Xbox Game Pass will soon get cloud gaming — and that's a win for Xbox Series X

Project xCloud
(Image credit: Microsoft)

You won’t actually need an Xbox Series X in order to play Xbox Series X games. We’ve known that for a while, as Xbox Series X games will also be available on PC — and Xbox One, at least for the foreseeable future. But thanks to a new cloud gaming initiative, you won’t even need to download them. 

Once Project xCloud, which lets you stream Xbox games to your phone or tablet, launches in full, it will be part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, meaning that you can play hundreds of games anywhere for one consistent price.

Information comes from the Xbox Wire blog in a post written by Phil Spencer, head of the Xbox division. Most of the blog is a recapitulation of things we already know about the Xbox Series X: it’s a powerful system, there are no true exclusive games, Smart Delivery ensures that you don’t have to repurchase titles, and so forth. The really interesting bit of news comes toward the bottom in a section entitled “You will get more from your Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership.” Here, Spencer lays out how Game Pass and xCloud will work together to let players stream games to any platform they own.

“With cloud gaming in Game Pass Ultimate, you will be able to play over 100 Xbox Game Pass titles on your phone or tablet,” Spencer writes. There’s no additional cost for xCloud functionality, and Game Pass Ultimate currently costs $15 per month. The price is unlikely to increase before the end of the year.

For those who aren’t familiar with the two services, here are the basics: Xbox Game Pass is a subscription service that gives you access to hundreds of Xbox titles, similar to what Netflix does for movies and TV shows. You can download these titles to an Xbox One or PC, and play them for as long as you like — until your subscription runs out. You don’t own any of these titles, although your save data will be on file should you re-up your subscription in the future.

Project xCloud, on the other hand, is a cloud gaming platform that’s currently in a late stage of beta testing. This allows players to stream Xbox games to their phones or tablets from a Microsoft server. Phones and tablets are not powerful enough on their own to run current-gen Xbox games, so streaming the games from another computer elsewhere is a helpful workaround. (Streaming games rather than downloading it comes with its own set of drawbacks, too, but it’s better than not being able to play at all.)

It’s easy to imagine how the two services might work together in concert. With an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you’ll be able to download hundreds of games and play them on whatever platform you own — even if all you own is a smartphone. You’ll also be able to pick up right where you left off, whether you play on a computer, a console or a mobile device.

However, Spencer didn’t explain exactly how streaming vs. downloading will work from platform to platform. It seems reasonable to think that players will have to download titles on Xbox consoles and PCs, while they can stream titles to mobile platforms. But if Project xCloud could eventually stream games directly to PC, it could obviate not only the need for an Xbox Series X console, but for a gaming PC, too. If games can stream to Xbox One consoles, then perhaps even late-gen Xbox Series X exclusives could still be available on the Xbox One.

That’s all speculative, however. For the moment, you’ll be able to stream Xbox Game Pass Ultimate games to your phone or tablet, and that could give Xbox Game Pass a leg up on Sony’s game-streaming service, PlayStation Now, which is available only on PC and PS4, at present. There's still no word on if how how Sony will bring PlayStation Now to the PS5. 

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.