Google hasn’t announced Stadia in a vacuum; game streaming services have been in the works for years, with varying degrees of success. The technology to provide virtually lag-free, high-end graphics over miles of cables and Wi-Fi networks has only recently become robust enough. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Microsoft on Tuesday announced the public preview of its own remote gaming service xCloud, available starting next month.
The service has been in the works at Microsoft for some time – the company gave attendees of GDC and Gamescom an early preview of what it was working on and announced it a year ago already. With the release of the public preview, Microsoft wants to test how it scales up and see which issues arise when people who are not employees game outside of controlled networks.
Just as Xbox launched with Halo, so will xCloud. The first games available to the platform are Halo 5: Guardians, Gears 5, Killer Instinct, and Sea of Thieves. More games are planned to join these as Microsoft is working on improving the gaming service.
To partake in the preview, you’ll need a phone or tablet running Android 6 Marshmallow or higher with Bluetooth 4.0, a Microsoft account, and an Xbox One controller. You should at least have 10Mbit/s downstream, and the company recommends a 5GHz connection should you use the service on Wi-Fi. Access to games is provided via a new Game Streaming app. To improve and optimize xCloud, Microsoft also announced technical partnerships with T-Mobile in the US, Vodafone in the UK, and SK Telecom in South Korea. You’ll still need an unlimited data plan to reasonably play, though.
The public preview is coming this October and will be available in the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Korea. To sign up, head to Microsoft’s xCloud website, click “Register now” towards the bottom of the page, fill out a form, and then you can hope that you’ll receive an invite. So far, the company says the service is free to test and hasn’t announced pricing. Microsoft even says that it “will be a multi-year journey to deliver this technology,” so you can expect the company to open up the preview to more people and countries before releasing a stable version.
Microsoft’s approach of a multi-year test deployment is much more careful than Google’s push for disruption, and it’ll be interesting to see how the competition plays out in the long run. The Redmond company’s comfortable position in the gaming industry allows it to move more thoughtfully, and the service might just end up feeling more complete than Google’s at launch.