Microsoft is seriously outflanking Sony with cloud gaming – here's how

With each new announcement Microsoft takes a step closer to owning cloud gaming on everything

Xbox Game Pass
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Amid all the excitement over Mark Zuckerberg's latest magic dystopia helmet, you might have missed two interesting announcements. First of all, Microsoft's cloud gaming service is coming to the Meta Quest 2 and possibly the new Meta Quest Pro too.

And secondly, Google's latest Chromebooks are being promoted as great for cloud gaming (opens in new tab) – and by cloud gaming they don't mean the ill-fated Google Stadia. Microsoft cloud gaming is the hook here, just as it's one of the hooks for Logitech's brilliant-looking cloud gaming handheld.

That's not all. In the background, the UK competition regulator has expressed concerns (opens in new tab) over Microsoft buying Call of Duty developer Activision Blizzard, arguing that it could give Microsoft an unfair advantage over its rivals. It already owns studios including Bethesda, ID, Arkane, Double Fine, Rare, ZeniMax and many, many more.

Late last year we wrote that Microsoft was massively outflanking Sony: Sony's revamped PS Plus, then codenamed Project Spartacus, was too little too late: "Xbox Game Pass is also now the only player in town in terms of mass-adopted cloud gaming and Microsoft is the king of online cloud gaming technology." And this year, things have really accelerated. 

Microsoft cloud gaming is on everything but your toaster

If you look at where you can play Game Pass via cloud gaming, it's probably quicker to list the things it doesn't run on. It's on the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S of course, as well as on PC. But it's also on some of the best Samsung TVs, best Android tablets and best Android phones, on iPads and iPhones, on Chromebooks and on handheld consoles too. 

I've said on many occasions that I think Game Pass is the gaming bargain of the decade and that I don't think Sony's revamped PlayStation Plus comes remotely close in terms of value for money, not least because Sony's focus is primarily on older games rather than the AAA day one releases Microsoft rightly prizes. 

I think, as we suggested last year, we're seeing history repeat. Microsoft and Sony are approaching cloud gaming from completely different perspectives. Sony wants to sell you hardware and first party games, and a big all-you-can-eat buffet threatens the latter. 

Remember how PS4 Remote Play was primarily seen as a way to sell Sony smartphones rather than bring cloud gaming to everyone? That approach feels like it's still baked into Sony's gaming plans.

Microsoft, meanwhile, doesn't care about hardware. Sure, it's working on an Xbox streamer. But that's just a fun sideline, because all Microsoft really cares about is being the platform you use irrespective of who makes the hard bits. That was true with MS-DOS in the 80s, Windows in the 90s and aughts, and with cloud gaming now. The PS5 is a spectacular bit of hardware and I love mine dearly. But it's Game Pass that gets my attention 90% of the time.

When I look at Microsoft vs Sony in cloud gaming, I can't help but think of Sony as the protagonist in one of humorist Jack Handey's deadpan gags: "Even though he was an enemy of mine, I had to admit that what he had accomplished was a brilliant piece of strategy. First, he punched me. Then he kicked me. Then he punched me again."

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written thirteen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote another seven books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com (opens in new tab)).