Xbox Game Pass’s streaming powers are remarkable, but so far they’ve been limited to titles that have been released on Xbox consoles. Game Pass includes a ton of PC games (and plenty that are available on both), but in order to play them, you have to download the files locally and play them on a gaming PC. According to recently-revealed court documents, Microsoft was planning on adding PC games to the Game Pass streaming setup, competing directly with services like Nvidia’s GeForce Now.
The info is not official, even though it was scrounged from internal Microsoft documents. As with a lot of corporate revelations as of late, you can thank a lawsuit for the news. This tidbit was revealed in an internal email chain presented as evidence in the US Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust lawsuit, as Microsoft attempts to buy game publishing giant Activision Blizzard.
A string of communications between Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and other executives back in 2021 showed them discussing Google’s Stadia game streaming platform, which has since flopped. The Verge breaks it down: Specifically, the execs were discussing Google’s ability to leverage its cloud computing muscle to offer Stadia to third-party companies as a white-label service (something that Google did, eventually, try out). Microsoft, itself a pretty huge player in the cloud computing world, might be able to compete. “I am assuming we will do the same for Game Pass PC, right?” Nadella asks, to which Microsoft’s gaming boss Phil Spencer and Xbox creator lead Sarah Bond respond in the affirmative.
The issue is that Xbox Cloud Gaming’s streaming system is currently based on customized Xbox hardware, essentially stripped-down servers made out of the same chips you’d find in an Xbox Series X console. Though it’s all based on AMD x64 hardware, it’s incredibly fine-tuned to create a consistent console experience, and it can’t run PC games designed for a regular desktop with a discrete graphics card (at least not without a lot of extra software work). In order to deliver modern PC games a la GeForce Now or the late, not-so-great Stadia, Microsoft would need to update and augment some of the hardware of its Azure cloud platform.
These emails indicate that Satya Nadella wanted this to happen, and his executive team was working on it at least conceptually two years ago. Will we see it come to fruition? That’s a lot less clear two years later. Spencer says in a later email that Nvidia’s service is “to date our #1 competitor,” and that remains true as Stadia has collapsed. Newer players in the market like Amazon’s Luna service and the revamped PlayStation Plus seem tepid at best.
Meanwhile Microsoft is still going hard for conventional, locally played games and streamed Xbox titles. The mega-RPG Starfield, by Microsoft subsidiary Bethesda, is available as a local title on PC and Xbox, with the console version streaming to Game Pass subscribers as well. We may or may not see an expansion of PC-only games offered up for streaming play, but it seems like a natural extension of the everything, everywhere strategy of Game Pass.