Xbox Cloud Gaming’s Growth and Evolution

by John Stapel

It’s our mission at Xbox to bring the joy and community to gaming by putting players at the center of everything we do. We want to empower everyone around the world to play the games they want, with the people they want, on the devices they already own. We call this Xbox Everywhere.

As we look to make gaming more accessible to even more people, and reach the three billion players globally, we’ve invested heavily in the cloud – both for players so they can play the way they want, and for creators so they engage new, larger audiences and build, run and manage their games using best-in-class cloud tools and services. We’ve built this in partnership with Azure, which reaches more people than any other cloud provider.

Since launching in 2020, we’ve seen tremendous growth: So far, more than 10 million people around the world have streamed games through Xbox Cloud Gaming (Beta) as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.

Today we reach another key milestone as we expand our business model to make cloud available to more people in even more ways, going beyond Xbox Game Pass to provide our first free-to-play title. In partnership with Epic, Fortnite is available via Xbox Cloud Gaming so fans can play on an iOS device, Android phone or tablet, or Windows PC through web browser. This is just the beginning for us – we’re going to learn, implement feedback, and in time look to bring even more free-to-play titles to players through the cloud.

Our continued growth and ability to enable new business models has been driven by the way we’ve evolved cloud to make it part of the Xbox ecosystem. We started off on Android only running off Xbox One S servers in our datacenters. Since then, Cloud Gaming upgraded to Custom Xbox Series X servers, and launched on Windows PCs, Apple phones and tablets, Xbox One and Xbox Series S|X, and we’ve even started rolling it out on Steam Deck. We’ve also seen the community load it up on some unconventional devices via browser, although it looks like they were having a lot of fun. In total, players across all 26 countries have played on more than 6,000 types of devices, from various flavors of Android phones to a range of PCs and iPhones from all generations.

We’ve also enabled Cloud Gaming in more places, like Mexico, Japan, Australia, and Brazil. The gaming community has been phenomenal in all these new countries, and Brazil in particular has blown away our expectations. Adoption was so overwhelming in the first couple weeks that the demand from fans exceeded our server capacity to the point we had to quickly move to deploy more hardware to keep up with demand. The support we’ve seen going to new countries, paired with making more games available on more devices, has led to encouraging results. In the months ahead, you should expect cloud gaming to become available in even more places – we can’t wait to share more.

None of this would be possible without great content. We are in a unique position of not only having a first-party cloud that can deliver the games, but a rich history in gaming inclusive of expansive studios making titles across genres. Since launching under two years ago, we’ve worked with over 125 developers to make more than 350 games from the Xbox Game Pass catalog cloud enabled. We’ve also seen the power of cloud as a discovery mechanism by reducing the time to simply try out and play new games. On average, Xbox Game Pass players who use cloud, discover and play nearly twice as many games as Xbox Game Pass members who don’t play on cloud.

The way games are being delivered to devices has also evolved – when we began all of our games followed a lift-and-shift model to make it as easy as possible for studios to make games playable on cloud. Without the need to make any code changes, games would simply just work on our cloud platform. This has been a great way to build up the catalog with hundreds of games, and many games play wonderfully this way.

We’ve evolved over time and are also making it possible for games to be Cloud Aware; simple changes from the developer can enhance the whole experience. They may choose to add touch controls – either a basic overlay to fully custom controls like you see with Hades – or optimizing font size based on the device being streamed to. We launched cloud gaming with one cloud aware game: Minecraft Dungeons with custom touch controls. There are now more than 150 cloud-aware games featuring touch, and we’ve found games with touch controls lead to more engagement. On average, we see 2x increase in play for games that have touch controls, and 20% of Xbox Cloud Gaming users use touch exclusively.

Cloud aware titles also extend to more intensive games, making it possible to play Gen-9 titles on Xbox One via the cloud. A great example of this is Microsoft Flight Simulator. It became available via cloud on March 1, and quickly became the most played cloud game on phones, tablets, PCs and consoles for the month of March. Players who otherwise wouldn’t have access to Gen-9 titles now have the opportunity to jump in on the devices they own.

I’ll never forget the first time I played a console game on my mobile phone powered by the cloud; it was quite simply a magical experience. That was many years ago as we’ve been on this cloud journey for some time alongside a wonderful and engaged player community and incredible content partners. Together, we believe we have a bright future ahead for all players and creators.