I watched Microsoft's press briefing a week or so ago. A lot has been said about the fact that it was a Gamepass sizzle reel rather than a serious effort to convince the PlayStation brigade to buy a Series X - it very much felt as though it was preaching to the converted rather than looking convince those who might be swayed. We saw gameplay from Halo Infinite and a load of other games - some of which looked like they might be quite interesting (Avowed and Everwild, I'm talking about you) and which the presentation went to great lengths to make clear would ALL BE ON GAMEPASS ON DAY ONE. Apologies for the caps lock there, but it felt to me as though it had been metaphorically enabled every time it came up on screen or was mentioned by one of the talking heads from the studios that popped up from time to time.
Gamepass very much felt like it was where the emphasis was then - which is all well and good. I'm not sure that Microsoft's decision to try to make the videogame world's conversation around next gen one around business models and delivery mechanisms instead of shiny new games supported by the old methods of consuming them is a wise one, but it's an interesting one and very much has the feeling of a longer view of things. We'll see. With that in mind though, it seems odd that not a word was said about XCloud.
Not sure what XCloud is? You're not alone - so here's a recap. XCloud is Microsoft's cloud streaming service. It's been in beta testing for a while now - I think I've been using it since January or February, but honestly can't remember exactly when I was accepted into the programme. It works as simply as this: download an app to your Android phone, sync a controller to it via bluetooth, login using your normal Xbox Live credentials and then pick a game and play it. The beta has seen numerous games cycle in and out of the programme with staple ones being the biggest Xbox Game Studios games. I've sat at my desk in the office playing Sea of Thieves on my phone. I've done races on Forza Horizon 4 over 4G while waiting for my son to finish his karate classes. I don't mind admitting I've played Gears 5 and Destiny 2 on the couch while my wife has been watching TV I had less than no interest in.
Over the course of the last couple of months, XCloud has continued to develop - more games have appeared on the service (including some that haven't been on GamePass at the time!), and the ability to control the games with on-screen controls has appeared. Functionality that lets you stream games directly from your own Xbox have been introduced, and a version of the trial app has been made available on iOS. Playing Halo Reach on an iPad was a nice way to deal with one of my regular bouts of insomnia. The experience has been surprisingly solid since the start. There's a bit of input lag, but it's something that you can soon get used to dealing with - to the point where after a couple of minutes, you don't really notice it anymore. All in all, it works far better than I ever expected it to.
So, with the recent news that come September, the XCloud service (no doubt with an imminent re-name incoming) will be made available to all Gamepass Ultimate subscribers for no extra charge, it's surprising to me that it wasn't mentioned at all during the most recent Xbox showcase. Given the massive emphasis the event had on Gamepass, you'd think at least mentioning this new service would make sense. As it stands, I know Xbox owners who are Gamepass Ultimate subscribers who had no idea that this was coming until I told them - which just seems insane. After all, it's something to shout about - it does what Google Stadia does, with your existing library, with a controller you already know and probably love. Google are trying (and according to many spectators summarily failing, let's face it) to build an additional revenue stream around something that Microsoft are prepared to bundle into an existing subscription for free - and it works!
XCloud is coming - and Microsoft are missing a trick by not shouting about it from the rooftops. Do we assume their low volume is all part of some as-yet-unrevealed spectacularly cunning plan? Or is it another mis-step in the journey to next-gen? Time will tell.