Xbox has an egalitarian approach to gaming. Phil Spencer wants people to enjoy Xbox wherever they are on whatever they own. They weren’t the first to start a gaming subscription service, but they seem to have finished it. Xbox for Xbox. Xbox for PC. Xbox for Cloud. You can even play Xbox games on your Xbox via the cloud. Some games “exclusive” to Xbox Series X|S are available on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and can be played on your Xbox One. That’s called forward compatibility, and the winners are everyone.
Xbox Cloud Gaming, formerly known as xCloud, is a cloud gaming service. The service is officially still in beta, but for practical purposes it’s entirely available. Here’s how cloud gaming works. Games are not stored on your phone or Xbox or computer, but on a server (in this case, custom Xbox Series X hardware) in a Microsoft warehouse far far away. Like other cloud gaming services, games can be streamed to a variety of devices, including iPhones, Android phones, tablets, computers, and consoles. Games can even be streamed to the Steam Deck. When you play a game over the cloud, the server runs the game remotely. Your inputs are relayed to the server, and the resulting video and audio are beamed back to your screen.
Xbox Cloud Gaming is available exclusively via a subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. After an introductory price of $1, Game Pass Ultimate costs $15 a month, or your regional equivalent. Game Pass Ultimate includes all of the features of Xbox Live Gold, as well as access to EA Play, day-one launches for Xbox Game Studio titles, and numerous perks, like trials to Paramount+, Hulu, Spotify, and Marvel Unlimited. For your gaming needs and preferences, you might consider the cost affordable or over-priced, but if you want to play Xbox games over the cloud, there is no option to forego specific features or services for a cheaper expense.
Being a subscription service, Xbox Cloud Gaming offers streaming of its game library only while your subscription is active. But it’s a sizeable library, currently exceeding 350 games that can be streamed over the cloud. New games are added all of the time, though they occasionally leave as well, of course. The depth and breadth of the library is one of the best arguments for Xbox Cloud Gaming over the competitor services. You can play BLiNX: The Time Sweeper as readily as Deep Rock Galactic.
Xbox Cloud Gaming supports streaming at 720p and 1080p. Players cannot manually choose their streaming resolution; the resolution adapts automatically to the strength of their network connection. Playing over 5G Wi-Fi on a phone or a 720p monitor, I’ve found that the stream is stable and consistent. It’s enjoyably reliable. When playing on a 1080p monitor, however, I’ve found that the technology struggles to maintain the higher resolution and ideal responsiveness. Input lag is noticeable, the stream will occasionally stutter, and you’ll frequently see artefacts, blurring, and apparent resolution degradation. For trying out a game here and there in the massive Game Pass library, it’s passable. But I would not play for long sessions, let along a complete game, at 1080p.
Xbox Cloud Gaming supports controllers and touch controls only. Mouse and keyboard controls is not currently supported. Just as with other streaming services, you can play Xbox Cloud Gaming on your phone with a Bluetooth controller, such as an Xbox, DualShock, or Razer controller. It’s important to note that Xbox has the best options available for controller phone clips, outside of Stadia. A good clip is critical if you want to play with a controller on your phone. What Xbox does not have is a cloud-direct controller like Google Stadia and Amazon Luna. These controllers connect to your game server directly via Wi-Fi, reducing input latency. Let’s hope Microsoft adds this technology to their controllers in the future.
Also like other game streaming services, you can play Xbox Cloud Gaming on mobile devices with touch controls. But what elevates the touch functionality of Xbox against most of their competitors is its quality. The exception is Blacknut, which also offers stellar personalized touch controls for each game.
Xbox has developed a customized control layout for a huge number of games. They’re currently exceeding 150. Literal face buttons are replaced with contextual symbolic icons, like jump and shoot. And the controls can be rearranged and resized to your preference. If playing with touch controls on mobile devices is your priority, then Xbox and Blacknut are easily the best options. Antstream also features good touch controls because of their simplicity, but Antstream’s retro library is an entirely different offering.
If you’re hoping to play Xbox over the cloud on a TV, you’ll have trouble finding easy options. You can play with an Xbox One or Series X|S, but that seems mostly redundant. Microsoft has announced that an Xbox Cloud Gaming app will be coming on Smart TVs in the future, but it hasn’t yet. There’s also been discussion of an official streaming device dedicated to Xbox Cloud Gaming. Meanwhile, some intrepid individuals have had success streaming Xbox to the nVidia Shield and various versions of Android TV, but these are not officially supported by Microsoft and performance reportedly varies between individuals. Finally, you can play with the Edge browser on your laptop and connect it to your TV with an HDMI cable. This method honestly works really well, but the stream will be limited to the resolution of your laptop. In my case, that’s 720p.
Xbox Cloud Gaming It’s available in about 25 countries right now. It’s a wonderful option for cloud gaming, particularly for playing on mobile devices. The first month’s subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is $1 if you haven’t previously subscribed. It’s well worth the investment to see what their cloud offering is all about.