Just days before Microsoft's big ol' E3 livestream, executives from the company sat down to talk — er, read remarks prepared by the communications team — about the future of Xbox. In a pre-recorded media briefing, Xbox head Phil Spencer, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and others bragged about how well Game Pass and Azure are performing, and also dropped some news about the company's cloud gaming and subscription strategies.
First, Xbox is working with global TV manufacturers to get Game Pass on smart televisions. Considering a Game Pass Ultimate subscription unlocks cloud capabilities, this feature will allow folks to play Xbox titles with just a controller, no console required. Additionally, Microsoft is officially building a video game streaming stick, as Spencer teased late last year.
"We're also developing standalone streaming devices that you can plug into a TV or monitor, so if you have a strong internet connection, you can stream your Xbox experience," CVP of gaming experiences and platforms Liz Hamren said. There's no word on when to expect the smart TV app or streaming hardware to hit the market, but neither seems too far off.
Spencer and friends broke down a handful of additional news nuggets, as follows:
In the next few weeks, all Game Pass Ultimate subscribers — of which there are at least 18 million — will have access to browser-based cloud gaming, supporting Chrome, Edge and Safari. This feature launched in beta in April, and it also unlocks cloud gaming on iOS via a progressive web app.
Also in the coming weeks, cloud players will see improvements in load times, framerates and optimized games as Microsoft completes a next-gen upgrade across its data centers. Until now, Xbox Cloud gaming has been powered by blade servers based on Xbox One S consoles, but with the move to new-gen and the ambition to support streaming on larger screen devices, Microsoft has replaced many of these units with blades based on the Series consoles.
Later this year, cloud gaming will be available through a Game Pass Ultimate subscription in Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Japan. Additionally, Microsoft will integrate cloud gaming directly into the Xbox app on PC, and launch cloud features on Xbox consoles, such as "try before you download."
Xbox is toying with new Game Pass tiers designed to be more accessible to players around the globe. Plus, the company plans to expand the Xbox All Access program, which allows folks to buy a new Xbox Series console and a Game Pass Ultimate subscription for $25 a month over two years.
As for the massive cache of talented studios that Xbox currently owns — including Bethesda, id Software and Arkane — the company plans to release at least one new, first-party title into the Game Pass library each quarter.
All of this underscores Microsoft's ninth-generation strategy, which diverges drastically from that of its longtime rival, Sony. While the PlayStation 5 is following a traditional console-upgrade path with an emphasis on high-powered guts and exclusive software, the Xbox Series X and S are vessels for Game Pass subscriptions and streaming, leveraging the massive Azure network — something Sony can't do (at least not without paying Microsoft first).
This is the pivot that Microsoft has been ready to make since the launch of the Xbox One in 2013. Eight years ago, Spencer pitched a console that would be always online and constantly listening, designed with digital game downloads and media streaming in mind. Only back then, neither players nor broadband networks were ready to make the leap away from physical disks. Today, it's a completely different story.
The Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase kicks off on Sunday, June 13th at 1PM ET, and it's set to include 90 minutes of software news and fresh trailers from third- and first-party studios. This is arguably the largest live stream of E3 2021, though Nintendo's Switch show on June 15th might give it a run for its money. Check out our full E3 2021 schedule right here, and stay tuned for live streams on the Engadget YouTube channel throughout the week.