Microsoft: Xbox cloud gaming will finally arrive on Windows this spring

But will Xbox cloud gaming run on Xbox consoles in the cloud, or PCs?

Credit: Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft finally committed to bringing its Xbox cloud gaming technologies to Windows PCs in spring 2021, right on time to catch up with the incredible shortage of graphics cards that is preventing Windows gamers from playing on their own PCs.

Microsoft also committed to bringing cloud gaming to iPhones via its mobile Web browser, the company said. It will all be part of Microsoft’s Game Pass Ultimate subscription, available for $15 per month. (Or less, if you know how to work the system.) Finally, Microsoft will have delivered on its promise to make cloud gaming a part of its entire ecosystem, by delivering cloud gaming via the Xbox Windows 10 app or a browser.

“In Spring 2021, we will take the next step in our journey to reach more players around the world by making cloud gaming as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate available on Windows PCs through the Xbox app and browser, and iOS devices through mobile web browser,” Jerret West, the corporate vice president responsible for Microsoft Gamingm, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday morning. “By adding over a billion devices as a path to playing in the Xbox ecosystem, we envision a seamless experience for all types of players; whether it’s playing Minecraft Dungeons with your Xbox friends using touch controls on an iPhone, or jumping into a Destiny 2: Beyond Light strike on a Surface Pro when you have a break between meetings.”

While Xbox and PC games run on the PC or console that’s right next to you, cloud gaming runs on a remote device in the cloud. Microsoft announced what it called Project xCloud in late 2019, and even then the early xCloud beta technology was impressive. Because Microsoft uses what is essentially a remote Xbox console to stream an Xbox game to you, there’s a small bit of latency, or lag, needed to process your game’s inputs—but even “twitch” games were surprisingly playable.

That small bit of input lag has traditionally prompted PC players to turn up their nose at cloud gaming, because minimizing lag and maximizing frame rate has traditionally been at the heart of so much of enthusiast PC gaming. But with scalpers snatching up GPUs and consoles, cloud gaming has become a viable alternative. Being able to play the games remotely is better than not being able to play the games at all. 

What Microsoft hasn’t said, however, is what the configuration of its remote servers will include. Microsoft’s current Xbox cloud gaming places an array of Xbox consoles in then cloud, or at least the internal hardware. Microsoft hasn’t said whether the PC version will also essentially run on console hardware, or on remote servers that use more conventional PC technology. We’ve reached out to Microsoft for answers, and we’ll update this story if we hear back.

In the meantime, why wait? You can already play Xbox cloud games in a PC-like environment, on a Chromebook

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Mark Hachman

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
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