Microsoft Project xCloud: Your next game console could be in the cloud

Microsoft wants to leverage its Azure cloud to deliver games to anyone, anywhere and on any device.


A gaming utopia is one where you can play any game you want, anywhere you want on any device that you want. Between PCs, smartphones and consoles, this is almost impossible today. Do you play on Windows, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, Android or iOS? Do you buy that fancy new smartphone for your gaming needs or do you spend the money on a GPU upgrade for your PC?

It’s choices like these that can keep gamers awake at night.

Microsoft plans to change all of this, and they might even be uniquely qualified to do it. I, for one, hope they succeed.

So, what’s the plan? Microsoft intends to leverage its cloud computing chops to deliver games to anyone, anywhere, and on any device. In theory, you could be playing Forza Horizon 4 on your Xbox One X, your ailing PC, a Mac or even an Android smartphone, with nothing holding you back. You could be vacationing in Hawaii or commuting by train and you’d still have your game library available to you on demand.

It sounds far-fetched, and companies like Nvidia have tried, and failed, to build exactly such a network. However, what companies like Nvidia lack, and what Microsoft has in excess, is cloud infrastructure.

Microsoft’s Azure cloud service competes with the likes of Amazon’s AWS and Google Cloud for global reach and service. Project xCloud will leverage this network and infrastructure to deliver on-demand, device-agnostic gaming to everyone.

Microsoft claims that they’ve built xCloud blades — a blade can be thought of as a computer that slots into a server rack — that can house multiple Xbox One-equivalent consoles. This technology is being tested in one location at the moment, but eventually, the blades can be deployed around the world at Microsoft’s Azure regions. Three of those regions, by the way, are in India.

In essence, every game you play will run on a virtual Xbox on the cloud, with only the visuals being streamed to your device.

Of course, unlike a video on Netflix, games are interactive. You react to things happening on the screen and the game reacts to you. Those inputs must be processed as fast as possible for a game to seem responsive. The delay in responding to user input can be termed as latency, and this is likely to be the biggest challenge faced by Microsoft. If you’re playing a racing game, for example, you can’t have the car respond half a second too late. You’ll end up in the barrier or worse.

I don’t know how Microsoft intends to deal with the issue, but I certainly hope they figure it out.

Once the issues are resolved, and I assume they will be eventually, all Microsoft has to do is settle on a price, which I hope will not be too high.

If Microsoft succeeds, and I think they will, gaming will not be the same again.

Public trails for the service will begin in 2019.