It's been a big twelve months for Microsoft's Xbox and other gaming divisions. They've launched a brand new console - two if you consider the differences between the latest versions of the Xbox - and they've renewed their battle with long-time rivals Sony and their PlayStation.
Having invested so much money in developing a powerful new console, it would make sense for Microsoft to push it as hard as possible and do their utmost to put people off the idea of using cloud gaming as an alternative to console ownership. Instead, they appear to be doing the opposite. They're putting more effort into cloud gaming instead.
If you're not familiar with the concept of cloud gaming, it might be helpful to think of it as game streaming instead. There's no requirement for the end-user to have any specialist hardware in their home (or, in fact, wherever they want to play their games) save for an internet connection, a controller, and something with a viable screen. Instead of owning a game and running it from hardware in their vicinity - a brand new Xbox Series X, for example - games are run on remote servers owned by a service provider and played through the internet. So long as the internet connection is strong enough at both ends, lag and clipping aren't issues. There should be little difference in experience between playing on a console and playing through the internet.
The idea is alien to most players, but it's gained prominence in recent years because big-name tech firms have begun to invest in it. Google has attempted to break the market open with Google Stadia. They haven't achieved much thus far, but now Amazon is also involved with a platform called "Luna." There are even rumours that Netflix might get involved. That would be ironic because the sudden appearance of streaming services in the gaming industry has been referred to by some as "the Netflix effect." In truth, it should be called "the online slots effect." That's where the idea originally came from. When the very first online slots websites appeared on the internet and demonstrated their ability to contain hundreds of slots and casino games in the same place with no hardware requirements at the user's end, it caused chaos in the casino industry. Old fashioned casinos essentially had to adapt or die, and even today, modern online slots sites like Rose Slots CA perform better than the majority of “real world” casinos. It seems inevitable that the cloud or streaming era of gaming will eventually have the same effect on traditional console gaming - and Microsoft wants to be ahead of the curve when it happens.
We've told you that the company is going to take cloud gaming more seriously, but we haven't yet told you how. Here's what you need to know. The company has just hired Kim Swift, who was Google's design director for the entire Stadia project. Swift has now been installed as senior director of cloud gaming at Xbox. She wouldn't have been a cheap hire and also wouldn't have been tempted to make the jump if Microsoft didn't have an enticing challenge for her. It's thought that she'll be in charge of making new purely-cloud based games for the Xbox Cloud service. Both Sony and Xbox already have their own Stadia-like game streaming platforms, but both of them lack exclusive games. If Microsoft starts making popular, desirable exclusive games that can only be played through the cloud, it will inevitably begin attracting more people as customers.
This might be an acknowledgement by Microsoft that it can't beat Sony on a one-to-one console battle. Just as the PlayStation 4 outsold the Microsoft Xbox One by a significant factor, sales of the PlayStation 5 are currently outstripping sales of the Xbox Series X even with the stock shortages that are hampering the availability of Sony's machine. Microsoft is doomed to lose this latest round of the console wars unless it does something new and original. Opening up exclusive games through the cloud and inviting people to play them even if they don't have a Microsoft console might be the perfect "new and original" response to the problem.
The appointment of Swift and focus on creating cloud exclusive games is only one prong of what appears to be a two-pronged charge into the cloud gaming battlefield for Microsoft. It also seems that they're about to do something that Sony as yet hadn't, which is open up current-gen games to last-gen hardware. When the last generation of consoles was released, it wasn't possible to play Xbox One games on the Xbox 360 because the hardware of the older console wasn't capable of keeping up. Players couldn't play PlayStation 4 games on the PlayStation 3 for the same reason. There's no reason for this to be the case in the future, though. The Xbox One might be getting old, but it still has a perfectly adequate internet connection. Because of that, it's theoretically possible to play Xbox Series X games on the Xbox One through cloud gaming - and Microsoft is going to let it happen.
This could be a revolutionary move. If current-gen games can be played on last-gen consoles because of streaming, there’s no longer a need to make new consoles at all. Hardcore gamers will argue that players who have consoles in their own homes will have a slight advantage because of possible resolution and lag issues, but the internet is already at the point of being fast enough to avoid that in most major cities. When 5G connections become standard, connections will become even faster. At that point, there may be no need to make or own consoles at all. Sony would eventually join Microsoft in letting the PS4 stream PS5 games - just as it does with its “console to console” service now - but may never make a PS6. Microsoft may never make another strangely-named Xbox. The console era might be closer to an end than any of us realise.
Streaming will become the standard way of playing video games just as quickly as Sony and Microsoft allow it to happen. This week, Microsoft threw its cards on the table and said, "we're ready." It'll be interesting to see how Sony responds.