Today Microsoft's xCloud has finally gone into public beta, allowing all Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers with an Android device to stream games of their choice to their mobile device. An even better offer than you might first think, as it includes several games not currently available on PC.
The Pocket Gamer team has been feverishly playing the new streaming service across a variety of devices and connections, and we're ready to give you our initial impressions. But unlike the last time, a game streaming service launched on mobile, this time we have something to compare it to.
Google Stadia launched last year to very little fanfare, and it has merely existed ever since. We spent some time with the service and came out feeling fairly deflated, especially when it came to playing on a mobile device. Now that xCloud has launched, Microsoft has the chance to blow Stadia out of the water, and cement themselves as the dominant streaming platform, at least on mobile devices.
So we've pitted our impressions of the xCloud beta today with our impressions of Google Stadia, and you'll find the results below. If you have the urge to play some AAA experiences on the go, this is where you'll get them.
One of the big selling points of game streaming is picture quality. You will be able to play a game that couldn't possibly run on your mobile device, and the image you see should be far better than your phone could ever process by itself. So without a clear image, you probably won't be enjoying the service as much as you should.
Back when we played Google Stadia on mobile, we found the picture quality to be stunning. Honestly, if you stood still in any location in Destiny 2 you would be blown away by the image. The skyboxes in Destiny 2 are beautiful, and the models of everything look incredibly detailed. It's a stunning game when running in high graphics, and on Google Stadia it looks great.
Microsoft's xCloud isn't quite as good. This is at least partially down to the fact that xCloud streams a 720p video to you, compressing the image first, and then the resulting image looks distinctly… streamed. It's not terrible on a smaller mobile screen but certainly appears to be a step-down from Google Stadia.
Both services attempt to deliver 60FPS wherever possible though, and whether it's Destiny 2 on Stadia or Halo 4 on xCloud, both services truly do look incredible when in motion. There are occasional stutters and hitches while playing, which will likely become more frequent if you have a high amount of latency. In our experience, a ping of around 10-20ms delivers a perfectly playable game, while problems occur on a 30ms+ connection.
We've already mentioned that the services both target a 60FPS video feed on a decent connection, which definitely helps playability, but it certainly isn't the deciding factor. In our experience with Google Stadia previously, we stressed that while playing on PC delivered a near-flawless experience, the mobile version was plagued by a poor connection and unplayable latency. Truly unplayable, not the hyperbole unplayable.
So with such a poor prior experience with mobile game streaming on the same connection, we went in. And, shockingly, it works really, really well.
Once through some minor troubleshooting and into Halo 3, it just worked. We played and played, and it just kept working without a single problem. Eventually, I managed to run into an issue: the multiplayer lobby of Gears 5 just refused to load, for whatever reason, constantly attempting to establish a connection.
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice has some graphical issues with flickering lighting early in the game, but as the game continued the issues became less severe, and they'll either be entirely unnoticeable or incredibly distracting once the game starts cranking up the effects. These complaints are truly minor, and I've genuinely had more issues playing Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice on my own PC than I have got it running on my mobile device.
Google Stadia does have a benefit over xCloud in one aspect though, and that is controls. xCloud does support a vast array of controllers immediately, but Google Stadia gives you the option of playing just with your touch screen. This would be a far more convenient for playing a slow-paced game while on the move instead of pulling out a controller and mobile phone holder. xCloud requires the use of some kind of controller, making it slightly less convenient.
Though that last point almost feels moot, seeing as Stadia's latency has, in our experience, made games unplayable on mobile regardless of the interface.
There are more than 50 games available for Google Stadia right now, and many of them are very, very good titles. However, many of them require you to pay a fee separate to your Google Stadia subscription, and the list of games included in the Stadia Pro subscription is… lacking.
Then we look at xCloud. Right now there are 39 games available to stream during the beta period, with Microsoft eventually intending to make their entire Xbox Game Pass library available to stream. Seems like a lofty goal, but unlike Google Stadia, xCloud is just a portion of the subscription you pay for - you also get access to all of these games on PC and Xbox One, and many more.
- Project xCloud comes to Android next month, allowing you to play 100+ Xbox games on your mobile or tablet
The service as it stands right now in beta is already incredibly compelling, and as more games are added next month when the service is officially launched and in the months following, it will only become more compelling. Microsoft hasn't just launched a Google Stadia competitor, they've launched a subscription service which can tempt all Xbox, PC, and Android players.
Unless Google Stadia steps up their value, xCloud is the clear winner in terms of game library and access to those games.
It's important to give Google Stadia credit for the things it does right, and being one of very few game streaming services available on mobile. But even while giving them credit, it's impossible to deny that Microsoft's xCloud is, as of right now, doing almost everything better.
Stream quality certainly looks tidier on Google Stadia, but when it comes to actually choosing and playing a game, Microsoft's service dwarfs Google's in terms of usability and overall experience.
I personally didn't think mobile game streaming would become an important part of the mobile gaming landscape for a long time to come, but Microsoft's xCloud is making me believe that this could be the next essential way to play on mobile.