The idea of being able to play console and PC-quality games on any mobile device has mostly been just a dream — until now. Thanks to emerging cloud gaming tech like Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly called Project xCloud), you can already get a glimpse of the hardware-free future.
With the support of an incredible Xbox Game Pass library behind it, Xbox Cloud Gaming is poised to take the cloud gaming crown in 2021. Still, it may not be the right choice for you, depending on what you’re looking for. Its competitors like Google Stadia and GeForce Now might be a better fit.
To help you decide, we put together this comprehensive guide to Xbox Cloud Gaming. To get started with your trial, just click the button below!
Editor’s note: We will update this article on a regular basis as more information is revealed about Xbox Cloud Gaming (née Project xCloud).
What is Xbox Cloud Gaming, anyway?
Xbox Cloud Gaming is Microsoft’s official cloud gaming service. It was previously known as Project xCloud during its brief beta period. It works by connecting your phone to a server in the cloud that runs native Xbox games.
For now, the service is limited to mobile devices, but it should be expanding to PC and possibly smart TVs soon. This would put it at device parity with other popular cloud gaming platforms like Google Stadia. However, Xbox Cloud Gaming’s ties to Game Pass Ultimate make it a more attractive option for most — more on this shortly.
Our first official glimpse of the platform was in June 2018 as part of Microsoft’s press event at the E3 trade show. That said, we know that the company had been working on streaming technology for years prior. In September 2013, The Verge reported Microsoft showed off a demo at an internal meeting featuring the Xbox 360-exclusive game Halo 4. It was seen streaming from the cloud to both a Windows Phone-based Nokia Lumia smartphone and a Windows PC.
In October 2018, Microsoft revealed more information on its cloud gaming service, along with the Project xCloud codename. The announcement was accompanied by a video showing what Microsoft said was footage of live game streaming from this service.
Starting in September of 2019, Project xCloud has been bundled with Game Pass Ultimate and renamed Xbox Cloud Gaming. As of writing, this is still the only way to access Xbox Cloud Gaming. There is no standalone subscription for just the cloud service.
How does Xbox Cloud Gaming work?
Xbox Cloud Gaming works by connecting your device to a remote server in the cloud. This server runs the game and processes your inputs in real-time, so it seems like you’re playing it natively on your device.
Obviously, there are physical limitations to input latency. Microsoft recommends a minimum internet speed of 7-10Mbps, although faster connections will yield better results. Other factors, such as your distance from the nearest server, may also affect performance.
To play a game, all you need to do is open the mobile app and select a title. It isn’t available on non-mobile platforms (for now), but you do have some options when it comes to input devices.
Controller and touch screen support
Although Bluetooth controllers are still the most comfortable way to play games on Xbox Cloud Gaming, the service has supported touch screens since its days as Project xCloud. Essentially, Microsoft has developed a “touch input overlay” that allows you to play games directly on a smartphone or tablet screen, without the need for a controller.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was the first title to receive full touch control support, but it’s now been pushed to more than 30 other titles. Many, like Minecraft Dungeons, also allow you to customize the layout.
Microsoft is also experimenting with touch screen controls in a way that goes beyond just emulating a controller. The aforementioned Minecraft Dungeons allows full touch controls in menus, so you don’t have to tap up and down to navigate. Expect more of these kind of innovations in the future, especially in first-party games.
What hardware does Xbox Cloud Gaming use in the cloud?
Xbox Cloud Gaming uses Xbox One S-based blade servers to pump your games from the cloud. It’s worth noting that although the One S is the least powerful of Microsoft’s previous generation of consoles, the servers employ a few special tricks to improve performance.
For example, power consumption is reduced by 30% server-side with a few minor processor tweaks. Output is also set at 120Hz to reduce input latency on the final device (even if the stream is capped at 60fps).
Microsoft is expected to upgrade its cloud hardware to Xbox Series X-based servers throughout 2021. This would enable an upgrade to 1080p streaming quality, plus improvements in load speeds thanks to the speedy new SSD.
How much is Xbox Cloud Gaming?
Xbox Cloud Gaming is only available for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers. This service costs $15 a month and includes Xbox Live Gold, Xbox Game Pass, Game Pass for PC, Xbox Cloud Gaming, and EA Play (console only).
Learn more in our Xbox Game Pass Ultimate guide or click below get your first month for just $1.
Where is it available?
Xbox Cloud Gaming is currently available in 22 countries worldwide. Note that it is not available in every country with Xbox Game Pass. Here is the full list:
- Czech Republic
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
- United States
Xbox Cloud Gaming is currently only available for Android devices and tablets. It will soon roll out to iOS devices as well, but with a slight workaround.
Due to Apple’s App Store requirements, Microsoft would be required to list each and every game on the Xbox Cloud Gaming platform separately. Obviously, this isn’t practical, so instead the company plans on making it available via the Safari browser in the coming months.
Additionally, there isn’t any support for PCs or even Android emulators like Bluestacks at this point. However, in Spring 2021 the company will expand its service to include Windows 10 PCs via its Xbox app, along with most web browsers.
Xbox Cloud Gaming games
One of the best things about Xbox Cloud Gaming is its game catalog. Since it’s tied in with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, it comes with a built-in library of more than 200 games. New games are added and old ones removed every month.
That’s far too many games to list here, but we’ve gone through the list and picked out a few of the heavy hitters. Here’s a preview of what games you’ll find:
- Batman: Arkham Knight
- DOOM Eternal
- Dragon Quest XI S
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
- Forza Horizon 4
- Gears 5
- Halo: The Master Chief Collection
- Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition
- Ori and the Will of the Wisps
- Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Official Xbox Cloud Gaming accessories
The first such product out of this new venture is the MOGA Mobile Gaming Clip for Xbox Wireless Controllers (seen above). This clip attaches to all official Xbox wireless controllers and holds smartphones up to 3.12 inches (79mm) wide. The clips have dual locking articulation points that let owners set up the right angle for playing mobile games via Xbox Cloud Gaming (Project xCloud).
The MOGA Mobile Gaming Clip for Xbox Wireless Controllers is available for purchase now for $14.99. See it on the official Microsoft store below.
Microsoft recently announced a number of other Android game controllers and accessories for the cloud gaming service. These include a new Xbox-centered version of the Razer Kishi. The clip-on controls will turn your Android phone into a Nintendo Switch-style game console. It’s available now for $99.99 at the link below.
Xbox Cloud Gaming alternatives
Although Xbox Cloud Gaming offers an incredible catalog of games, it might not be the best choice for all gamers. Streaming quality is somewhat limited at 720p, and not all devices are supported.
To give you a better idea of what’s out there, here’s a quick rundown of the best cloud gaming platforms out there.
After years of development, Google finally announced Google Stadia at the Games Developer Conference in 2019. A few months later, the service officially launched for early adopters on November 19, 2019. It allows you to purchase and stream individual games or sign up for a “Stadia Pro” subscription and play a selection of games for $9.99 a month.
Stadia has a few key advantages over Xbox Cloud Gaming. First of all, there’s a “free” version where all you need to buy is the games. There are even a few entirely free games on the platform, although they will be limited to 1080p (which is still higher resolution than Microsoft offers).
Device support is another advantage. Stadia allows you to stream on mobile devices, browsers, smart TVs, and in some cases even smart refrigerators.
Google’s cloud gaming platform also has the capability of streaming in 4K. You’ll have to pay a monthly fee for Stadia Pro, but that also comes with a few free games a month. That said, the game library is still limited, and even though it’s cheaper it doesn’t come close to offering the same value as Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
Nvidia GeForce Now
Nvidia GeForce Now is another Xbox Cloud Gaming alternative, and it was one of the first options to make a splash in the market. It allows macOS, Windows, Nvidia Shield TV, and Android users to stream high-quality PC games from their existing PC libraries on Steam, Origin, and other marketplaces.
You can use Nvidia GeForce Now for free, but you can only game for an hour at a time. Nvidia also offers a premium subscription for just $4.99 per month that removes time limitations and unlocks ray tracing and other goodies. However, you’ll have to commit to subscribing for six months.
If you already have a large catalog of PC games, Nvidia’s cloud gaming platform is a great way to test the waters. Performance isn’t quite as good as some of its competitors, but the fact that you don’t need to buy any new games is a major plus.
Unless, of course, you don’t have an existing library, in which case you’d be better served by other options.
In addition to Nvidia’s efforts, Sony offers a cloud gaming service called PlayStation Now. Launched way back in 2014, the service now has more than 650 PS2, PS3, PS4, and PS5 games to stream for a monthly fee.
However, Sony cut support for PlayStation Now for a number of previously included devices. That included devices like smart TVs and the PlayStation Vita in 2017. It now only works on PlayStation consoles and Windows PCs.
Additionally, new games aren’t added until years after release. It can be a good way to burn through the back catalog of PlayStation exclusives for those new to the ecosystem, but for longtime fans, it doesn’t offer as much value as other platforms.
It costs $9.99 a month or $59.99 a year, making it one of the cheapest Xbox Cloud Gaming alternatives on the list.
Currently the service offers more than 50 games for $5.99 a month. For now quality maxes out at 1080p 60fps, but Amazon has stated that it will add support for 4K gaming in the future.
Like Amazon Prime, Luna will offer extra channels that unlock even more games. Ubisoft Plus is the only channel you can subscribe to for now, and it’s pricey at $15 a month.
Amazon Luna is available for a wide variety of devices, including PCs, Macs, iOS and Android devices, and Fire TV devices. Although it works with standard Bluetooth controllers and mouse-and-keyboard setups, users can reduce input latency by using the Luna Controller. This connects directly to the cloud servers, cutting latency by as much as 30ms. Sign up for early access at the link below.
EA Project Atlas
Game publisher Electronic Arts revealed in June 2018 at the E3 trade show it was working on its own game streaming service, even showing live demos of it running on smartphones. EA had previously announced it had acquired the cloud gaming technology assets and personnel of the GameFly service for an undisclosed amount. EA later announced that it had launched its own limited external trial of its game streaming service, under the code name Project Atlas.
Although there was a brief closed beta in 2019, we still have yet to hear of an official launch date. To make things even more confusing, EA Play was added to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in 2020. This means that many EA games are already available on Xbox Cloud Gaming.
Still, it hasn’t been officially canceled, so we have to assume it’s still in the works.
Q: What happened to Project xCloud?
A: Project xCloud was just a codename. It was renamed to Xbox Cloud Gaming for official release.
Q: Will more games be added to the service?
A: Yes! New games are added every month, and Microsoft is committed to making every Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S game compatible.
Q: Do games played in the cloud have special features?
A: Microsoft’s new “IsStreaming” API allows developers to detect if their games are being played in the cloud, activating some special features. The most basic of this is UI scaling for smaller screens, but it’s possible to add more interesting features in the future.
Q: Does Xbox Cloud Gaming keep save data across platforms?
A: Yes! If you switch between PC or console and the cloud, all of your save data and settings will be transferred.
Q: Do cloud games support cross-platform play with console and PC?
A: Yes! Many games support co-op crossplay.
Q: Can I subscribe to Xbox Cloud Gaming on its own?
A: No. The service is only available when bundled with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
Q: What is the maximum stream quality?
A: Stream quality currently tops out at 720p, with an expected upgrade to 1080p some time in 2021.