In a new and wide-ranging presentation about its games business, Microsoft dropped a couple interesting tidbits about its plans for Game Pass and cloud-based game streaming. The announcement most relevant to PC gamers is that Microsoft plans to add cloud gaming functionality to the Xbox app for PC later this year, bringing the streaming service that's currently in beta for browsers into a centralized app.
That means that in addition to using the Xbox app to browse and download games, Game Pass subscribers will be able to play them with a click, no installation necessary—internet connection permitting, anyway.
The current Xbox cloud gaming beta will open up to all Game Pass Ultimate members "in the next few weeks" in supported countries (more countries, including Australia, will be added later this year). And the quality of Xbox cloud streaming is getting a boost, too. "This will all be powered with our latest generation Xbox Series X hardware—we're now in the final stages of internal testing, and we will be upgrading the experience for Ultimate members in the next few weeks," said CVP of cloud gaming Kareem Choudhry.
If I'm playing on my PC, I'll almost always prefer a local copy of a game, which will let me take better advantage of my 144Hz monitor without the sacrifices of streaming image quality or latency. I think some of the other plans for streaming Microsoft touched on are more interesting: It clearly has big ambitions for growing Game Pass beyond typical PC and console players.
Microsoft is working with TV companies to add a Game Pass app "directly into internet-connected TVs so all you'll need to play is a controller," said Liz Hamren, CVP of gaming experiences and platforms. Hamren also said that Microsoft is building its own hardware specifically for this purpose—what sounds like a competitor to Amazon's Fire Stick or the Apple TV, but focused on games.
"We're also developing standalone streaming devices that you can plug into a TV or monitor, so if you have a strong internet connection, you can stream your Xbox experience," said Hamren. She also tried to head off any worries that Microsoft is going all in on cloud gaming by mentioning that Microsoft is already hard at work "on new hardware and platforms" for future consoles.
Microsoft spent the bulk of its presentation hyping up its cloud technology like Azure, the potential of streaming to reach billions of players, and how prominently Game Pass features in its future plans. But the PC did get at least a few nice mentions.
"As we chase financial growth and user engagement, we'll do a lot more in PC for sure," said Xbox CFO Tim Stuart.
"Looking forward, we see continued growth on PC next year through another amazing slate of Xbox Games Studios games and Bethesda games coming to PC," said Xbox boss Phil Spencer. "While at the same time, Game Pass on PC will be a critical part of our Windows gaming strategy."