Mike Blank, a senior vice president at Electronic Arts, which put its games, like the Madden NFL and FIFA soccer franchises, on Game Pass in 2020, said there was initially “trepidation” around subscription services. But the company has been happy with the results, and “players are responding favorably,” he said.
Microsoft also spent heavily on game development to expand the Game Pass offerings, buying studios including a $7.5 billion acquisition of ZeniMax Media in September and adding hundreds of games to the service. This year, it also considered buying the messaging app Discord, which gamers use to chat while playing.
The diversification continued in late 2019 when Microsoft released a cloud gaming service, in which games are hosted in a company’s data centers and are broadcast to devices. The service, Xbox Cloud Gaming, or xCloud, means that people do not need to install games or use expensive hardware.
The idea of a cloud gaming service had crystallized for Mr. Spencer that year when he was on a bus in Nairobi, Kenya, and connected to Wi-Fi. He found that he could stream a game from Microsoft’s data center in London to his phone.
“It was literally the same saved game I had sitting in Redmond, Wash.,” he said. “It really just pushes how you can make gaming truly global.”
On Thursday, Microsoft said it was working with television manufacturers to put its games inside TVs without the need for an Xbox. It added that it would soon bring cloud streaming to the console as well.
For now, cloud gaming is still bogged down by glitchy gameplay and requires a strong internet connection. Xbox Cloud Gaming is still in trial, and Apple has barred the app from iPhones because it includes a catalog of games; Apple requires separate apps for each game as part of its app review process.