Microsoft is ready to present its own version of cloud-based gaming to the world, and it’s happening so, so soon.
Let’s be clear: Project xCloud isn’t the final Microsoft product that will bring cloud-streamed games to your smartphone, tablet, or some other screen with an internet connection. The thing that’s launching in October – yes, the October that’s just days away – is a preview program.
“Public preview is a critical phase in our multi-year ambition to deliver game streaming globally at the scale and quality of experience that the gaming community deserves and expects,” Microsoft exec Kareem Choudhry said in a prepared statement. “It’s time to put Project xCloud to the test in a broader capacity, with a range of gamers, devices, network environments and real world use-case scenarios, and this is where you come in.”
The plan is to launch xCloud for a limited crowd of users in the United States, United Kingdom, and South Korea, with more people invited to join over time. Participants will have access to a Microsoft-provided library of games. So no, you won’t need to own the games if you’re in the preview program.
The xCloud preview will launch with only a small handful of games, including Gears 5, Halo 5: Guardians, Killer Instinct, and Sea of Thieves. There isn’t a set schedule for rolling out more but Microsoft says that’s the plan.
To participate, you’ll need a couple of things on the hardware front. A phone or tablet running Android 6.0 or higher, with Bluetooth 4.0; a Microsoft account; and a Bluetooth-enabled Xbox One controller. Microsoft also suggests a phone mount for your controller if you’ll be streaming to a smartphone.
Project xCloud ostensibly works over both WiFi and mobile networks, but we’re not holding out much hope for the latter at this point. There’s no way of knowing until the preview launches, of course, but all the talk around cloud-based gaming so far suggests that streaming games won’t be mobile network-friendly until 5G is rolled out.
Your portal to the preview will be a new Microsoft Game Streaming app. Anyone will be able to download it, but a sign-in will be required to actually use it. There isn’t any cost to participate, mostly because this isn’t the final version of whatever the eventual product will be. It’s a test, so as long as you’re approved – sign up here in the U.S. and U.K., and here in Korea – you’re good to play.
An October launch for Project xCloud technically gives Microsoft a one-month head start on Google’s competing Stadia service. The big difference between them is xCloud will launch in this preview program, whereas the Nov. 15 arrival of Stadia is the finished product (albeit early access, for “founders” only).