Google may have stolen the show at this year’s Game Developer Conference with its Stadia cloud gaming reveal, but Microsoft is hard at work on its own service, xCloud, that it’s already testing now. At a GDC developer session yesterday, Microsoft representatives from the xCloud team gave us a little more detail into how games designed for Xbox consoles will translate over to mobile devices, where players might be used to either a Bluetooth controller or on-screen touch controls.
xCloud, like Stadia, is designed to be a cloud gaming service that will stream high-quality, console and PC-grade experiences to any screen. Microsoft is starting with its existing Xbox library of games, with a focus on first-party titles like Forza Horizon 4, and Android phones, given Microsoft’s willingness these days to work across operating systems and platforms. (It’s also worth pointing out that Microsoft no longer has a phone platform of its own.)
Of course, streaming a game designed to be played on a controller to a mobile device, where users might be without a Bluetooth controller and using touch controls instead, will present a bit of a challenge. According to Gus Apostol, a principal program manager working on xCloud, the way that will work without requiring developers to entirely rearchitect their games is through a set of xCloud-specific developer tools, including the Touch Adaptation Kit tool and Microsoft’s cloud aware APIs.
As for the cloud aware APIs, Microsoft says it’s developing them specially to take advantage of how xCloud users might play a game on mobile devices. That includes the implantation of new save states in the event that people register shorter play sessions in a game not originally designed for bite-sized playing. The APIs will also let developers easily adjust visual interface items like text legibility and menu layout, so that they function better on smaller screens.
We still don’t know much else about xCloud in its current form. Apostol wouldn’t say anything about when the service is supposed to arrive or even when it might be open to beta testers. However, following Google’s Stadia reveal, Xbox chief Phil Spencer sent out a division-wide memo, since leaked to Thurrott.com, that illustrated that Microsoft was closely paying attention to the competition.
“Google went big today and we have a couple of months until E3 when we will go big,” Spencer wrote in the memo. “We have to stay agile and continue to build with our customer at the center. We have the content, community, cloud team and strategy, and as I’ve been saying for a while, it’s all about execution. This is even more true today.”