In last week’s massive Xbox leak that saw over twenty pages of un-redacted documentation titled “Roadmap to 2030” spread publicly amongst the gaming community, a few slides in particular caught my attention. Pages 5-7 outlined what Xbox gaming looked like at the launch of the ‘Series’ consoles, what it looks like today, and what the future holds. The ‘at launch’ slide shows how the company only had the consoles and mid-high end PCs as available platforms for their customers, with the ‘today’ slide positively contrasting it with a slew of other ways customers can access Xbox gaming services; including web browsers and smart phones and TVs. However, there were a couple devices added on the slide that have yet to come to fruition as of writing: streaming sticks, a set-top box, and the vaguely titled “cloud device.”
A few slides further into the presentation and we see a pyramid that breaks down many of the upcoming products/projects Microsoft have in store for the coming decade, broken down into “funded,” “not yet funded,” and “not in scope for 1st party.” At the base of the pyramid — the aforementioned “funded” section — we see the “cloud console (Keystone)” make its appearance once again, leading us to believe that the resources necessary have already been allocated for the product and that we may see it sooner than later.
It’s interesting to see given that it was only last summer that Head of Xbox Phil Spencer, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, said that “Keystone” was “something that we were incubating internally. Late spring we pivoted to working with Samsung. I still have the prototype…will we do a streaming device at some point? I expect we will, but it’s years away.”
Yet, this leaked “Roadmap” was from just a couple months prior to that WSJ interview, making Spencer’s statement a little confusing. It seems almost too obvious of a fit to have a cloud-only device of some kind to go along with Game Pass. The Series S, being a digital-only console, is already considered amongst many (myself included) to be a “Game Pass machine,” so to have a smaller set-top box of some kind — like an Apple TV of sorts — to play the Game Pass library via the cloud is something I’m sure many would buy if the price was right.
However, though I can understand a product like that existing comfortably within Microsoft’s current (and future) lineup of consoles, I’d much prefer a cloud-only device that doesn’t need to be attached to a television screen, instead going by the way of a handheld. Even though a “handheld” is listed on the “not in scope for 1st party” section of that aforementioned pyramid, I still think it would be the perfect tertiary product to get more players onto Game Pass, especially when considering Microsoft have arguably the best cloud-streaming infrastructure amongst their competitors; Sony in particular, as it’s an area that they are still trying to figure out. Much of the backlash against Sony’s upcoming product, the PlayStation Portable, is due to the fact that it’s essentially a Remote Play-only device that must be connected to an existing PlayStation 5, making for a pricey — and unnecessary, for many — package altogether
If Xbox can release a cloud-only handheld that can access the entire Game Pass library via the cloud, with a solid screen, quality build, and decent battery life, all for under $200, then that’s a product I can see doing very well in the market. Speaking as someone who has been using the Logitech G Cloud as my primary gaming device for the past month, I can say that I understand the allure of this future Microsoft have envisioned for players.
Even though an all-digital future is concerning for many reasons, there’s no denying the convenience and joy of being able to play a massive library of games — including newly released triple-A titles — wherever you may have a decent internet connection. I found myself giggling with giddy when I was able to play an hour of Starfield with little to no fuss while sitting at a Starbucks in suburban Ontario on my Logitech G Cloud that was connected to less-than-reliable public WiFi. It was surreal, to say the least, and a showcase of how far Microsoft’s cloud technology has come.
As mentioned in my PlayStation Portable piece, handhelds have seen a bit of a renaissance in recent years; in no small part due to to Nintendo’s Switch and Valve’s Steam Deck. If there was ever a time for Microsoft to go all-in on their all-digital, play-anywhere future, it would be now and with a Xbox handheld console that put cloud gaming at its forefront.