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Microsoft aims to expand Xbox ecosystem with a streaming device for Game Pass

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Microsoft on Thursday said it plans to build its own streaming stick, a new way to bring high-quality Xbox games through its xCloud service to millions of users. The Redmond-based tech giant is also working with TV manufacturers to embed Game Pass into smart TVs with no extra hardware required except for the controller. The announcements come ahead of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the world’s biggest gaming event which kicks off this weekend.

The move is similar to how both Google’s Stadia and Amazon’s Luna services are trying to democratise video games, though Xbox’s brand appeal gives Microsoft the edge over the other two companies. Phil Spencer, who heads the Xbox brand, has been indicating a shift in how people play video games in the future. Although Microsoft sells Xbox consoles, the company is not dependent on the hardware business. Instead, Microsoft is betting on its Game Pass subscription service and xCloud streaming technology to bring AAA-level games to the masses. This strategy makes Microsoft a lot different from Sony and Nintendo, the two big players in the booming video games market.

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The idea of a streaming stick that tied to its cloud gaming service has been in the news for quite some time. In fact, Spencer last year indicated that Microsoft might make an Xbox-branded streaming stick. Right now, Microsoft isn’t providing details on the release date or pricing of the streaming stick. But looks like the device could either be a Chromecast-like streaming stick or an Apple TV-like box.

Microsoft is also promising to bring its Xbox Game Pass service to smart TVs through its xCloud streaming technology, letting users play Xbox games without any dedicated game console. This will be available as an app on TVs. As of now, we don’t know which TV manufacturers are trying up with Xbox.

For Microsoft, the approach is to create an Xbox ecosystem and let users choose whether they want a console, a smartphone, or a TV to play high-quality Xbox games developed by its 23 studios worldwide. “We believe that games, that interactive entertainment, aren’t really about hardware and software. It’s not about pixels,” says Spencer. “It’s about people. Games bring people together.” Not to forget, Xbox Game Pass now has 18 million subscribers worldwide.

In the next few weeks, Microsoft’s xCloud gaming service will be available through leading web browsers — Google Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s own Edge browsers — that opens up to all members of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. To increase the appeal of Game Pass, Microsoft recently acquired ZeniMax, the parent company of Bethesda, for $7.5 billion.  With Bethesda, Microsoft hopes to beef up the Xbox Game Pass catalog by adding hit game franchises like Doom, Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. The aim is bring exclusive and first-party games to Xbox Game Pass.

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