The recent leak from the FTC v. Microsoft case not only unveiled the new disc-less Xbox Series X but also shed light on Microsoft’s long-term vision for 2028. In that timeframe, the company envisions achieving “full convergence” between its cloud gaming platform and physical hardware, with the ultimate goal of delivering “cloud hybrid games.”
“Our vision: develop a next generation hybrid game platform capable of leveraging the combined power of the client and cloud to deliver deeper immersion and entirely new classes of game experiences.”
These statements are extracted from a single slide originating from a leaked presentation titled “The Next Generation of Gaming at Microsoft.” This presentation, seemingly dated May 2022, centers entirely on this concept.
Microsoft envisions a scenario in which you engage in gaming experiences using the combined capabilities of a budget-friendly device, potentially a handheld device priced below $99, in conjunction with its xCloud platform.
Microsoft has already dabbled in a similar approach, as seen in Microsoft Flight Simulator, where photorealistic scenery is streamed from a massive 2-petabyte cloud instead of being stored on your Xbox or PC, where the majority of the game operates. However, one of the most notable examples of this concept dates back to 2014 with an Amazon demonstration. In this demo, armies reminiscent of those in “The Lord of the Rings” don’t reside on your device; only the ballista operates locally to ensure a responsive gaming experience.
In the leaked documents, Microsoft is referring to this concept as “Cohesive Hybrid Compute,” which represents a comprehensive architectural approach encompassing cloud-to-edge integration across silicon, graphics, and operating systems to enable universal gaming experiences.
If this plan is indeed in motion, it could be underway already. The team has indicated the necessity of forming partnerships with AMD in the first quarter of this year to secure access to the company’s Navi 5 graphics technology, bearing in mind that the current graphics architecture is at Navi 3. Additionally, they are exploring the possibility of obtaining AMD’s Zen 6 CPU cores, and they are also contemplating collaboration with Arm.
Furthermore, Microsoft has identified a potential requirement for an NPU (neural processing unit), serving as a machine learning AI coprocessor. This NPU would offer a wide array of advantages, including super resolution, latency compensation, frame rate interpolation, and more.
Contained within the documents is a comprehensive prospective roadmap for this technology. According to the plan, hardware design would commence in 2024, the initial developer kits would be available in 2027, and the production of the first hybrid cloud games would span from 2024 through 2026.
However, prior to these developments, as indicated by another slide, the company had crucial decisions to make concerning the silicon, the development of a streamlined operating system to support the local aspects of these cloud games, the allocation of responsibilities among teams, and the hardware choices that would complement this endeavor. It’s entirely plausible that none of these decisions materialized, much like Microsoft’s decision to forgo its “dedicated xCloud SKU” in favor of collaborating with other service providers.
Based on the leaked documents, it appears that this pitch emerged from a significant and continuous dialogue among Microsoft’s senior leadership. This discussion involved prominent figures such as CEO Satya Nadella, Xbox head Phil Spencer, Windows devices and operating system leader Panos Panay, xCloud Chief Vice President Kareem Choudhry, and others.
“We are building 4 types of computers: (1) cloud everything, (2) a hybrid Xbox, (3) hybrid Windows, and (4) hybrid HoloLens,” wrote Nadella, according to the leaded documents. “We need to bring the company’s systems talent together to align on a unified vision.”
“We can’t go from big idea to big idea. We need a single big idea to rally the company around,” he wrote.
In an additional document dated May 2022, titled “Roadmap to 2030,” Microsoft hints at a potential strategy centered around the controller. One pivotal principle states, “The controller becomes the centerpiece,” with the additional notion that “The new Xbox controller is all you require to play on any device.” This document goes on to introduce “Sebile,” a fresh Xbox controller featuring “Direct-to-Cloud” connectivity, along with support for Xbox Wireless and Bluetooth connections.
Furthermore, the document includes images of prospective concepts such as a “Mobile Controller,” a “One-hand Controller,” and even a gaming keyboard and mouse, which Microsoft had evidently contemplated producing themselves.
The document also references a project called “Cloud Console (Keystone)” that had already secured funding, in addition to the forthcoming “Brooklin” Xbox Series X refresh and the previously mentioned Sebile gamepad. However, it’s worth noting that as of May 2022, the “full product vision” for Sebile had not yet received approval.
Back in 2021, Microsoft brought on board Kim Swift, a former Google Stadia design director renowned for her work on Valve’s “Portal,” to establish a new team dedicated to cloud-native games. It remains unclear if this initiative is directly related to the developments outlined here. In a parallel move, Sony recruited Jade Raymond from the remnants of Stadia, with her studio actively engaged in cloud gaming technology, signaling a potential push into cloud gaming from Sony.
Posts contain affiliate links, and I earn from qualifying purchases.