Xbox Cloud Gaming now available on consoles

Most but not all of the 100+ titles currently available on Xbox Game Pass are compatible with Cloud Gaming. Available games are marked with a cloud icon in the lower right-hand corner of the title card. (Thomas Wilde Photo)

As part of the slow roll of big Xbox announcements this week, Microsoft said on Wednesday that its Cloud Gaming service is now available on Xbox One and Series X|S consoles in 25 regions, including the United States.

Microsoft had previously announced that the Cloud Gaming would arrive on consoles at some point this year, but had not offered a specific date.

The new feature allows Game Pass Ultimate subscribers to play an assortment of games straight off of Microsoft’s cloud servers without needing to download or install anything. Cloud-compatible game sā€” which appears to be most, but not all, of the current Game Pass lineup ā€” are labeled in the app with a cloud icon.

Xbox owners should note that the service may not be immediately available on console startup without the installation of a new 650MB system update. I found that my Series X didn’t automatically start the update on launch and I had to manually trigger it through the Settings menu. If you’re a Game Pass Ultimate subscriber and you don’t see any Cloud Gaming options, you may be in the same boat. Once that’s sorted, however, compatible games have a new Play button in their installation screen.

As a useful side effect for Xbox fans who haven’t been able to secure a Series X|S yet, Cloud Gaming allows Xbox One owners to play cloud-compatible current-generation exclusives, such as The Medium and Recompile, on their old hardware at full X|S-quality resolutions. More Xbox exclusives are slated to join the Cloud Gaming roster in early 2022, including the 2021 Microsoft Flight Simulator.

The other advantage to Cloud Gaming for a service like the Xbox Game Pass is the “try before you buy” aspect. Under the previous system, you still had to download local files to play titles on Game Pass, but Cloud Gaming lets you jump into a new game in under a minute.

To play Game Pass games off the cloud, look for the Play button in the installation UI. (Photo: Thomas Wilde)

There’s an immediacy to the process that really helps the Game Pass’ intended purpose as what Xbox VP Sarah Bond calls a “discovery engine”; you can surf into and out of games in seconds. If the standard Game Pass is a restaurant, Cloud Gaming makes it an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The disadvantage, as with any other cloud-based gaming initiative, is that it’s a massive bandwidth hog. Even if you deliberately dial your stream quality back to 1080p or lower, any protracted use of Xbox Cloud Gaming will smash you straight into any data caps you might have. If you’re working off of residential, unstable, or wireless internet service, Cloud Gaming is anywhere from useless to actively detrimental.

That same bandwidth consumption also makes Cloud Gaming an unreliable option for games with always-online functionality, such as Outriders or State of Decay 2. You can still play them, but in my experience, lag will probably be a factor.

The rollout of Cloud Gaming on Xbox consoles completes a lineup of compatible devices that includes iOS, Android, and web browsers. According to Microsoft head of product Catherine Gluckstein, Xbox Cloud Gaming is now available for more than a billion devices worldwide.

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