Microsoft upgrades Xbox Cloud Gaming, expands platforms to PC and iOS devices

Some of the games available on Xbox Game Pass as seen on Google Chrome on June 28th. (Microsoft screenshot)

Microsoft announced on Monday that its Xbox Cloud gaming service, formerly known as Project xCloud, has officially expanded to the web browser world.

Starting today, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers with Windows 10 PCs or iOS phones or tablets can use Chrome, Edge, or Safari with the Xbox official website to access and play a curated list of titles, including the brand new game from Wizards of the Coast Coast Dark Alliance.

This way, you will dial in a Microsoft data center that will run the game you have chosen. It should boot up quickly with no local installation required, so you can run high-end games on low-end hardware and start playing in minutes.

Cloud gaming via the web browser has been in a beta version for the last few months only for invitations from Game Pass. Starting today, however, all Game Pass Ultimate subscribers will have access to the browser version as long as they have a compatible PC, phone or tablet.

The Xbox Cloud Gaming service originally debuted in late 2019 under the working title “Project xCloud” as an additional invitation-only option for Ultimate-level Xbox Game Pass subscribers. His later attempts to bring Game Pass to iOS via the Apple App Store were hampered in September by a change in Apple’s terms of use, to which Microsoft responded by looking for browser-based solutions.

Microsoft’s announcement also revealed that the Xbox Cloud Gaming service is now running on custom Xbox Series X hardware. Games streamed from the Xbox cloud can now run at up to 60 FPS in 1080p resolution, with dramatically improved load times over last month’s version of the service.

To clarify, the cloud gaming service is now running on Series X hardware, but is not yet available for Series X. The handful of people who managed to get hold of a Series X or S in retail stores didn’t get anything with today’s announcement.

“With billions of active Windows 10 PCs, iOS devices, and Android phones, we want you to have new ways to play the deepest, most immersive games whenever and wherever you want,” wrote Xbox’s Catherine Gluckstein. “Put simply, we bring the Xbox experience right to the devices you use most.”

Players in the cloud can use the Xbox wireless controller once it’s connected to their devices via Bluetooth, or another compatible gamepad from Microsoft’s official list.

Around half of the service’s games can also be played with mobile-friendly touch controls. While some aren’t a particular surprise – Slay the Spire, Tell Me Why, Dragon Quest XI – since they aren’t games that require quick reflexes, there are a few shockers on the list like Killer Instinct, Celeste, and Gears 5. Microsoft apparently has great reliance on the accuracy of the touch controls when compatible with games that reward, if not require, at least a high level of precision.

I took some time this afternoon to briefly test the new version of Xbox Cloud Gaming. The loading times have sped up as much as advertised; One of the downsides to the service was that when launching a game you had to stare at the strange rocket loading screen for a minute or two before the game started. Now, even when I tried janky WiFi, I was in the game within seconds.

Of course, this doesn’t help alleviate the problems of cloud gaming. It’s a bandwidth hog, it’s extremely lag-sensitive, and it gets dramatically worse for games that require you to stay connected to the server at the same time as you stream data from the cloud.

However, it opens up a lot of options for Game Pass subscribers, especially if you see it as a “try before you buy” option. Shortly before this year’s E3 virtual show, Microsoft hosted a taped press conference at which Xbox VIPs referred to the curated selection of Game Pass as a “discovery machine” that actually improves sales of all titles in the service.

While I generally have logistical issues with cloud gaming, there’s no denying that it’s a quick and convenient way to try something new. It can only add to the value of one of the better offerings in the modern gaming landscape.

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