xCloud: Release date, price, details and how it works in Australia

Microsoft's video games streaming service, xCloud, could be the defining feature of the new Xbox Series X console. Here is everything you need to know.

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The key benefits of xCloud

  • You don't need to have a powerful device to play the latest and greatest games. As the game runs on the server, only a minimal amount of power is required from the device in your hands. This means you can play a top tier Xbox Series X game on a basic mobile phone or PC.
  • When you switch between playing on your Xbox console at home, to playing on your mobile phone using xCloud, your progress is saved. So, you start where you left off.
  • You don't have to buy xCloud versions of games; they're included for free as part of your Game Pass Ultimate subscription.

The cons of xCloud

  • Games will be capped at HD resolution; you won't be able to stream 4K video games in the foreseeable future.
  • It will use a lot of data to play games on xCloud, so you will need unlimited plans at the very least.
  • There will be teething issues as video game streaming finds its feet and optimises the experience. You can expect laggy gameplay experiences that aren't as seamless as playing on a local console in the short-term.

The next big thing in the video games industry is streaming. Not streaming gameplay videos or eSports tournaments, but the streaming of the games themselves.

The concept of cloud gaming has been slowly gaining momentum as internet speeds around the world have improved. Google Stadia and Nvidia's GeForce Now have made the most significant strides in this space to date, but it's Microsoft's xCloud service that could take game streaming into the mainstream.

xCloud released during the Xbox One generation in select countries, but is ultimately expected to be one of the defining features that separates the Xbox Series X from the PlayStation 5. Namely, in that playing "Xbox" doesn't mean owning an Xbox.

What is xCloud?

Originally referred to as Project xCloud, before officially settling on the xCloud name, this game streaming service is like Netflix. However, it's for playing games, not watching movies.

With Netflix, you don't house the movie on your local device. It's not downloaded to your TV, phone or computer. And it's not being read off a disc. Instead, the movie is stored on a remote server owned by Netflix. When you press play on any given movie, it streams from the server to your screen microsecond-by-microsecond, deleting itself after consumption. This process is so quick, the experience is as seamless as if you were watching it off your local device or through a cable.

Imagine that same process, however it's a game sitting on a remote server. Now imagine that server is loaded with Microsoft Xbox games and you have xCloud. It's an exciting proposition.

Imagine being able to play your Xbox games on any device at any time no matter where you are. Well you don't have to, you can do it right now. That is what xCloud offers.

How does xCloud work?

Of course, a video game is a lot more complicated than a movie. It's not static; it's dynamic. A two-way street. The player is interacting with the video game, and the video game is responding to those actions. And that relationship goes back 30 or more times a second, if not 60. Meanwhile the visuals being displayed in modern games are super detailed, too.

No wonder it's taken some time for the infrastructure required to stream video games to arrive. And even in 2021, it's only available in some countries (more on that in a bit.) But this is the technological feat xCloud looks to achieve.

xCloud looks to get around some of the infrastructure challenges seen in various countries by leveraging Microsoft's powerful Azure Cloud network. Microsoft has invested ludicrous sums of money installing huge datacentres into key locations around the world, including a few locations here in Australia.

What's interesting is that when xCloud launched on 15 September 2021, xCloud was using Xbox One technology in those datacentres to run xCloud. In fact, each server had the equivalent power of four Xbox One S consoles. However, in 2021, those datacentres were upgraded to Xbox Series X tech, which provided a huge boost to server speed and power.

As of October 2021, all you will need to play xCloud is an Game Pass Ultimate subscription (more on that below), the Game Pass app, a compatible controller and a 5GHz wi-fi router delivering a minimum of 10mb/s.

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Australian xCloud hands-on

For testing, I used my LG V30+ smartphone connected via Wi-Fi to my 100Mbps home Internet connection. I went with the Xbox Series X controller as my pad of choice, synced up to my phone over Bluetooth.

Getting started is as simple as downloading the Xbox Game Streaming app from the Google Play store and booting it up. From there, you can scroll through a list of games currently available in the preview phase of the program (see below). Selecting a game throws you to an interstitial loading screen that, I assume, masks the time taken for an appropriate xCloud server to spin up and boot your selected game. The loading time here fluctuated for me from game to game, but typically took around 20 seconds.

The first game I tried out was Halo: The Master Chief Collection. I was immediately impressed by how sharp the game looked. By shrinking a 1080p game down to a phone screen, the visuals at times seem even crisper than they do on a regular Xbox hooked up to a TV.

Streaming performance was surprisingly solid, too. That said, I wouldn't mistake it for playing on my home console. There's a very slight lag to every action, most noticeable by the delay in sound effects when you fire a gun or throw a grenade. What's important, though, is that this latency is relatively consistent. That meant I could get used to it and account for it in my actions. After a while, I stopped noticing it altogether.

For games that run at 30fps, the streaming experience manages to feel even closer to playing on your home console. Destiny 2 works remarkably well, and I noticed minimal latency during my testing. Minecraft Dungeons is another prime candidate for streaming, with performance nearly indistinguishable from local play.

So far, I've had a great time with xCloud. While it's not as smooth or responsive as playing on your own Xbox One or Xbox Series X|S, most of the games I've tested are perfectly playable. That, coupled with the convenience of playing full-blown Xbox One games on your phone without having to download or install anything, makes xCloud an exciting technology worth keeping an eye on.

When did xCloud come out?

Surprisingly, xCloud originally launched two months before the Xbox Series X console. The scheduled released date was 15 September 2020. It launched simultaneously in 22 countries with plans to then scale up from there as Microsoft iterate and test the experience.

When was xCloud released in Australia?

Microsoft officially released xCloud in Australia on 1 October 2021. At the time, it was only available through the Xbox app on PCs and mobiles. However, in December 2021 you'll be able to start playing games on the Xbox consoles via xCloud. This includes new releases such as Back 4 Blood, Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite.

While Australia was not included in the original 22 countries that launched xCloud, that was not particularly unexpected. Australia's internet infrastructure, even following the completion of the nbn rollout, isn't spectacular. In fact, the likeminded Google Stadia, which released in November 2019 overseas, still has no Australian release date in sight.

List of Xbox games available on xCloud

During the preview period, the following games are available to play in the xCloud preview in Australia.

  • ARK: Survival Evolved
  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Black Desert
  • Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
  • Code Vein
  • Cricket 19
  • DayZ
  • Dead by Daylight: Special Edition
  • Destiny 2
  • Devil May Cry 5
  • eFootball PES 2020
  • F1® 2019
  • Forza Horizon 4
  • Gears 5
  • Halo Wars 2: Standard Edition
  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection
    • Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
    • HITMAN
    • Just Cause 4
    • Minecraft Dungeons - Windows 10
    • Ori and the Will of the Wisps
    • PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds
    • Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
    • Sea of Thieves
    • Shadow of the Tomb Raider
    • Sid Meier's Civilization VI
    • Skyforge
    • Smite
    • Stellaris: Console Editio
    • Tekken 7
    • WWE 2K20
    • Yakuza 0

How much is xCloud?

In a huge win for gamers, xCloud will be free to Game Pass Ultimate subscribers. So, it will be rolled into what you get already at no additional cost.

The Game Pass service is already rather excellent, offering a revolving library of over 100 games that players can access, download and play whenever they want. And with xCloud, you'll have the option to take the "download' out of that equation; it will be access, stream and play.

Game Pass Ultimate is the top tier of the Game Pass offering, which rolls the Xbox Live Gold subscription into the package as well. So, you get all the online features as well as access to all the Game Pass titles in the one cost. From 15 September 2020, you could also get xCloud (if you're in the right country). For Australia, that landed on 1 October 2021. And the one Game Pass account works across Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Windows 10 PCs.

With all that in mind, the price of xCloud is effectively the price of Game Pass Ultimate. In Australia, it costs $15.95/month.

Where to buy xCloud?

As xCloud will be part of the Game Pass Ultimate subscription, the best place to buy xCloud is the best place to buy the Game Pass Ultimate. You can buy it directly through Microsoft, and that is likely your best bet if you are buying it for yourself. However, if you're buying it as a gift or to use it later, cards can also be bought from retailers like JB Hi-Fi and eBay.

What formats is xCloud available on?

At launch, xCloud was available on Android devices. In Autumn 2021, the service rolled out on PC and iOS, too. In December 2021 it will appear on Xbox consoles themselves. If you're wondering what the benefit is of streaming an Xbox game to an Xbox console, it's that you don't need to have hard drive space to install it. Plus, you don't have to wait for it to download.

In addition, Microsoft has revealed that an Xbox app should start appearing on smart TVs in 2021, bringing xCloud onto screens all through the family home. However, as of October, there's been no confirmation that Microsoft will hit that target.

In Spring 2021, we will take the next step in our journey to reach more players around the world by making cloud gaming as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate available on Windows PCs through the Xbox app and browser, and iOS devices through mobile web browser. By adding over a billion devices as a path to playing in the Xbox ecosystem, we envision a seamless experience for all types of players.”

CVP of Microsoft Gaming, Jerret West

What games can you play on xCloud?

At launch, Microsoft has stated that 100 games will be available to stream using xCloud. It would be fair to assume that majority of these titles will be the ones already available on Game Pass. However, given that there does need to be some work from developers to redefine the controls for use on touchscreens, that may not be a foregone conclusion.

As it stands, the following games have been confirmed for the xCloud streaming service.

List of xCloud games.

  • Ark: Survival Evolved
  • Bleeding Edge
  • Costume Quest 2
  • Crackdown 3 (campaign)
  • Destiny 2
  • F1 2019
  • Forza Horizon 4
  • Gears of War: Ultimate Edition
  • Gears of War 4
  • Gears 5 Ultimate Edition
  • Grounded
  • Halo 5: Guardians
  • Halo Wars: Definitive Edition
  • Halo Wars 2
  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection
  • Halo: Spartan Assault
  • Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice
  • Killer Instinct Definitive Edition
  • Max: The Curse of Brotherhood
  • Minecraft Dungeons
  • The Outer Worlds
  • Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps
  • Quantum Break
  • ReCore: Definitive Edition
  • Ryse: Son of Rome
  • Sea of Thieves: Anniversary Edition
  • State of Decay 2: Juggernaut Edition
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Super Lucky's Tale
  • Tell Me Why
  • The Bard's Tale Trilogy
  • Wasteland 2: Director's Cut
  • Wasteland 3
  • Wasteland Remastered
  • Yakuza Kiwami 2

How fast must your internet be to use xCloud?

Interestingly, the official minimum specs for xCloud refer to a 5GHz wi-fi connection (as opposed to the alternative 2.4 GHz connection found on older routers). If you have a router that outputs Wi-Fi via the 802.11a, 802.11g or 802.11n standards – effectively any router released in the last decade - then you should be right. We have more information on routers here.

Once you're sure you're working on the 5GHz bandwidth, you then need to have a minimum internet speed of 10mb/s to play xCloud. We reckon that's a low target, however, We'd want triple that or more to feel comfortable of having no lag issues.

How important is xCloud to the Xbox Series X?

The Xbox Series X is the next-generation console Microsoft is releasing in November 2020. That same month, main rival Sony is releasing its new console, the PlayStation 5. They're going head-to-head in pursuit of gamers' dollars. And for Microsoft, the Xbox Series X is starting on the back foot. After all, the PS4 outsold the Xbox One more than two-to-one in the current generation of consoles.

As such, Microsoft really needs to provide a significant point of difference with its console to swing momentum back its way. Potentially the biggest factor in the Xbox Series X's favour is Game Pass and a key part of that is xCloud. So yes, xCloud is a very important feature that is a major weapon for Microsoft in the next-generation console war.

xCloud vs Game Pass: What's the difference?

You may be wondering why Microsoft had to release xCloud when it already has Game Pass available on Xbox and PC. On face value, they may seem like very similar products that allow you to play the same roster of Xbox games. But that is not the case.

With the Game Pass library, you still download the games to your hard drive and play them off your local Xbox or PC. With xCloud, you never download the game, but instead stream it from a remote server.

Why is that distinction important? Because when you download the game to your local hard drive, in runs on your local machine. Your local machine needs to be powerful enough to play the game. However, if you're streaming the game from a remote server, the game is running on that server. As such, your local machine doesn't need to be that powerful at all.

That's why xCloud lets you play an Xbox Series X game on your mobile, but Game Pass does not.

What controller do you use on xCloud?

There are a host of options available for playing Xbox video games on non-Xbox devices. Your Xbox One controller and the Xbox Series X controller both sync with iOS devices, Android devices and a PC. So, you can just use your usual console controller if you want.

When it comes to mobile devices and tablets, the controller inputs for xCloud compatible games have been redone for touch controls. One of the first developers to talk about this process was The Coalition, who most recently released Gears 5 (read: Gears of War 5), a third-person cover-based shooter.

By using custom layouts, The Coalition has allowed for all the console abilities to work via a combination of the touchscreen and the gyro controls. The studio has spoken of having these on-screen controls disappear during cutscenes. It's also revealed that there will be layers beneath button presses, opening more relevant actions that would usually have their own inputs.

In addition, there's a number of third-party xCloud controllers that attach to mobile devices to give them a more traditional handheld feel. Perhaps the leader of the batch is the Razer Kishi, which clamps an Android phone (iOS version to come) within its case in such a fashion as to make it look – and play – like a Nintendo Switch.

The MOGA XP5-X Plus Bluetooth Controller is more like your normal Xbox controller. However, it has a bracket on the top that holds the phone up above the controller. This gives you the feeling of playing like you are using a TV, albeit a very small one.

The 8BitD's SN30 Pro Controller takes a similar approach, but opts for a simpler, retro controller that reminds us of the old SNES. Razer also has an above the controller mount alternative as well. It's called the Razer Raiju Mobile. NACON is also making a controller for the xCloud service, although it hasn't been revealed as of the time of writing.

More xCloud controllers will no doubt emerge after release.

Early history of xCloud

The year we need to focus on when we think of xCloud is 2018. At that time, rumours began spreading about a Microsoft initiative called Scarlett Cloud. This eventually became Project xCloud, and then just xCloud. Here were the main hints in 2018 that Microsoft saw xCloud being a big part of its future.

  1. Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, spoke during his E3 2018 keynote address of the company's attention being drawn to streaming. He stated: "Our focus is on bringing console quality games that you see on TV or PC to any device."
  2. Prior to E3, at the DICE Summit, Spencer spoke openly about Microsoft's acceptance of change. He said; "It was obvious Microsoft needed a reboot. Morale had hit a low, we were all massively frustrated we kept missing big trends. In some ways, it felt like real innovation was impossible."
  3. In an interview with Business Insider in late January 2018, Spencer said: "I'm bullish on Game Pass' long-term potential to allow people to play the games they want on the devices they want. And I think that, as we continue to build the audience for Game Pass, our discussions with third parties will continue to grow."
  4. Back to E3 2018, and Spencer acknowledged publicly for the first time that there is a new Xbox console on the way. He declared: "In this significant moment, we are constantly challenging ourselves: where can we take gaming next? The same team that delivered unprecedented performance with Xbox One X is deep into architecting the next Xbox consoles, where we will once again deliver on our commitment to set the benchmark for console gaming."
  5. In late July 2019, just ahead of the first Xbox Scarlett Cloud leak, Ubisoft co-founder and CEO Yves Guillemot backed the idea of a streaming console, telling Variety: "I think we will see another generation, but there is a good chance that step-by-step we will see less and less hardware. With time, I think streaming will become more accessible to many players and make it not necessary to have big hardware at home. There will be one more console generation and then after that, we will be streaming, all of us."
  6. EA also pointed to this future during its E3 2018 conference. The company showed footage of console quality FIFA action streaming from the cloud and being played on a mobile device. EA's chief technology officer Ken Moss said: "I truly believe it is going to revolutionize how games are experienced. We have watched it, studied it, have been working on it for a while now and we really believe that strong future is right about now."

List of countries with xCloud

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovakia
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Xbox Series X pre-order guide

Where to buy the Xbox Series X in Australia [Updated]

Where to buy the Xbox Series X in Australia [Updated]

Microsoft's next-generation Xbox has officially launched. Here are all the places you can buy the Xbox Series X in Australia.

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