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Project xCloud: Microsoft draws on Azure for device-agnostic gaming push

Microsoft has revealed details of how its global Azure datacentre footprint will play a pivotal role in helping realise its ambitions to provide a low-latency, device-agnostic user experience to the worldwide gaming community

Microsoft plans to draw on the cloud compute power of its Azure platform so video gamers can stream and access content on any device through the launch of its Project xCloud initiative.

Using the Azure infrastructure, the project’s aim is essentially to make video games devices agnostic, so users can stream a title and play it on any device they want, and – in turn – help gaming studios ramp up the number of players accessing the content they create.

Billed as a “multi-year journey” for Microsoft, the project will see games hosted and streamed from the 54 datacentre regions that make up Azure, giving the initiative a global reach into 140 countries, it is claimed.

“Our goal with Project xCloud is to deliver a quality experience for all gamers on all devices that’s consistent with the speed and high-fidelity gamers experience and expectations for their PCs and consoles,” said Kareem Choudhry, corporate vice-president of Microsoft’s Gaming Cloud division, in a blog post announcing the Project’s launch.

In delivering on its goal, there are a number of technical challenges the Microsoft team must overcome to ensure the quality of the gaming experience is not compromised, including network latency.

“Cloud game-streaming is a multi-faceted, complex challenge. Unlike other forms of digital entertainment, games are interactive experiences that dynamically change based on player input,” the blog post continued.

“Delivering a high-quality experience across a variety of devices must account for different obstacles, such as low-latency video streamed remotely, and support a large, multi-user network. Other important considerations are supporting the graphical fidelity and frame rates that preserve the artist’s original intentions, and the type of input a player has available,” it added.

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The game streaming service is due to be publicly trialled in 2019, with Microsoft outlining its hopes that Project xCloud will make it possible for users to run games using 4G and 5G connections, as the development of the latter technology continues apace.

“Our goal is to deliver high-quality experiences at the lowest possible bitrate, that work across the widest possible networks, taking into consideration the uniqueness of every device and network,” said Choudhry.

As revealed in Microsoft’s fourth quarter results in July 2018, its gaming division is now generating around $10bn in revenue a year for the software giant, with the firm predicting continued year-on-year revenue growth in the “mid-teens” for the foreseeable.

“To realise this vision, we know we must make it easy for developers to bring their content to Project xCloud,” said Choudhry.

“Developers of the more than 3,000 games available on Xbox One today, and those building the thousands that are coming in the future, will be able to deploy and dramatically scale access to their games across all devices on Project xCloud with no additional work.”

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