xCloud is an unfinished but inspiring glimpse of how we might game in the future

The first time you boot up an Xbox One game on an Android phone can be surreal. Earlier this month, I opened the Game Pass app on a Pixel 3A phone, connected an Xbox One controller via Bluetooth in the device settings, and tapped the “play” button on the page for Halo 5: Guardians. After a somewhat lengthy loading time, there I was on the menu screen, ready to play the exact same Halo 5 campaign that I left unfinished back in 2016.

It surprised me that my save file was intact and accessible in the cloud, letting me pick up right where I left off. The best part: I didn’t even have to unpack the Xbox One where I originally played the game. It’s sitting unplugged in a box, exactly where I left it since moving back to the East Coast at the end of the summer.

I dropped into Halo 5 and began playing once again, the lag a bit noticeable but not game-breaking and the graphics sharp enough for playing on a small Pixel screen. With a $15-a-month Game Pass subscription and a $15 PowerA MOGA controller clip, I now have a comfortable mobile game console I can play anywhere in my apartment — with Halo 5 and dozens of other games, including ones I never owned and some I wasn’t even aware of. It feels like having a work-in-progress version of the future playing out on my phone.

The ease with which Microsoft’s new cloud gaming beta slots into its existing Game Pass service and broader Xbox vision obscures the fact that xCloud is very much a rough draft. It’s a very early version of the kind of state-of-the-art platform the company will