Xbox Game Pass with xCloud-powered streaming has brought a host of Xbox titles to Android devices, Microsoft reportedly has plans to launch a browser version for iOS and PC next year, and Microsoft won't be stopping there. In a new interview, Xbox Head Phil Spencer makes a reference to the next logical step for expanding Game Pass: the possibility of releasing plug-and-play Game Pass streaming sticks for TVs.
Speaking with Stratechery (via The Verge), Spencer says that streaming sticks are a fit for Xbox's hardware line-up on the cheaper end, presumably an even more affordable point-of-entry than the $299 Xbox Series S. "I think you're going to see lower priced hardware as part of our ecosystem," says Spencer, "when you think about streaming stick and other things that somebody might want to just go plug into their TV[.]"
That's more or less what Google does with Stadia. To play Stadia on a TV, you need a compatible Chromecast and Google's Wi-Fi enabled controller. Microsoft's been building its cloud infrastructure and developing its game streaming tech for years while small plug-and-play devices like these have helped open up the huge market for entertainment streaming services on TVs, and even though Microsoft sells consoles, xCloud tech combined with the Game Pass library would likely have no trouble expanding Xbox's TV-bound audience with a super-low price point.
Spencer's comments about an Xbox streaming stick shouldn't be taken as a sign that Microsoft is looking to transition away from console manufacturing anytime soon. Just last month, even with the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S nearly upon us, Spencer said he thinks we're still "going to see more console hardware down the road." Xbox is not planning for the Series X to be the end-all, be-all of its console family, nor is Microsoft looking to move over to an all-streaming future (at least not yet).
While Game Pass streaming is still in its early days, having only officially launched for Android devices in September, Microsoft's been investing heavily in expanding the Game Pass catalog over the past few months. Setting aside the $7.5 billion acquisition of Bethesda and its implications for Xbox's first-party Game Pass catalog, we're also seeing big titles like Rainbow Six Siege join the service alongside bundled access to EA Play.
Unless Microsoft secretly has a ready-to-launch streaming stick up its sleeve, the next expansion of Xbox Game Pass to watch out for will be its iOS debut. In 2021 we can expect the launch of a "direct browser-based solution" for Game Pass that will let Microsoft slide around Apple's restrictive iOS App Store rules that bar game streaming services like Game Pass and Stadia from operating as centralized applications.