At E3 2019, I was able to test out Project xCloud, Microsoft’s new game streaming technology. First announced last fall, the tech is in alpha testing right now, with public trials starting in October 2019.
E3 2019: Project xCloud Preview
When I played Project xCloud at a media showcase, there were several games available for testing: Gears of War 4, Halo 5: Guardians, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Halo Wars 2 and more. All of them had an Xbox controller to use, which was connected to a Samsung Galaxy S8 phone. Being a big fan of RTS (real-time strategy) games, I chose to try out Halo Wars 2.
Immediately, I tried zooming around the map as fast as possible, giving random orders, trying to see if there was any noticeable lag, pixelation or artifacting from having a ton of activity on the screen. No matter what I did, there was no visual breakup, screen tearing or visible artifacts, which was extremely impressive. I was even able to use different leader powers in the game that all required excellent accuracy, all with no issues.
I’m used to playing on a low lag Game Mode on my TV, so while I could detect the tiniest bit of input latency, it was extremely low. If I had to guess, I’d say its an additional tenth of a second, maybe even less. The framerate stayed smooth all throughout the demo and the image quality was fantastic, though the nature of the screen being streamed to is of course going to impact that.
The Microsoft rep running the demo confirmed that the closest Azure servers were roughly 400 miles away, making the lack of any real technical hiccups even more impressive. He also confirmed that the hinge used to connect the controller to the phone was a third-party product and that Microsoft is working with multiple retail partners to provide a variety of options for a variety of devices.
Halo Wars 2 seems the ideal type of game that I’d like to play over streaming. Being able to take a quick break at my computer and use my phone to play a quick match is a really nifty idea.
With all that said, I do have to bring a major concern, which is font size. Being an RTS game, there’s lots of text constantly popping up while playing Halo Wars 2 and on a phone, it was all very small. While I could still read the font, people with issues reading smaller fonts might have major issues making out the different sentences. I talked to the rep about this, who confirmed that Xbox is working with developers to make it easy to change font sizes based on the screen the game is being played on in the new XDK for games running on Project xCloud. He also reiterated that with the new development kit they talked about at GDC, no additional work is needed on the developer side to make a game compatible with Project xCloud. This is a far cry from Google Stadia, which is a completely new platform that requires a game to be ported over.
During the E3 2019 Xbox conference, Phil Spencer revealed that anyone who owns an Xbox console will be able to use their console as their own personal xCloud server. No further pricing or subscription details have been talked about and we’ll be learning more in the lead-up to public trials. With that said, I’ll truly be stunned if the streaming service isn’t bundled with Game Pass or at least Game Pass Ultimate, since everything Xbox is doing appears to be funneling into that subscription service. Incidentally, the streaming service will have a different name, since Project xCloud is the name of the tech, Xbox reps insisted to me.
While I’m always going to prefer playing games on my console (or my PC), there’s an undeniable benefit to be enjoyed from streaming. After experiencing it hands-on, it’s one that I’ll happily use when it becomes available. As long as this is about enhancing the market and “growing the pie” so to speak, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a very welcome addition.