Microsoft's game-streaming service Project xCloud has been in preview for only a month, but already the library has grown from four games to over 50 and the company has just announced the service is rolling out to Canada, India, Japan and Western Europe. But the plan isn't to stop there – not even close.
Microsoft team has big aspirations for Project xCloud, it wants to see the streaming service on every device possible and to reach every gamer in the world, eventually.
But world domination takes time, and Microsoft is in no rush to convert everyone to their game-streaming service in the next six months.
We sat down with Project xCloud's Kareem Choudhry, corporate vice president, and Catherine Gluckstein, general manager, during a roundable at X019 to discuss xCloud's expansion, roadmap and how it will thrive against the likes of Google Stadia.
Expanding the service
One of the biggest announcements from X019, is that Project xCloud is adding 50 new titles to its preview library, alongside plans to bring Project xCloud to PC next year.
If that's not enough, Project xCloud's preview is also coming to Canada, India, Japan and Western Europe in 2020. Previously the preview has only been available in the UK and US and, while Canada and Western Europe seem like 'safe bets', the move into Japan and India is somewhat of a surprising one.
Japan has always been a tricky area for Xbox to make a mark in, according to the Internal Data Corporation (via CNBC) only 0.3% of the 46.9 million Xbox Ones sold worldwide (in the second quarter of 2019) were in Japan. It's a risky move.
"Japan is a very big console gaming market, but not a traditionally a very big market for Xbox," Gluckstein tells TechRadar. "It's very interesting to see how we play within that market particularly within preview."
Similarly, India is another area that Xbox hasn't shown its strength in. But, through xCloud, it's something the company wants to try to rectify,
"India is a huge gaming market, I think there are more people who play games in India than the population of the US, about 300 million," Gluckstein explains. "So a huge gaming market, but a market we've ever played in before. It's a really interesting place for us to go and learn."
But what exactly is it that Microsoft aims to learn from widening its net, particularly in these areas where Xbox has perhaps struggled to find a foothold previously?
"We're really looking at ramping up the number of players," Gluckstein tells us. "That's about testing concurrency, really testing out our platform and how well we're working as a streaming platform, but then also testing geographies.
"We will be coming to Windows 10 PCs next year. But we're not going to stop there, we’re working with a tonne of partners to bring Project xCloud to every device. In 2020 we will enable anybody who owns games on Xbox to stream those games, and we'll also be bringing game streaming to Xbox Game Pass, which will allow you the freedom to discover and play your games anywhere and everywhere."
By the playbook
While rolling the service out to all these regions may seem like quite a feat, especially given xCloud is still in preview, but Microsoft feels like its nailed down the formula – at least logistically – with the focus now falling on how players engage with the platform itself.
"We kind of have our playbook now, it's actually like if you're a retailer opening new stores," Gluckstein explains. "We kind of know the playbook that we need to go through so we know who we need to partner with, what particularly we're testing for, so in all those markets, we've got a very clear attribute that we're testing on and we really focused it around that. "
But it's not just new geographical areas xCloud is leaning into. Currently the service is only available on Android, well at least publicly. We caught sight of xCloud running on an Apple device at X019, and it seems plans to roll out on iOS are definitely within the crosshairs – although, we're not quite sure when.
"We already have our app up and running," Gluckstein tells us. "It's a prototype right now, we're testing this internally within Microsoft, and obviously we're in discussions with a broad range of partners. And we, we certainly would like to bring it to the iOS ecosystem."
Microsoft is really taking its time to feel out xCloud. With the power of the monolith company's servers at its disposal, the goals to bring the service to "every device", actually don't seem so far fetched. But don't expect to see a fully-fledged version of xCloud anytime soon.
"We really see this as a multi year journey," Gluckstein explains. "So what you want to be very careful with is how you prioritize and where you prioritize your time and investment, and really looking at where those early wins are.
"Because we do see the potential of reaching the 2.6 billion gamers around the world, but then there are your first customers and they're the people that we're trying to prioritize against."
The streaming landscape
It's no secret that one of Project xCloud's biggest competitors will be Google Stadia, but it's not something that's rattled the team or its game plan moving forward – on the surface at least, Microsoft is pretty confident.
"We're more focused on customers and what we can do for them than we are in looking over our shoulder," Choudhry tells us. "We really think the key ingredients are the three Cs: content, community and the cloud. We've got a phenomenal first party cloud in Azure, reaching 54 regions and 140 countries, and so that distribution reach is an incredible asset. We have the content library base, both first party and third party in the Game Pass subscription, and we've got the vibrant multiplayer community already.
"I think that any company that wants to be successful in the streaming space, they're going to need significant investment history heritage and success across all three of those at the same time, and combine them in the right way. So I like our position."
Project xCloud will continue to stay in public preview until the foreseeable future, with Microsoft denying to comment on a release date or pricing.
"It was a very conscious decision to bring Project X cloud to public preview," Choudhry says. "We've done something very similar with console, where we deploy new console updates to a set of consumers, we get their feedback and then we revel on it. For us, it's more important to get this correct than to get something out."