Microsoft will offer console streaming for free to Xbox One owners

Microsoft’s Sunday E3 pressure was all about the games. In fact, while the company did offer some information about hardware and services, the information all arrived fast and furious at the end of the conference. While it’s probably unsurprising that the company had very little to offer in the way of information about its upcoming 8K console, Project Scarlett, most of us expected Project xCloud to get a lot more face time on stage.

The company powered through a whole lot of information about its upcoming streaming offering like it was going out of style (or, perhaps, like the lights were going out at its own theater). The speed and brevity of it all left a number of audience members confused on the specifics — and caused some to speculate that the service night not be as far along as Microsoft had hoped.

We caught up with a few Microsoft reps on our final day at the show to answer some questions. The company is unsurprisingly still mum on a number of key details around the offering. A couple of key things are worth clarifying, though. For starters console stream is not considered a part of Project xCloud. Rather, the ability to play games on one’s own Xbox One remotely is a separate feature that will be coming to users via a software update.

Asked what advantages console streaming has over the parallel xCloud offering, Microsoft’s answer was simple: it’s free. Fair enough. This serves a two-fold purpose. First, it helps differentiate Microsoft’s streaming offerings from Stadia and second, it provides another value proposition for the console itself. As to how performance is expected to differ between console streaming and XCloud, it wouldn’t comment.

As I wrote earlier today, the company does see the potential of a large scale move to the cloud, but anticipates that such a shift is a long ways off. After all, if it didn’t, it likely wouldn’t have announced a new console this week at E3.

We won’t be listening to music in a decade according to Vinod Khosla

Depending on who you ask, the advantage of technology based on artificial or machine intelligence could be a topsy-turvy funhouse mirror world – even in some very fundamental ways.

“I actually think 10 years from now, you won’t be listening to music,” is a thing venture capitalist Vinod Khosla said on stage today during a fireside chat at Creative Destruction Lab’s second annual Super Session event.

Instead, he believes we’ll be listening to custom song equivalents that are automatically designed specifically for each individual, and tailored to their brain, their listening preferences and their particular needs.

Khosla noted that AI-created music is already making big strides – and it’s true that it’s come a long way in the past couple of years, as noted recently by journalist Stuart Dredge writing on Medium.

As Dredge points out, one recent trend is the rise of mood or activity based playlists on Spotify and channels on YouTube. There are plenty of these types of things where the artist, album and song name are not at all important, or even really surfaced. Not to mention that there’s a big financial incentive for an entity like Spotify to prefer machine-made alternatives, since it could help alleviate or eliminate the licensing costs that severely limit their ability to make margin on their primary business of serving up music to customers.

AI-generated chart toppers and general mood music is one thing, but a custom soundtrack specific to every individual is another. It definitely sidesteps the question of what happens to the communal aspect of music when everyone’s music-replacing auditory experience is unique to the person. Guess we’ll find out in ten years.

What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

How gaming on Microsoft xCloud compares to Google Stadia

Cloud gaming is one of the big topics of excitement ahead of E3. The market is very niche but the technology feels exciting, allowing users to play graphically-complex titles on a bunch of low-powered devices thanks to server farms and fast internet connections.

We had a chance to go hands-on with Google’s Stadia platform at GDC and I/O, now at E3, Microsoft is letting the media test out their previously-announced service xCloud. I’ve spent a bit of time with both, so how do they compare?

The biggest difference is that we still know bizarrely little about xCloud, while many expected the service to be the main topic of discussion at the Xbox E3 event, the service was mentioned for mere seconds as execs focused their energies on Xbox Game Pass and the upcoming Project Scarlett hardware.

Pricing, exact release dates, device support and internet requirements of xCloud are all up in air. We know it’s coming later this year for public use just as Stadia is. There are a lot of question marks, but here’s what we were working with in our demo of server-based gaming on xCloud.

Much like Stadia, xCloud is a streaming service that abides by the laws of nature, like speed of light, so latency is a thing. On the topic of lag — which is one of the big viability questions with these platforms — it seems like Microsoft’s solution is in lockstep with Google Stadia. The naked eye can only detect so much especially in a demo environment where the environment is set up to be perfect, but streaming in LA from servers based in the Bay Area didn’t cause any major problems as I demoed a couple titles briefly.

The easiest way to showcase the latency on these systems seems to be picking up an in-game gun and finding the length of time that passes between trigger press and the muzzle flash. It was perceptible and more so than when I’m playing at home but likely only because I was directing all of my attention to that metric. When it came to frame rates flowing and resolution streaming, the brief demos held up, though again this is a tech platform that’s all about having network perfection in place and demo environments are pretty unreliable representations of standard scenarios.

I saw some hiccups in my Stadia demo, though a system restart rectified them. I didn’t have any issues on xCloud though the demo environments were different in each demo.

One big question mark is whether Xbox is going to release a specialized controller that connects to the Cloud directly to cut down on latency. Stadia has already done this, but this won’t make as big a difference to a lot of Xbox One users who likely won’t bother with buying a new controller to shave off a few milliseconds. That said, as you can see, there was some xCloud-specific branding on the Xbox controllers we used, so there could be some developments here.

Stadia requires a 35 Mbps download connection in order to play 4K games, we don’t know anything about the xCloud standards there, but I’d imagine expectations should be kept fairly similar though you might have to worry about both ends of the equation if you’re streaming from your personal Xbox on a home network to a mobile device elsewhere.

What’s a bit fascinating is how both Microsoft and Google chose to showcase the advances in their streaming technology. While Google showcased Stadia as a console replacement, xCloud’s demo reframed the service as a way to bring console gaming on-the-go.

This isn’t entirely revolutionary as services like Sony’s Remote Play offered some of this functionality, but the scope of support could be larger here. Our demo was on a Samsung Galaxy device attached to an Xbox One controller. We haven’t heard details on the scope of supported mobile devices but given that Stadia is only launching on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a, even with the latest Samsung Galaxy devices, Microsoft could already have Google beaten there out-of-the-gate.

I will say it felt different playing a console-level title with a phone screen. You have wildly different expectations of what your phone can handle because you’ve spent years with limited mobile games while open-world RPGs have been out of reach. Mobile processors have gotten more beefy, but pushing graphics that have teraflops of power behind them is a very cool experience though it does make me wish that Microsoft had a mobile system or a controller that was a bit more phone-friendly because the current solution feels more than a little hack-y.

On the topic of value, we know that console streaming for existing console owners will be free, we similarly know that 1080p streaming on Stadia will be free once you buy games on the platform, though if you want 4K resolution, you’ll have to pony up $9.99 per month. We don’t know if xCloud is going to have any limitations on console streaming users.

If xCloud boasts support for the full Xbox library, that’s going to be something that keeps Stadia from competing. The network effects of buying single-player titles might be limited but if cross-play for multi-player is something a title doesn’t boast than chances are gamers will want to stay where their friends are. Building an entire player network from scratch won’t be easy for Google and Xbox has one hell of a head-start.

The biggest unanswered question is how Microsoft prices xCloud for gamers without a console and whether there is some too-good-to-refuse combo deal with Xbox Game Pass. The entire market still feels a little niche and I think it’s a bit unrealistic to think we’re already approaching a post-console world, but Microsoft being aggressive here could prevent Stadia from gaining any sort of a foothold.

Here are the game trailers from Microsoft’s E3 2019 press conference

Trailers. You love them, Microsoft’s got them. According to the company, there were a ridiculous 60 games trotted out on stage at today’s big E3 kickoff. Looks like the Xbox got a little extra love at the event since Sony’s MIA this year. Along with more information on its streaming service Project XCloud a sneak peek at its next console and a very special appearance by Keanu, the company had a LOT of games to show off.

Here are the biggest trailers from today’s event.

Minecraft: Dungeons – Everyone’s favorite building block title gets its very own single and multiplayer RPG adventure.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps: Announced in 2017, Moon Studio’s platformer finally arrives next February.

Bleeding Edge: Ninja Theory’s latest is a multiplayer melee combat title.

Flight Simulator: You know, you love it — or are otherwise indifferent. The classic simulator returns in 2020.

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition – Coming later this year, the title will also be available for Xbox Game Pass for PC.

Wasteland 3: The party-based role-playing sequel takes players to…Colorado Springs?

Battletoads: Don’t call it a comeback. Zitz, Pimple and Rash return for a new Gamepass title.

Gear 5: Probably the most eagerly anticipated game of the press conference, the new Gears is launching September 10.

Gears 5: Terminator Dark Fate – Here’s a fun reveal. Those who buy Gears 5 by September 16 with get a character pack, featuring the T-800 Endoskeleton from the forthcoming Terminator sequel.

Forza Horizon 4 Lego Speed Champions: The popular racing series gets the Lego treatment.

Kitten Around with RAAM: A series of animated shorts based on characters from Gears POP.

State of Decay Heartland: A new DLC pack for Heartland 2, features two stories and will be available as part of GamePass.

CrossfireX: The latest version of Smilegate’s FPS is arriving on Xbox One.

Halo: Infinite – What’s this, then? Why it’s a brand new Halo title, launching alongside Microsoft’s next-gen Project Scarlett console during the 2020 holiday season.

Microsoft teases 8K Xbox

Microsoft is working to create its most powerful Xbox yet as it gears up for the next wave of gaming console hardware. Xbox shared some details on its next hardware at E3 and it sounds appropriately next-gen.

The company teased some huge factoids in a teaser about what it’s calling “Project Scarlett.” The upcoming console will have 8K capability, will be able to handle frame rates up to 120fps and will utilize SSD storage to keep load times low. The hardware will be powerful enough to enable real-time ray tracing.

“This generation is going to be a bigger leap than any generation before,” a video describing the new hardware detailed. Microsoft says the new hardware will be four times as powerful as the Xbox One X.

The next-generation console will be arriving in the holiday season of 2020, the company says. It will be launching alongside a new Halo title, Halo Infinite.

“A console should be designed and built and optimized for one thing: gaming,” Xbox head Phil Spencer said onstage at the company’s E3 presser.

We’ve already heard a bit about PlayStation’s plan for their next generation console, mainly details regarding the system’s transition to SSD storage and its reliance on a third-generation AMD Ryzen CPU.

We’ll see how the systems stack up against each other as we hear more.

Microsoft acquires Psychonauts-maker Double Fine Productions

As it did last year, Microsoft used its Xbox E3 keynote to announce its moves in bulking up its in-house gaming content.

At its press conference, the company’s Xbox Game Studios head announced that Microsoft had acquired SF-based Double Fine Productions, a game creator that’s been around since 2000 and was founded by LucasArts’s Tim Schafer. As is the case with past acquisitions, it sounds like Double Fine Productions will continue to operate largely externally, now beneath the Xbox Game Studios entity.

Double Fine’s team

There may be more studio acquisition announcements on the way, we’ll keep this post updated if so…

Double Fine Productions notably raised around $3 million in a Kickstarter campaign to create a title, later called Broken Age. The idea of crowdfunding a game was pretty novel at the time when they did it 2012. It is of course, more commonplace now.

The company’s first title Psychonauts was released in 2005. Following the acquisition announcement, the studio showed off a trailer for Psychonauts 2 which is coming to Xbox Game Pass, Xbox One and PC.

Acquiring a host of small indie game studios seems to be Microsoft’s recent strategy in building out its content on Xbox Game Pass, bringing the service its own constant stream of original content.

Watch Microsoft’s Xbox E3 press conference live

This year’s E3 is already off to an interesting start. Sony’s nowhere to be seen, and Nintendo, per usual, has opted to go online only. That leaves Microsoft as the only member of the big three with its own, honest to goodness press conference.

The company’s got a big opportunity here, and we’re hoping for some big things. On the gaming side, we expect some big news about Gears 5, Halo: Infinite and, perhaps, Age of Empires and a new Fable title.

News about the company’s Stadia competitor, Project xCloud, seems like a distinct possibility. We might even get a glimpse at the gaming giant’s next generation console. More info on all of the rumors from next week’s big show can be found here

The big show kicks off this afternoon at 1PM PT/4PM ET. It’s available on YouTube, Twitch, Facebook and Twitter

Microsoft shares pricing details for Xbox Game Pass on PC

Ahead of the Xbox E3 keynote this afternoon, Microsoft has dropped the pricing for their Xbox Game Pass plan which gives PC users access to a library of top games. The Service will be launching at a very reasonable $4.99 per month (though they note that’s an “introductory price”).

The Windows 10 service operates much like the console variety, letting you get access to titles on a subscription basis. Users can play the titles in an unlimited capacity as a subscriber and can buy the games at a 20% discount if they decide they want to own it.

You can join for $1 per month ahead of its official launch though the library looks to have just around ten titles during this period. When the full service launches, the company says you’ll have access to 100 titles and there are some hits among them including Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Gears of War 5 and Forza Horizon.

We’re down at E3 in Los Angeles gearing up for Microsoft’s keynote in a few hours, where we’re expecting to hear a lot about new Xbox services products and a bit about some new hardware on the horizon.

It’s interesting that they are adopting the Xbox branding for this PC gaming-focused service. We’ll likely hear a lot more about the Xbox strategy beyond PC today.