Microsoft is among those vying for a piece of the burgeoning cloud gaming ecosystem. Google has Stadia, Amazon has Luna, and Microsoft’s contribution is Xbox Cloud Gaming, previously known as xCloud. Microsoft has been pushing to add full touch controls to as many Xbox games as possible, and that approach seems to be paying off. According to a new Xbox blog post, some 20 percent of Xbox Cloud subscribers are only using touch controls to play games, foregoing controllers altogether.
The blog post in question is aimed at developers to get them interested in adding touch controls to streaming titles. Microsoft stresses that devs don’t need to make any changes to their underlying game code (just some tweaks to the cloud aware plugin), and it has sample layouts available on GitHub. The nice thing about Xbox Cloud controls is that Microsoft doesn’t force a one-size-fits-all approach. Developers can customize the appearance, location, and performance of the controls. Users can also adjust the layout on their phones as they see fit. Plus, if you are using one of Microsoft’s Duo phones, the touch controls appear on one of the screens, leaving the game unobstructed on the other.
One of the games Microsoft used as an example in the post is Hades, a roguelike action-RPG title with tight controls. I’m not going to argue that you’ll do better with on-screen buttons versus a real controller, but I’ve played several hours of Hades with touch controls, and they work surprisingly well. The devs put the most important button (attack) dead center in a circular cluster of buttons, making it easier to hit without looking. Less important buttons are up top, and there’s a virtual thumbstick on the left. The other examples in Microsoft’s blog post have equally elegant button layouts.
According to Microsoft, adding touch controls to games on Xbox Cloud Gaming results in a doubling of play time. Because people can just fire up the game on their phone without any extra hardware. So, that’s where the 20 percent comes in — one in five subscribers aren’t even bothering to haul a controller around because Xbox touch controls work well enough. Maybe you find this hard to believe, but Microsoft has still more surprising stats. There are some games where a whopping 30 percent of players are only using touch controls. They include the aforementioned Hades, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Scarlet Nexus, and more.
More than 100 Xbox Cloud Gaming titles have support for custom touch controls, and Microsoft is hoping more devs will get on board. With metrics like these, Microsoft will probably get its wish.