A Few Thoughts About xCloud and the Future of Xbox (Premium)

Yesterday, Microsoft provided its first public demonstration of Project xCloud, its coming cross-platform game streaming service. This one is personal for me: I was among the first, if not the first, to point out that Microsoft should evolve the Xbox platform beyond consoles and PCs. And that, in doing so, it could align these efforts with its cloud prowess and leap past traditional competitors such as Sony and Nintendo.

I still feel very strongly that this is all true, and when Microsoft revealed Project xCloud last October, I was ecstatic. Not so much about being right per se, but rather that the software giant’s plans so closely aligned with how I saw its future. On a deeply personal level, I want Xbox to succeed. I prefer this platform over those of Microsoft’s rivals, I’ve bristled at what I think of as pointless criticism of its strategy, and I’ve long felt that Xbox is the most gamer-centric platform available. Taking Xbox---and with it, Microsoft---to the next level with xCloud just makes sense to me.

Since October, there’s been a lot of speculation, both about xCloud specifically and about how Microsoft will get from here---a world in which it makes hardware consoles and Windows, the superior PC-based gaming platform---to there, a future in which hardware matters much less, if not at all, and the platform shifts from the client to the cloud. Some feel that the current system of console generations and Windows PCs will simply continue forward, while others believe that these antiquated ideas will fade just as surely as VCRs, 8-track players, and Sony’s Minidisc.

My views aren’t quite that extreme.

I see this as a transition, and I believe that consoles, PCs, and xCloud-hosted games beamed to smartphones, tablets, living room set-top boxes, and other devices will co-exist for some period of time. In the beginning, consoles and PCs will provide superior gaming experiences to streaming devices. But that will shift over time, as the convenience of cloud-hosted gaming undercuts the technical superiority of dedicated gaming hardware.

This shift has already started happening, by the way. The reason so many gamers choose consoles from companies like Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft boils down to convenience: They just work. Compared to PCs, which can provide better graphics and performance, they are much simpler. You just turn it on and go. Gaming PCs, by comparison, are complex, expensive, and require constant handholding at a per-game level. It’s like Netflix, but instead of spending more timing finding content than watching it, you could spend more time frigging with in-game settings than actually playing the game.

On the flipside, transitions are tricky for the companies that big stakes in both the present and the future. Consider Microsoft generally: The firm pushes cloud computing, AI, and accessibility really hard right now, and investors are eating up, making the once somnambulant firm among the riche...

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