Skip to main content

With xCloud bundle, Microsoft takes a page from Nintendo’s playbook

Microsoft is approaching the next generation of consoles a lot differently than it has in the past.

Xbox head Phil Spencer announced on Thursday, July 30, that Microsoft would bundle xCloud, its game streaming service, with Xbox Game Pass for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members at no additional price. That makes Ultimate an incredibly compelling service and, at just $5 more per month than an Xbox Gold membership, the de facto option for Xbox owners.

Related Videos

The announcement is the clearest signal to date the Microsoft plans to go all-in on cloud gaming — and that it sees the technology as the real next-generation battlefield.

It’s a move that is, in some ways, familiar — even though the technology is new. Back in 2012, rather than engaging in a direct fight with Microsoft and Sony over graphics resolution and processor speeds, Nintendo created a console that focused on something else entirely. By stepping away from the console wars, the company managed, in its own way, to win them.

Nintendo called that strategy “Blue Ocean.” Now Microsoft, it seems, could be looking for a new harbor as well.

Microsoft has clearly learned from past mistakes. It realizes that trying to force streaming on customers unilaterally is a move that can (and likely will) backfire badly. The company tried to impose its will during the launch of the Xbox One and felt the consequences for the entirety of this console generation.

That’s part of why the console arms race is still going strong with the launch of Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Gamers — especially hardcore gamers — expect next-generation hardware to do things the current generation can’t.

Sony showed it had ticked the box six weeks ago when it unveiled the PS5 game lineup. Xbox will likely do the same later this month. But as players marvel over instant level switching and minimal start-up times, they’ll also get a taste of what game streaming can do. And that might be all Microsoft needs to start building brand loyalty.

This was hardly Microsoft’s first move in the game streaming space this year. On June 22, the company sold Mixer, its Twitch competitor, to Facebook. While the service never grew into a major player in the space, by transferring Mixer to Facebook, Microsoft automatically gained a bigger showcase to show off xCloud technology, including an expected feature letting people who are watching a Mixer stream directly launch and begin playing the games themselves.

xCloud isn’t going to be a perfect (or likely even optimal) product out of the gate. It currently only works with Android phones and tablets and requires either a 5G or 10Mbps wireless connection. The device list will expand, of course, and the technical requirements will either loosen or the spread of 5G will catch up soon enough. But to bet the farm on xCloud right now would be foolhardy. Just ask Google, which has seen Stadia struggle since its debut.

In many ways, the launch of Xbox Series X is both the beginning of a new generation and the beta test for the following one. Microsoft and Sony will slug it out with two systems that are largely the same, technically. And the extreme fan bases of both systems will debate the merits, while the rest of the world just enjoys the games.

But in the next couple of years, as the kinks get worked out of xCloud and cloud gaming becomes more than just a curiosity, Microsoft will have already embedded it into its console architecture, giving users a taste of what it’s like to stream titles like Halo and Forza onto new platforms. And by the time we get to the mid-terms of this console generation, that could be a critical advantage.

Sony, of course, is exploring game streaming also. And it will likely expand its program in the years to come. But Sony, at present, lacks the in-house backbone to compete with Microsoft or Google (or, for that matter, Amazon), both of whom have huge cloud servers. Seemingly aware of this, the company struck a partnership with Microsoft last May to collaborate on new cloud-based solutions for gaming experiences.

That means Microsoft will likely benefit financially from any cloud service Sony launches — a nice consolation prize, should xCloud fall behind PlayStation Now.

That’s not the goal, though. By folding xCloud into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, Microsoft is letting people slowly get used to a looming shift in the way games are played. And by pairing it with their Netflix-like all-you-can-play model and including all-new first-party releases, it’s making it even more palatable.

It’s a bold experiment that blends the short-, mid-, and long-term direction of the games division into a single bet. But as the industry stands on the precipice of a major shift, it’s one that could pay off for Microsoft just as much (or more) than Nintendo’s gamble eight years ago.

Editors' Recommendations

MLB The Show 23 returns to Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch this March
Jazz Chisholm's cover art for MLB The Show 23.

Sony San Diego Studios announced MLB The Show 23 today, and confirmed that it will launch across all major PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo systems on March 28. 
No new platforms were added this year, so PC players aren't getting in on the fun. Still, this announcement makes it clear that MLB The Show is a multiplatform series across PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo platforms for the foreseeable future. Xbox's version of the trailer also confirms that MLB The Show 23 will be on Xbox Game Pass at launch, making this first-party Sony series a day-one Game Pass title three years in a row. 
MLB The Show 23 - Cover Athlete Reveal
As is typically the case with sports games, MLB The Show 23's reveal was primarily focused on its cover athlete. We learned that Jazz Chisholm Jr., a second baseman for the Miami Marlins, will grace the cover of the game. Like last year, the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch versions of the game will cost $60, while players  on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S without Xbox Game Pass will need to pay $70. So far, no new gameplay features have been teased, although a blog post confirms that cross-platform multiplayer, saves, and progression across all versions of the game will return this year. 
So far, there's not a lot that actually seems new about MLB The Show 23, but this reveal concludes the genesis of a new era for the long-running baseball series. MLB The Show 23 will be released for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch on March 28. 

Read more
Redfall’s May 2 release date revealed during Developer_Direct
A screen capture from the Redfall gameplay reveal.

Arkane Studios and Bethesda finally confirmed a release date for Redfall during today's Developer_Direct showcase. The cooperative open-world, vampiric first-person shooter will come out  May 2.
The Developer_Direct showcase spent quite a bit of time on Redfall, highlighting both its single-player and multiplayer content. Its part of the show started with a look at various combat zones and safe areas on Redfall Island, where the game takes place. We then learned more about some of the enemy types players encounter, weapons they can use, and each character's special abilities, as Arkane showed off gameplay snippets from multiple missions. If you're a fan of looter shooters and vampires, Arkane looks to be fully delivering on that concept based on this gameplay snippet.  
Redfall has been a highly anticipated first-party Xbox game ever since its reveal in 2021, but its delays have also been quite infamous. Originally intended to be released in summer 2022, it and Starfield's delay into 2023 really significantly impacted the dearth of content that plagued Xbox platforms last year. That's why having a concrete release date for Redfall is quite a relief; it provides hope that Xbox Game Studios and Bethesda will get back in the swing of having a consistent string of first-party releases. It will also be one of the first Xbox-exclusive games to sport a $70 price tag. 
Redfall launches for PC and Xbox Series X/S on May 2. If you don't want to spend $70 on this game, it will also be on Xbox Game Pass on day one like all first-party Xbox Game Studios and Bethesda games. 

Read more
Goldeneye 007 comes to Game Pass and Nintendo Switch later this week
goldeneye 007 switch xbox release date january 27

Rare, Nintendo, and Xbox Game Studios confirmed that their remaster of classic Nintendo 64 FPS Goldeneye 007 will launch on January 27 across Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
GoldenEye 007 – Xbox Game Pass Date Reveal Trailer
For most, this long-awaited enhanced re-release will be locked behind a subscription service. On Nintendo Switch, the only way to play Goldeneye 007 is with a Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pass subscription, which grants players access to a variety of Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, NES, and SNES games alongside the DLC to some first-party Nintendo titles. That said, Microsoft has confirmed that the Nintendo Switch version of Goldeneye 007 will be the only one to feature online multiplayer, although it'll still be displayed in split-screen.
Meanwhile, the Xbox versions of Goldeneye 007 don't have online multiplayer but benefit from the addition of achievements and an upgraded 16:9 4K resolution. To play the game on Xbox, you'll need to either have an Xbox Game Pass subscription or own the gaming compilation Rare Replay that was released in 2015. Still, fans are probably happy that they'll just be able to experience this classic on a modern controller.
While it has aged quite a bit, Goldeneye 007 is a highly influential FPS game that also became an iconic Nintendo 64 release thanks to its fun multiplayer. Unfortunately, the license it's attached to likely prevented the game from getting a proper re-release until now. It was one of the best announcements in September's Nintendo Direct, and its launch will also technically mark the first Xbox first-party game released in 2022. 
Goldeneye 007 releases for Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on January 27. 

Read more