One of the topics that have been persistent on the lips of executives at big AAA studios is games as a service. Many large publishers and console manufacturers love the whole games as a service concept, and Microsoft wants to capitalize on that with its very own digital streaming service utilizing the Azure cloud services.
According to Bloomberg, Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer wants to launch a streaming service for the Xbox brand that will enable Xbox gamers to play games through an online Azure-powered service that allows them to access a library without having to own the actual console. This comes right on the heels of Microsoft having just launched the $500 Xbox One X.
The article states that Microsoft had plans for this service as far back as 2012, but due to costs to setup the infrastructure and the the lack of broadband coverage the company's plans had to be put on hold.
Now that the Azure has stabilized and more and more people have broadband connections, Microsoft wants to try its hand at a games as a service streaming option... again. However, the company will keep the dedicated home console in its line-up, but it wants to introduce the streaming service by 2020.
The big difference is that this time Microsoft wants to take a Sony/Valve route. The other two companies have services and features set up so that you can access games from non-dedicated gaming devices to play high-end games. Valve's solution is more domesticated, with the Steam Link being able to link up to a high-end desktop PC or laptop and stream a user's Steam library to wherever they are in the house.
Sony's setup was a bit more spread out, using Gaikai as the base for the PlayStation Now service that allows gamers to stream PlayStation games via the online service. The service, however, has not gone down all that well with gamers. Complaints about limited game selection, over-pricing, and quality control are still ever-present for Sony and the PlayStation Now service.
Microsoft hoping to follow suit seems like a risky maneuver at this juncture, given that the company still doesn't have a stable line-up of exclusives, and many of the other noteworthy games available on the Xbox platform are also available on PC. That's not to mention that, technically, you could still use the Steam Link to access Windows 10 games from the host desktop, which means that Microsoft's solution would have to be a lot more enticing than what you get with the current hardware options out there.
Nevertheless, being able to sell a set top box for $99 that can play OG Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One titles would probably look like good business in the eyes of Microsoft's executives. It opens an opportunity to sell more subscription services without having to get people to commit to the pricier hardware.
To help with those streaming initiatives -- which is scheduled to get underway over the next three years -- Microsoft is buying up some studios and aiming to focus more on producing exclusive content for the Xbox family. A bustling line-up of buy-worthy exclusives plus re-introducing the Azure cloud streaming services three years from now might just be enough to entice gamers back into the fold, but Microsoft has an uphill battle to overcome, especially with Nintendo and Sony going full speed ahead to capture or maintain market share.