We don't have a crystal ball handy, but if you ask Microsoft, the company will tell you that the future of playing games will at least partially be driven by streaming titles from the cloud. That is Microsoft's vision with Project xCloud, an ambitious streaming platform. Microsoft has not shared a ton of details about the upcoming service, though it did reveal that all digital Xbox One games currently in the Microsoft Store on Xbox will be capable of streaming to a mobile device.
More on that in a moment, but first, let's take a step back for a moment. Microsoft describes Project xCloud as "the future of gaming" where gamers are empowered to play the games they want with the people they want, wherever they are and on any device. That means streaming a hit title to a tablet or smartphone.
As with other similar services, this also means offloading the heavy lifting to the cloud. In this case, Microsoft is building the requisite hardware to deploy in data centers, and in fact has starting doing that in its data center in Quincy, Washington. In its current iteration, the hardware essentially consists of server blades outfitted with multiple Xbox One components.
Now here's where things get interesting.
"Yes, you can play your Xbox games on mobile! Project xCloud is enabling Console Native games to stream through our Azure-hosted game servers and streaming clients," Microsoft explains on the Game Developers Conference (GDC) website. "Any Console Native game currently shipping in the Microsoft Store on Xbox will be capable of streaming to a mobile device."
Microsoft also said that Project xCloud is an "open platform with a customizable Client UX where streaming starts with Xbox game developers not having to modify a single line of existing game code." That's huge, as it means gamers will be able to play any digital Xbox One game on any device, rather than only a limited selection of titles.
Of course, there is the issue of latency, which is one of the reasons why streaming game services have been slow to become popular. Microsoft insists it has a handle on things, though, and that Project xCloud is progressing nicely. It's even started developing game controllers for smartphones, for its Project xCloud service.
Perhaps just as importantly, Microsoft is not looking to replace home consoles, which it says will still offer a flagship gaming experience. At the same time, the promise is that Project xCloud will deliver "console quality gaming on any device." Time will tell.