Microsoft spent years building towards cloud gaming under the name 'Project xCloud', but now that it's launched the service is the more straightforward 'Xbox Cloud Gaming'.
Available only as part of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, Xbox Cloud Gaming does what it says on the tin: it lets you stream a variety of Xbox games and play them anywhere you have an internet connection, freeing you from the need to buy a console or a bulky gaming PC.
While it was Android-only at launch, Microsoft has now made the service available on PC and iOS - and it's going to be built into Windows 11 when that arrives at the end of the year, and onto Xbox consoles too.
What is Cloud Gaming with Xbox Game Pass, and is it the same as xCloud?
Cloud Gaming with Xbox Game Pass is the much wordier final name for what was once known as Project xCloud.
Whatever the name, it's Microsoft's entry into the burgeoning cloud gaming scene, offering players the chance to stream their favourite Xbox titles straight to their phone and other devices. It follows the lead of Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now.
Later this year it will also be added into the Game Pass app on Xbox One and Series X/S consoles for Ultimate subscribers, primarily pitched as a way to try games quickly before downloading them - or to immediately jump into multiplayer titles with friends.
You won’t need to download the games that you play. Instead, they’re streamed from Microsoft’s servers. Those now use Xbox Series X hardware, streaming at 1080p and up to 60fps "to ensure the lowest latency, highest quality experience across the broadest set of devices."
Microsoft says that it will continue to update and add more features over time to make the most of the Series X servers. In fact, although Microsoft hasn't announced it officially, those updates are already rolling out to select titles.
The Verge's Tom Warren spotted the option to run certain games at 120fps or with enhanced graphics, while those games are also enjoying faster load times. It's not on every game though - even some of Microsoft's own, like Forza Horizon 4, don't seem to have the upgrade yet.
it looks like xCloud just got the Xbox Series X hardware upgrade for certain games. Yakuza, Rainbow Six Siege, and others are showing 120fps or gfx options, and are loading faster pic.twitter.com/BUU866V0BF— Tom Warren (@tomwarren) June 22, 2021
How much does Xbox cloud gaming cost?
From a certain perspective streaming Xbox games is free - but only because Microsoft has bundled it into its existing Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
That costs £10.99/$14.99 per month, but also gives you access to an even larger library of games on PC and Xbox; a free EA Play subscription; and an Xbox Live Gold subscription which offers online multiplayer, free games, and various deals and discounts.
What we don't know is whether Microsoft will ever also offer xCloud alone as a standalone service for less than that - perhaps costing a similar amount to PlayStation Now, Sony’s rival cloud-based game streaming service, which costs £8.99/$9.99 a month. Microsoft does say that it's "exploring new subscription offerings for Xbox Game Pass" however, so it's not out of the question.
To see how it stacks up against the competition, check out our guide to the best game streaming services.
Which countries support Xbox cloud gaming?
The Microsoft cloud gaming service launched officially on 15 September in 22 countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
It's expanding, as the service arrived in Australia, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico on 18 November. However, these countries are still part of the xCloud Preview program, and so here it's not yet bundled in with Game Pass. Register here if you're in one of the four countries and keen to take part. The service will officially join Game Pass in those countries some time in 2021.
How to play Xbox cloud games on PC and iOS
Microsoft has finally launched the cloud gaming service on Windows 10 PCs, iPhones, and iPads via web browser.
The Windows and iOS version of Xbox Cloud Gaming is browser-based, and runs through Edge, Chrome, and Safari on Xbox.com/play, though Microsoft says that it will build support directly into the official Xbox app on Windows 10 later in 2021, and in fact the service will be built directly into the upcoming Windows 11 update when that launches this year.
The decision to release a browser version of the service comes after a high-profile spat with Apple over efforts to launch an iOS app for Xbox Cloud Gaming.
Apple declared in a statement to Business Insider that the service is not compatible with App Store guidelines, principally because it allows players to access a storefront of other games and apps that have not themselves gone through Apple's approval process.
"Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search," the statement reads.
Microsoft was quick to hit back in a statement to The Verge, calling Apple "the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass."
Apple eventually relented somewhat, introducing new App Store policies to allow cloud gaming services, but they're pretty onerous: every single playable game must also launch as a standalone app in the App Store. That seems to sort of defeat the point, and it seems Microsoft agrees, hence the move to a browser version that sits outside Apple's jurisdiction.
"This remains a bad experience for customers," Microsoft told Mashable, referring to Apple's new rules. "Gamers want to jump directly into a game from their curated catalog within one app just like they do with movies or songs, and not be forced to download over 100 apps to play individual games from the cloud."
What controllers work with cloud gaming on Game Pass?
Microsoft has tried to make things as simple as possible, so you can use loads of existing controllers.
The easiest thing for most games will be to use the official Xbox Wireless Controller - either Xbox Series X or Xbox One versions, as long as it's a model with Bluetooth support - but PlayStation owners can also use their DualShock 4 or DualSense gamepads.
Almost any third-party Bluetooth controller should also work well, but if you want to be sure then check out the official Xbox Store where you'll find the controllers Microsoft has approved, including the Razer Kishi and MOGA XP5-X.
What games can I play on Xbox cloud gaming?
The service launched with more than 150 games, and more are on the way all the time. Here's the full launch list, though exact availability will be different now:
- A Plague Tale: Innocence
- Age of Wonders: Planetfall
- ARK: Survival Evolved
- Batman: Arkham Knight
- Battle Chasers: Nightwar
- Black Desert
- Blair Witch
- Bleeding Edge
- Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
- Bridge Constructor Portal
- Children of Morta
- Crackdown 3: Campaign
- Darksiders Genesis
- Darksiders III
- de Blob
- Dead by Daylight
- Dead Cells
- Dead Island Definitive Edition
- Death Squared
- Deliver us the moon
- Demon’s Tilt
- Destiny 2: Shadowkeep & Forsaken expansion (September 22)
- DiRT 4
- Don’t Starve
- Double Kick Heroes
- Drake Hollow
- Dungeon of the Endless
- Enter The Gungeon
- F1 2019
- Fallout 76
- Farming Simulator 17
- Felix the Reaper
- Fishing Sim World: Pro Tour
- For the King
- Forza Horizon 4
- Fractured Minds
- Frostpunk: Console Edition
- Gato Roboto
- Gears of War 1: Ultimate Edition
- Gears of War 4
- Gears of War 5
- Goat Simulator
- Golf with Your Friends
- Guacamelee! 2
- Halo 5: Guardians
- Halo Wars 1: Definitive Edition
- Halo Wars 2
- Halo: The Master Chief Collection
- Halo: Spartan Assault
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
- Hello Neighbor
- Hollow Knight (Renewal)
- Hot Shot Racing
- Human Fall Flat
- Hypnospace Outlaw
- Journey to the Savage Planet
- Katana ZERO (Coming soon)
- Killer Instinct DE
- Lonely Mountains: Downhill
- Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite
- Metro 2033 Redux
- Middle Earth: Shadow of War
- Minecraft: Dungeons
- Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight
- Mortal Kombat X (Not available in Korea)
- Mount & Blade: Warband
- Moving Out
- Munchkin: Quacked Quest
- Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
- My Time At Portia
- Neon Abyss
- New Super Lucky’s Tale
- Night Call
- Night in the Woods (Coming soon)
- No Man’s Sky
- Nowhere Prophet
- Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition
- Ori and the Will of the Wisps
- Overcooked! 2
- Pathologic 2
- Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition
- Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
- ReCore: Definitive Edition
- Remnant: From the Ashes
- Resident Evil 7 Biohazard
- Rise & Shine
- River City Girls (Coming soon)
- Sea of Thieves: Anniversary Edition
- Sea Salt
- Secret Neighbor
- Shadow Warrior 2
- Slay the Spire
- Sniper Elite 4
- State of Decay 2: Juggernaut Edition
- Stranger Things 3: The Game
- Streets of Rage 4
- Streets of Rogue
- Surviving Mars
- Tell Me Why Episode 1 – 3
- The Bard’s Tale IV: Directors Cut
- The Bard’s Tale Remastered and Resnarkled
- The Bard’s Tale Trilogy
- The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics
- The Elder Scrolls Online
- The Gardens Between
- The Jackbox Party Pack 4
- The Long Dark
- The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game
- The Messenger
- The Outer Worlds
- The Surge 2
- The Touryst
- The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- The Escapists 2
- The Talos Principle
- The Turing Test
- The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Episode 1 through 5
- The Walking Dead: Michonne – Episode 1 – 3
- The Walking Dead: Season Two
- theHunter: Call of the Wild
- Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales
- Totally Accurate Battle Simulator
- Totally Reliable Delivery Service
- Touhou Luna Nights
- Tracks – The Train Set Game
- Train Sim World 2020
- Two Point Hospital
- Untitled Goose Game
- Void Bastards
- Warhammer Vermintide 2 (Coming soon)
- Wasteland Remastered
- Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut
- Wasteland 3
- We Happy Few
- West of Dead
- Wizard of Legend
- World War Z
- Worms W.M.D
- Xeno Crisis
- Yakuza 0
- Yakuza Kiwami
- Yakuza Kiwami 2