Microsoft is putting a lot of energy into promoting its Game Pass subscription services. While it’s not included in the base subscription, Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly xCloud) could be its big play for the future, but that future might be a little further off than we thought. Microsoft confirms it was working on a streaming dongle code-named Keystone, but it has decided to scrap that project and start over.
Microsoft’s Game Pass offerings are a bit convoluted, spanning both PC and Xbox with platform-specific subscriptions and an all-in sub that adds cloud gaming. That $15 per month Ultimate plan lets you download a selection of titles on your local gaming hardware (PC or Xbox), but you can also stream a subset of games to a browser, mobile device, Xbox, or PC. The addition of a streaming dongle a la the Chromecast to expand compatibility seems like an easy win, but Microsoft isn’t so sure.
Keystone would have been a small HDMI-equipped device that could bring Xbox Cloud Gaming to any TV or monitor. According to Microsoft, it will take what it learned making Keystone and apply that to new game streaming hardware. However, it doesn’t have any timelines or even vague concepts to share right now. Microsoft is starting from scratch.
When Google announced Stadia, the availability of inexpensive Chromecast devices was cited as a significant advantage, but Stadia hasn’t exactly been lighting up the internet. Developers seem mostly uninterested in porting AAA games to Google’s platform. It’s possible that Microsoft only felt it needed the streaming stick, which it pre-announced in 2021, as a foil to Google’s streaming platform. Xbox Cloud Gaming has some major advantages over Google, even in what most consider a dry spell for Game Pass.
Microsoft is probably feeling much more secure with its cloud gaming prowess right now. Unlike Google, Microsoft has a raft of first-party titles from the studios it has gobbled up in recent years, like Bethesda and Activision-Blizzard. It promises all Microsoft Game Studio titles will come to Game Pass on day-one, although they might not all be available to stream right away.
We don’t know what form Microsoft’s streaming explorations will take. The company is committed to boosting Game Pass subscription numbers, but is it so committed that it will create a dongle that competes with the Xbox? Sony is set to roll out its updated PS Plus service, which supports downloadable and streaming games, but it will only work on Sony consoles and PC. Without a strong challenge from Google, there’s little reason for Microsoft to make a cheap streaming dongle.
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