M&E Daily

E3 2018: Microsoft Gaming Cloud Team Developing Multi-Device Streaming Service

Microsoft used its E3 news briefing, June 10 in Los Angeles, to disclose that its new Gaming Cloud Team is developing a game streaming service that Phil Spencer, EVP and head of gaming at Microsoft, said will enable “console-quality gaming on any device.”

That, in other words, means the service — a sort of gaming version of Netflix — will work on not just the Xbox One, but also computers and smartphones. However, Spencer didn’t say when that service will launch or how much it will cost.

“The world of gaming is on an historic growth path, where the increasing number of gamers is met with the increasing creative power of game developers,” he said during the briefing. “Where can we take gaming next? Our answer: We commit and harness the full breadth of our resources at Microsoft to deliver on the future of play.”

In addition to the multiplatform cloud game streaming service, he pointed out that the company’s “experts in Microsoft Research are developing the future of gaming” artificial intelligence (AI), “so the worlds and characters we enjoy will be even more rich and more immersive.”

The Xbox hardware team is “deep into architecting the next Xbox consoles” also, he teased. But he provided no information on when the next hardware will launch or what the pricing will be.

Microsoft announced several new titles are joining its existing subscription service Xbox Game Pass this year, including “Forza Horizon 4,” “Fallout 4,” “Tom Clancy’s The Division” and “The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited.”

Xbox Game Pass has increased the number of titles gamers play “nearly 40 percent” and has boosted gameplay hours nearly 20%, Mike Nichols, chief marketing officer for Gaming at Microsoft, said in a news release.

Mixer, Microsoft’s live streaming service, is seeing “continued growth with viewership doubling in just six months to more than 20 million,” with “the majority” of that growth coming from viewers on mobile devices, the company said.

Microsoft also introduced FastStart, an innovation from Microsoft’s Machine Learning Team that Ashley Speicher, head of engineering at Xbox Game Pass, said in the news briefing has been in development for the past year and enables gamers to jump into their game “twice as fast” as before and play the title after downloading just a fraction of the full title.

Unlike the existing Ready to Start system, which is configured manually, “FastStart uses machine learning techniques based on how gamers actually play games,” she said, adding it’s “designed to get better as the algorithms and parameters are refined over time.” FastStart will launch for select titles in the June update later this month, she said.

FastStart identifies which files are needed to begin playing and prioritizes the download of those files first, enabling the user to “quickly jump into full-fidelity gameplay while the remainder of your title downloads in the background,” according to Microsoft.

Microsoft also disclosed at E3 that it doubled its game development studios with the addition of five new creative teams that stand to significantly help Microsoft boost the number of Xbox console exclusives that it offers.

The company touted about 50 new games during the briefing, including 18 titles that Spencer said were exclusive to the Xbox console platform.

“We know that exclusive games from our Microsoft Studios are what originally turned so many of us into Xbox fans,” he said, adding: “My team and I take our commitment to you seriously to make Xbox One the best place for you to play and for you to have the best games on the world’s most powerful console. This is why we’re increasing our investment in our existing franchises that you already love, and this is why we are amplifying our investment in new worlds that will deepen your love for gaming on Xbox.” The company “embarked on a quest” to find development teams that would help Microsoft in its efforts, he noted.

Microsoft’s new investments at Microsoft Studios include the creation of a new studio, The Initiative, in Santa Monica, Calif., headed by game industry veteran Darrell Gallagher; the acquisition of Playground Games in the U.K.; and letters of intent to acquire U.K.-based Ninja Theory, Seattle-based Undead Labs and Montreal-based Compulsion Games.

Playground Games has been an Xbox development partner since 2010 that Microsoft said helped grow its Forza racing franchise. In addition to work on this year’s Forza Horizon 4, Playground Games will have a development team “dedicated to bringing their open-world expertise to an entirely new project,” Microsoft said in the news release.

The relationship between Ninja Theory and Microsoft started in 2000, when Kung Fu Chaos was in development for the original Xbox and culminated in the release of Hellblade on Xbox One earlier this year.

Undead Labs created the State of Decay franchise. In the first two weeks since the game sequel State of Decay 2 went on sale, more than 2 million consumers have played it. By entering into a letter of intent to buy Undead Labs, Microsoft said it’s “signaling its commitment to growing the franchise and taking the zombie survival-fantasy genre to new heights.”

Microsoft’s letter of intent to purchase Compulsion came as the developer’s game We Happy Few nears its full, multiplatform release Aug. 10. Joining Microsoft Studios will provide Compulsion with “the resources, platform and freedom to take even bigger creative risks and create even more ambitious worlds with its future projects,” Microsoft said.

The addition of these creative teams to Microsoft Studios “reinforces Microsoft’s vision for gaming, which starts with a deep commitment to original content,” the company said.

Exclusive titles have long been sought by console makers because they provide a major incentive for consumers to buy one game system over another. However, in recent years, third-party game makers have tended to focus on multiplatform game releases due to the increased costs involved in developing titles for the newer consoles, especially the Microsoft and Sony systems. That’s left Microsoft and Sony scrambling to develop as many blockbuster titles as possible for their own systems.

Microsoft also introduced the Xbox Adaptive Controller for Xbox One and Windows 10.

Preorders started June 11 in select markets for the device, which Microsoft said was designed for gamers with limited mobility. It’s being sold exclusively through the Microsoft Store for $99.99.

More than 220 Xbox One titles, meanwhile, have been enhanced to date for Microsoft’s 4K Xbox One X, the company said.

Among the other key game announcements during the Microsoft news briefing: Square Enix’s “Kingdom Hearts” franchise will become available for the first time on an Xbox console, with “Kingdom Hearts III,” a title for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One that features several Disney worlds including characters ranging from Donald Duck and Goofy to Olaf from “Frozen.”

“Kingdom Hearts” and “Kingdom Hearts II” were PlayStation 2 exclusives. Since those games were released, there have been various “Kingdom Hearts” titles on a wide range of platforms — including the Nintendo and Sony portable game systems, as well as mobile devices — but none for Xbox consoles.

Last, as part of an E3 week Xbox sale, Microsoft is offering discounts on hundreds of games, accessories, Xbox Game Pass and Live Gold subscriptions, and also offering $50 in savings on any Xbox One console SKU.

Electronic Arts
Subscription game streaming was also a big theme at the Electronic Arts (EA) EA Play E3 event in Los Angeles June 9. There, the company announced a new PC subscription service, Origin Access Premier.

Starting later this summer, players can join Origin Access Premier to get full access to new EA game releases on PC before anyone else, including the upcoming launches of “Madden NFL 19” and “FIFA 19” from EA Sports, “Battlefield V” and “Anthem,” it said.

“The greatest disruption to the consumption of entertainment media in the last five years is the combination of streaming plus subscription,” EA CEO Andrew Wilson said. It’s “never been easier” for people to consume a wide selection of media — including books, movies, music and TV — as a result of streaming subscription services, he said, adding: “We believe that disruption is going to have a profound impact on our industry in the next few years,” he said.

One new way in which EA is addressing that disruption is with the PC subscription service, he noted.

But the company is also running a tech demo at E3 in which all of its games are being streamed in HD from the cloud “to multiple devices,” he said, adding: “It’s not quite ready for full market primetime yet. But it is a promise of what we hope to bring you in the future.”

Origin Access Premier will include all of EA’s new PC games and kick off with Madden NFL 19, which is “back on the PC for the first time in over a decade,” he said. The service will also include full access to more than 100 games from EA and other publishers with a single membership, the company said.

Origin Access Premier will cost $14.99 a month or $99.99 annually. Gamers who aren’t currently members of EA’s existing Origin Access online subscription game service can sign up for a free trial available through June 17 to download and play games from the Origin Access library, it said.