Over a quarter of the human race, about 2 billion people, play video games. We game on our phones, tablets and consoles, and even old-fashioned PC gaming has never been more popular.
Video games are also expensive. And if you want to play the best games in the world, you need to invest real money into serious hardware. Standard gaming consoles cost a few hundred bucks, and while some graphics cards are so powerful they can run full artificial intelligence systems, they are also more expensive than a lot of computers. The just-released Nvidia RTX 3090 costs $1,499, for example.
Each major gaming company — Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft — will update its flagship console this fall, but the next big platform might not be a box or a plastic disc or even a download. “It’s cloud gaming,” says Microsoft’s vice president of cloud gaming, Kareem Choudhry. “I love what we’re doing on consoles, and we’re also the stewards of gaming on PCs. But I’m going to enable you to get into the games in whatever way you want.”
This month, Game Pass, the tech firm’s Netflix-like subscription gaming service that launched in 2017, merged with Microsoft’s Azure-powered cloud gaming platform xCloud. The result, says Choudhry, is a service that streams high-resolution, computationally intensive games with low latency to a broad spectrum of devices, including mobile phones and low-powered or aging desktop computers.
“Historically, you needed a high-end PC to play games,” says Choudhry. “What we’ve done by merging the cloud with Game Pass is enable people to stream games from the cloud on their smartphones and tablets, in addition to on their consoles and on their PC.”
To provide a cloud gaming experience that feels as responsive as an app installed on your PC, the new Game Pass relies on a number of integrated technologies. The service runs a customized version of the Xbox console operation in the Azure cloud deployed to over 60 global regions. The company also works with local and regional telecommunication companies to optimize data packet routing. If your session is interrupted or the internet connection is shaky, Game Pass uses machine learning to figure out when packets are lost and keeps your session alive until you’re able to reconnect.
Cloud streaming and packet optimization are designed specifically to enhance the Game Pass mobile experience. Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube are successful in large part because of their popular mobile apps. Choudhry says that gaming is a natural evolution of streaming technology. “We want people to have access to a catalog of games. I’m trying to bring that experience to their platforms,” he says.