Xbox Game Pass Ultimate launches the ability to stream games from the cloud, starting tomorrow, September 15th. This gives subscribers in 22 countries the ability to play full console games on an Android device. Like Netflix, you are not hosting anything locally. Instead, you control what is actually a video feed that is fed into your device from a remote computer. And I hope this is the last time I will have to explain cloud gaming because technology is about to go mainstream. Or at least that’s the goal for Microsoft (and competitors like Google and Nvidia). But the problem is no longer the technology. That part works. The question is what is in your hands and at home.
When moving items like letters and packages, the most expensive part of shipping is the last mile. It requires the most time and effort. Something similar happens with remote play. Microsoft can build a pristine network on the backbone of the Internet to deliver games to its customers in an instant, but when this video feed hits a person̵
On the one hand, this is a problem with home networks – or mobile data problem when traveling. But I think the more pronounced complication is with the hardware you use to interface with cloud games.
Microsoft wants to get more subscribers at its $ 15 per share. Month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which includes cloud streaming at no extra cost. This service has 150 plus games and will be even more soon. You can find the full list at the Xbox News Blog.
But for this to work, Microsoft will have to pay close attention to the last mile of experience.
Phone clips and other questionable solutions for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
The most obvious way to play a cloud streaming game is on your phone, but what do you need to do for controls? You can use the buttons on the screen if you are an animal, but most people want a controller. These games are made for gamepads and you need one. And there is no really comfortable way to combine your phone and a controller into one cohesive gaming device. Instead, we are currently selecting the phone clip.
These clips are pieces of plastic that wrap around your gamepad and then squeeze your phone over it. This is a functional form factor and it’s the best thing I can say. Even at its best, they are uncomfortable. It’s all too heavy and too shaky. For example, I do not like to use this setup when I go to bed because it feels like the phone is falling out. It probably won’t, but it feels like it will. Unconsciously, I end up squeezing the clip and the phone a bit in a way that tired my hands.
But even outside of comfort, it’s just a miserable experience. The clamp always hits my volume knob, so I have to balance the device a bit. This ends up with me holding the controller outside the center so the screen is still in the right place. It’s not a great experience.
You want something better
I found a smartphone cloud gaming setup like me do like though. Razer’s Kishi is a universal snap on gamepad that the company designed for phones. The one I tested works with almost any Android handheld device and you can get it for $ 80 (or $ 100 with Xbox branding).
Kishi is amazing in many ways. It’s decent as a controller, but I appreciate that it’s not Bluetooth. Instead, it connects directly to your phone for low latency playback. The design makes your phone feel a bit like a switch, which is my favorite way to play handheld games.
But I do not love Kishi. It’s a good device like me like use, but it is this separate clumsy thing that you have to buy and carry with you if you want to play. And generally do not like to have my phone stuck in something like a shell or clamp. Typically, I keep my phone straight with me when I play something, but I lose it when I use Kishi to play. This stinks when I feel like checking out social media under a long loading screen.
All of this makes me wish I could get Microsoft’s xCloud streaming on Switch (without homebrew solutions). However, Nintendo does not seem open to it. So I want to welcome a dedicated handheld Xbox. Maybe something great for running indie games and then being able to stream the rest from the cloud. Maybe get started with the Surface Duo team on a sleek controller add-on, and then let me use my second monitor while playing games. I would probably still wait for another generation of Duo, but I would strongly consider it if it contained a solution to the cloud gaming form factor issue.
Microsoft knows what it needs
The one thing I can say about Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and cloud gaming is that Microsoft seems to understand these issues. It has partnered with Samsung and Razer to specifically address these concerns. During Samsung’s Unpacked event in August, Phil Spencer joined the broadcast to talk about bringing Game Pass to Galaxy phones. And having hardware partnerships like this can prove to be important. If Microsoft is thinking of something it wants or needs to improve streaming, Samsung is the market leader. It can do something and others will follow.
But it goes beyond phones and consoles. Samsung also makes televisions, and the idea of getting the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate directly to a smart TV is compelling. If all you need to get started with games is install an app on the TV you already have in your family room, Game Pass may end up catching up quickly. And again, these would mean that you have to spend for these processes to get an Xbox gamepad with certain TVs.
Microsoft can make this work and I hope it does. I’m too busy for traditional console games. Give me something that can move with me, runs high-end games well and is as comfortable as the switch. It’s not at that level yet, but Game Pass seems to understand that path.