly upgraded Xbox, but he also wants you to look at Microsoft as a company that encourages gamers to play on its devices regardless of whether they upgrade.
“Customers have more freedom of choice now in how they consume content and how they spend their entertainment dollars than ever before,” he said, noting the ubiquity of music, movie and tv streaming services that work on almost any device. “They view this world of selling one piece of hardware that’s a closed ecosystem as a kind of a relic of the past.”
Spencer knows he has a lot of people to win over. Seven years ago, when Microsoft was gearing up to release the Xbox One, it made a series of stumbles that enraged fans.
The biggest mistakes revolved around consumer trust and value. When introducing the Xbox One, Microsoft said it would include a harsh licensing scheme that wouldn’t allow gamers to re-sell their games or even share them with friends. Microsoft eventually walked that back before the device’s launch.
Another issue was price. The Xbox One’s price was set at $499 for its 2013 launch. Sony’s competing PlayStation 4 meanwhile, cost $399 when it hit store shelves just a week before the Xbox that November.
“I’m the case study of being $100 more than the competition in the market,” Spencer said. Now, he said, Microsoft is keenly aware of how critical price can be, and that it needs to offer flexibility in terms of how people can buy their devices.
Two years ago, the company unveiled Xbox All Access, a service starting at $20 a month that offered a console, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription and the option to upgrade to a next-generation Xbox console after 18 payments. Microsoft said its Xbox Series X will be available through that monthly service when it arrives in the fall.
“We do think price is critical, giving you flexibility how you, as a consumer, enter into that relationship,” Spencer said.
He declined to say what Microsoft will charge for the Xbox Series X. But Spencer said the company does have a plan for revealing it no matter when Sony similarly reveals the price for its forthcoming PlayStation 5, which is also launching in the fall.
On July 23, the company will be holding an event during which it’ll show off new games coming for the Xbox Series X, including Halo Infinite, the latest in its hit space war franchise.
Along with our sister site GameSpot, CNET’s global team will cover Microsoft’s event, as well as other conferences that have shifted online. And our coverage will include the real-time updates, commentary and analysis you can only get here.