Microsoft to build cloud-native Xbox games, and the woman behind Portal will lead

On February 1, I shed a tear for the future of gaming when Google decided it would no longer keep its promise to make games specifically for the cloud. But Microsoft is on the verge of picking up the baton: The company has hired former Google Stadia design director Kim Swift, best known for Valve’s hit game. Portal, according to an interview with Polygon.

“Kim is going to build a team focused on new cloud experiences,” said Peter Wyse, director of publishing for Xbox Game Studios. Polygon, adding that Microsoft’s goal was to create “cloud native games.”

Swift has spent over a decade in the gaming industry since her student project Narbacular gout landed her team jobs at Valve Software, where she led development on Portal. She later became an artist on Left for dead and Left 4 dead 2, created an unreleased game for Amazon and was studio design director at EA, according to his LinkedIn page.

But perhaps her most intriguing role is the one she just left at Google Stadia, where she has “overseen the development of a dozen external development games” and “identified potential R&D within Google for herself. developing into a new first-party project using cutting-edge technology, innovative machine learning technology, which meant that she was working with Google and Google’s closest partners on games that could have truly taken advantage of the cloud.

Basically, the games you can play on cloud services like Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, and Microsoft xCloud are do not “cloud native. They were designed to run on existing consoles and PCs, so the benefits you typically get from the cloud are faster load times, no need to install or patch above-average games and graphics. . Every game you play on Microsoft’s xCloud runs on a single Xbox card in a server rack, so it’s not all this is different from the experience of playing on an Xbox at home.

But Google has promised that it will one day offer more: games that could harness the power of many servers to bring you gameplay and graphics never possible with a single console in your home. Google hired Jade Raymond, a senior executive in the games industry, to run its development studios; in 2019, she said JeuxIndustrie.biz that it may take “several years” to produce a game “that will take full advantage of the cloud”. (Stadia also offers a handful of optional cloud-exclusive features, but few developers have taken advantage of them.)

With Google studios closed, Raymond is now working on making games for Sony, with no particular mention of the cloud, but Swift has just been snapped up by Microsoft with an explicit mandate to create a new kind of native game for streaming in the cloud.

“We don’t know exactly what it looks like today, or what it even looks like,” Wyze said. Polygon. But maybe in a few years we will. Solid metal gear and Death stranding author Hideo Kojima said many times he would like to create a game explicitly for streaming, and VentureBeat‘s Jeff Grubb says Microsoft is in talks to make a deal there.

There are other signs that Microsoft is taking cloud gaming seriously as well. The company recently announced that it is upgrading its xCloud servers to the latest Xbox Series X hardware instead of the older Xbox One S server blades it was using before, which should improve the quality significantly. Microsoft has said it will also leave the original Xbox One consoles in action, letting them play games like Flight simulator which would have previously been out of reach had it not been for cloud streaming.

And in the documents exhumed during the discovery in the Epic vs. Apple trial, we learned that Microsoft was trying to lock down the streaming rights of all of its game development partners in exchange for Microsoft drastically slashing its app store fees by 30%.

Cloud streaming was a growing business – for Sony, anyway.
Microsoft document image

Microsoft’s own internal documents suggested cloud gaming was not a big concern in 2019 – a presentation we spotted during testing suggests that the entire category only picked up around 300. million dollars in 2019, most of it coming from Sony’s PlayStation Now. (Google Stadia didn’t launch until November 2019.) Microsoft also commented in this presentation that neither Sony’s nor Google’s cloud gaming efforts were seen as profitable. And yet, the category saw revenue growth of 167% that year.


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