27/08/2021   Piers Harding-Rolls
Microsoft comes full circle and adds cloud gaming to Xbox consoles

A core reason for cloud gaming, or streaming of games content, is that it removes the need to purchase expensive dedicated hardware and that, on paper, boosts accessibility for a broader set of potential gamers. This remains true, but there are also usability benefits to offering cloud gaming on the latest gaming consoles as well.

In its early years of running PlayStation Now, Sony supported multiple device categories with its cloud gaming service, but later narrowed down support to its consoles and PC. Today, most of PS Now usage is focused on its consoles although this reflects the older generation titles available to subscribers. PS Now is Sony’s solution for backwards compatibility for its console gamers. Mixing download and streaming works seamlessly in the console environment.

In contrast, Microsoft started its streaming ambitions through Xbox Game Pass Ultimate with a deployment on Android smartphones and is now expanding support to other connected devices including PCs and both Xbox One and Xbox Series consoles. Microsoft’s Xbox Series upgrade to its Azure data centres means that, when rolled out, users will now be able to stream high-end Xbox Series games to previous generation Xbox Ones. Although very few Xbox Ones are being sold globally in 2021, this potentially breaths life into the installed base of 54 million devices.

Usability benefits

One of the key usability drawbacks of the console experience is having to wait to download games and their patches, both of which are getting ever larger in size. These large file games are also taking up space on the included storage drives. Streaming games delivers almost instant access to games without filling up the storage, overcoming these usability issues. It also opens up Xbox to new approaches to marketing games: demos of games that can be tried out on-demand without having to wait for a download, for example. For those with the necessary internet bandwidth, there is also the potential to jump into Game Pass titles more quickly with friends without having to wait for a download.  

Usage of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will shift more towards streaming

Ampere's consumer data shows that most usage of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in the US is download focused. With support for cloud gaming on console, we expect to see a shift of usage towards streaming. Getting console gamers to try out cloud gaming in this light-touch way should help with establishing streaming across some of those user groups that are the most sceptical of this technology. With a shift towards more streaming distribution, Microsoft will be faced with additional service delivery costs, which in turn will drive up its operating costs.  

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