A new patent suggests Microsoft is developing a controller for its Project xCloud game streaming service. First announced in 2018, Microsoft revealed its plans for the “Netflix for games” service in early 2019.
Project xCloud will iterate on the Xbox Game Pass service Microsoft already employs to create a library of easily accessible games, but it will rely entirely on streaming, allowing users to play games on a variety of platforms. It was rumored for some time that Microsoft would release four new Xbox consoles in the coming generation, one of which would be streaming-only, but the only console to be officially revealed so far is the next-gen Xbox Project Scarlett, which Microsoft revealed at E3 2019. The console is confirmed to include an optical disc drive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be another next-gen Xbox that’s streaming-focused. Still, it appears Microsoft may be focusing on existing devices for streaming rather than a dedicated streaming console.
A Microsoft Technology Licensing patent hints at how the company could be approaching streaming on such existing devices, as it depicts two halves of a controller that would attach to either side of a smartphone, not unlike Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons. The linked patent is actually for the device that would charge the Project xCloud controller, but it includes images and descriptions of the controller itself. After discovering the patent, artist Sarang Sheth at Yanko Design created a set of 3D renders that imagine what the controller could look like in its final form.
The profiles of Sheth’s designs differ quite a bit from the drawings in the patent, but it’s possible the patent sketches are simplified or simply not final. Sheth’s mock-ups imagine the controllers to have all the buttons and features of Xbox One controllers, including a headphone jack and all four shoulder buttons. Design choices like this would theoretically be necessary in order to make Xbox’s game library playable on touchscreen devices without a complicated set of virtual buttons like PUBG Mobile’s.
While it’s exciting to see Microsoft could be developing a dedicated controller for its streaming service, it’s worth noting that gaming hardware patents are filed fairly often. Sometimes these patents lead to actual hardware releases, and sometimes they end up quietly disappearing. Still, it’s not unlikely that Microsoft would produce something like this Project xCloud controller. It would certainly be more comfortable to play a game on your phone with an attached controller rather than setting your phone down somewhere and using a separate controller. Granted, there are plenty of traditionally shaped third-party Bluetooth controllers for phones that simply have a bracket to attach a phone to, so maybe it’s more likely that Microsoft would create a similar attachment for existing Xbox One or Project Scarlett controllers.