Microsoft, Activision using xCloud to develop through the pandemic

Forza Horizon 4
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft's xCloud game streaming service isn't just a nifty tool for playing triple-A games on your phone. In fact, as the industry scrambles to keep things rolling during the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems like the streaming service might have taken a key role in keeping the tech giant's developers running.

In a similar vein to things like Google Stadia, xCloud lets you stream Xbox games onto your phone via the internet. It may have only released to the public in select regions this September, but a new report from Bloomberg suggests that the tool was a vital part of getting the new Xbox consoles (and all its conveniently-also-on-PC games) out the door.

Access to high-end hardware remains a sticking point for game studios. For Bungie, that meant supplying developers with beefy, "developer-grade laptops" for their home offices. Microsoft, however, appears to have put their new streaming tech to the test, using it to let devs access high-end machines without lugging new hardware out to their homes—or, in one case, trawling an extension cord out into the woods.

“For one of my best graphics engineers, I was asking what it would cost to trench a data cable to his house because he lives out in the woods," Turn 10 Studios head Alan Hartman told Bloomberg. "I kind of said, ‘Do whatever works best, and just send me the bill."

Instead of digging up forests laying cable, however, Turn 10 has been developing the next Forza Motorsport largely using old Xbox One consoles. The devs are using xCloud and an unnamed internal tool to stream more powerful hardware through the ageing boxes. At this point, almost 60 studios are using the service—mostly Microsoft's own teams, sure, but also massive third-party publishers like Activision Blizzard.

Of course, Microsoft hasn't been able to wholly avoid this year's tidal wave of delays, with would-be launch flagship Halo Infinite finding itself delayed into 2021.

Natalie Clayton
Features Producer

20 years ago, Nat played Jet Set Radio Future for the first time, and she's not stopped thinking about games since. Joining PC Gamer in 2020, she comes from three years of freelance reporting at Rock Paper Shotgun, Waypoint, VG247 and more. Embedded in the European indie scene and a part-time game developer herself, Nat is always looking for a new curiosity to scream about—whether it's the next best indie darling, or simply someone modding a Scotmid into Black Mesa. She also unofficially appears in Apex Legends under the pseudonym Horizon.