“Consumers looking for an on-demand service won’t find it with Game Pass.” That’s how I ended this 2017 article titled “Xbox Game Pass isn’t the Netflix of Anything.” I’m happy to say that now, in 2021, it finally is.
That’s right. It’s three years later and Xbox Game Pass is the Netflix of Gaming. And it’s all thanks to Microsoft’s excellent “Xbox Cloud Gaming” service, which recently entered beta.
I’ve tested the service and ran it through some paces and, well, I have some thoughts.
The short version is this:
Here’s a more nuanced take: Microsoft’s been telling us for years that “Project X Cloud,” now Xbox Cloud Gaming, would be a big deal. We should have trusted the Redmond company.
Back in 2017 when I wrote my first review of the Game Pass service, I was underwhelmed. It was download-only and featured mostly older games and titles that’d already been given away free with Xbox Live. To put it simply: it was a pale runner-up to Sony’s PlayStation Now service.
In the time since, however, Microsoft has stepped its game up so much that PlayStation Now feels outdated and out of touch by comparison.
In fact, things have changed so much that today I found myself playing Sony’s MLB: The Show 2021 on my Alienware PC through the Microsoft Xbox Cloud Gaming platform in my Google Chrome Browser. And it was (almost) glorious!
My PlayStation 4 Pro sat idly by while I did something that felt almost disrespectful to all the Sony-only gamers who had to shell out $60 to play the game. I used 3rd-party software to trick my PC into thinking my Dual Shock 4 controller was an Xbox controller so I could play the game how it was meant to be played (Cloud Gaming requires the use of a Xbox-compatible controller). And all it took was an internet connection and my Game Pass subscription. All-in-all, a month’s worth of both is still cheaper than buying the game.
I don’t think I can overstate the value of Xbox Game Pass for people whose hobby is gaming. Xbox Cloud Gaming basically unifies the PC and console Game Pass libraries on a single platform. I can play PC-only titles such as Age of Empires III by downloading them from the Game Pass library, and I can play console-only titles such as MLB: The Show 2021 by streaming them. It’s the best of both worlds.
But it’s not perfect.
As you can see, I’ve got decent internet. That’s pretty slow for my service (I pay for 500mbps), but it’s the middle of the day and a lot of people work from home these days. Unfortunately, the service was pretty spotty for me.
When I loaded up The Show, I went straight to practice mode and threw about 30 pitches. This portion of the game requires precise timing in order to reach high levels of accuracy. So, assuming I could time my button presses properly and consistently, it works sort of like an experimental lag meter.
The service worked perfect, when it worked. About half the pitches I threw were in the general area of accurate (I’m not great at the game, but good enough to rarely flub one) and the other half were obviously lagged out.
Bottom line: based on my experience, you’re going to want to play on a computer that’s physically connected to your router/modem via ethernet or similar cable. And even then, it’s still too spotty for competitive play at the moment. That may be location dependent, with users in closer proximity to servers having better luck.
It’s also worth mentioning that Microsoft is currently running Xbox games on special “blades” built for the purpose, but the goal is to upgrade those to Xbox Series One X’s in the near future. That may help alleviate some of the stuttering, freezing, and lag problems.
Microsoft also claims speeds will increase over time, and there’s every reason to believe they will. After all, Xbox Cloud Gaming is, at it’s core, an Azure-based artificial intelligence product. As the algorithms managing the millions of connections between Microsoft’s servers and the clients they serve continue to train on the massive data generated, the AI systems powering them should become more robust and powerful.
Basically, if we want cloud gaming to get better, all we have to do is keep playing games.
You can find out everything you need to know about Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass and Cloud Gaming services right here.