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Microsoft exec hints at free ad-supported Xbox Cloud Gaming

Microsoft exec hints at free ad-supported Xbox Cloud Gaming

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Xbox Cloud Gaming is only available free for Fortnite right now, but Microsoft might be experimenting with some new business models.

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Microsoft currently offers free access to Fortnite on its Xbox Cloud Gaming service (xCloud), but there are signs the company may offer free game streaming in exchange for ads. Microsoft Gaming CFO Tim Stuart hinted at this prospect in a Wells Fargo TMT Summit interview late last month, spotted by TweakTown.

“The vision I like to talk about is we have xCloud game streaming, so you can subscribe to Game Pass Ultimate and you can stream hundreds of games to really any endpoint that has a browser experience,” explained Stuart. “For models like Africa, or India, Southeast Asia, maybe places that aren’t console-first, you can say, ‘hey, do you want to watch 30 seconds of an ad and then get two hours of game streaming?’”

Stuart’s spitballing makes it clear this is something that Microsoft has been looking at for certain regions, with Xbox Cloud Gaming having expanded to new markets throughout 2022. An ad-supported version of Xbox Cloud Gaming could work well in markets where phone ownership is much higher than traditional consoles or gaming PCs.

Xbox Cloud Gaming is designed for phones and tablets.
Xbox Cloud Gaming is designed for phones and tablets.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

It’s not clear if Microsoft will ever launch such a subscription, though. Work on Xbox Cloud Gaming has slowed over the past year inside Microsoft, sources told me earlier this year. Microsoft was planning to support your existing game library by the end of 2022 in Xbox Cloud Gaming, but it never happened. Microsoft also scrapped plans to launch a separate subscription version of Xbox Cloud Gaming, instead of the service being bundled with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.

Microsoft has experimented with Xbox Cloud Gaming in the past, though. You can play Fortnite for free on the service, with just a Microsoft Account. This free access hasn’t expanded to other games just yet though. It has been successful at marketing cloud gaming, as Microsoft revealed last year that more than 20 million people have streamed games using Xbox Cloud Gaming, boosted by the Fortnite addition.

Internal emails from the FTC v. Microsoft case also show that Microsoft has been planning to stream PC games over the cloud, potentially opening up its Xbox Cloud Gaming service to many more games. Microsoft has also been testing mouse and keyboard support for Xbox Cloud Gaming, but only on the Xbox console side and not PC.