By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
We’ve discussed game streaming here before, with the Amazon Luna service (and how it got better over time), Google’s Stadia, and Sony’s PlayStation Now streaming service all getting their own treatment in past articles.
It was inevitable, then, that we’d eventually get around to Xbox’s cloud gaming service and how well it works. Now that we have, the verdict is a mixed bag. Overall, though, it’s a “not bad,” with the games enhanced for touch controls on Android and iOS devices a really nice feature. It could be a real game changer for the way I play. The ability to pick up again right where I left off, on a different machine or device, isn’t necessarily anything new. Cloud saves have been around for a while. But it was nice to be able to start a game on my phone, and continue on my laptop with a real controller when I got home. I also don’t have to wait for the kids to pull from the console, or go to bed, before playing the games I want to play, and we can all share the same digital library with our linked family accounts.
That isn’t to say that the experience wasn’t without problems. My attempt to stream the DC themed fighting game injustice 2 didn’t go well at all. It was during peak usage time, and the kids were streaming a program to the living room television, and downloading console game updates in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Nicole was streaming an audiobook from the library. But I’ve streamed Stadia content with less video glitches than I saw in that attempt to play injustice.
Because of how poorly things performed on my laptop, I wasn’t optimistic that the experience would be any better on my smart phone, but that is where I was wrong.
The next game I tested on the Xbox streaming service was the classic fable in the Anniversary Edition released for Xbox 360. Unlike injustice, which I first tried to play on the laptop with an Xbox controller, I started this game on my phone after filtering for games with optimized touch controls. With the issues I’d seen on my previous attempt I wasn’t over optimistic, but figured going with an older game might make the emulation and streaming easier on the less powerful phone format.
Not only was I pleasantly surprised – as the game streamed and played beautifully, even if the on-screen control scheme layout did take some getting used to – but when I tried the game later on my laptop I found that it had actually played more smoothly on my phone.
Controls were fairly responsive on the laptop with a wired Xbox controller, with only minor gameplay video glitches. But there were noticeable frame rate issues during cutscenes, especially transitions. It didn’t render it unplayable, like the issues with injusticebut it did impact my enjoyment.
The other downside is that, unlike Luna and Stadia, which can run through your browser on your PC, to stream Xbox games on your laptop or desktop PC you need to install Microsoft’s Xbox app from the Windows store.
It could very well be that the issues I’ve been having with streaming through the Xbox application on PC have to do with my settings inside the application. Or it could have something to do with my PC video settings. It might be less a problem with the streaming service than it is the perennial problem of PC gaming – how difficult it is to optimize a game (or a game stream) for all the variables of the home PC. It’s why games for the console generally perform more consistently; because the developers know exactly what hardware they’re working with.
Regardless of where the issue lies, the quality of Xbox’s streaming service, as it stands, has me intrigued enough that I think it may be worth the additional $5 a month over the cost for Xbox Live Gold for the Game Pass. If they improve it, so that it performs more consistently, this might be the service that gets me to switch from a PlayStation loyalist to an Xbox gamer.
I find I spend more and more time playing games on my phone, killing time between meetings or before appointments. But so much of the mobile gaming world is shallow and unrewarding. Being able to jump into a full game experience, even if just for a few minutes, that I can then pick up later on my computer or console, while also earning achievements and keeping up with the gaming friends I already have, that’s the kind of games as service model I can get behind.
Xbox might take the win here not because they have a better streaming service than Stadia (they don’t), or because Amazon can’t seem to get out of their own way in the gaming ecosystem. If they hook me, and other gamers, on cloud gaming it’s going to be because the Game Pass experience integrates so seamlessly with their already existing ecosystem. Gamers already have buy-in here. They have achievements. They have friends they’ve played with for years. They have games they’ve already purchased, and gamertags that they identify with. Gamers are invested in the Microsoft ecosystem, and they have firm expectations for what an Xbox experience is. If Microsoft can successfully extend that to the streaming world – regardless of the hardware their gamers are using, as long as they have the necessary bandwidth – the winner of the console wars might also be the company that finally transcends the console.
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