Vodafone adds Microsoft xCloud partnership to its multipronged gaming strategy

via Flickr © Aaron Yoo (CC BY-ND 2.0)

via Flickr © Aaron Yoo (CC BY-ND 2.0)

  • Trial will let customers stream Xbox games to smartphones, tablets
  • Operator hopes to 'optimise' experience over 4G and 5G networks
  • A big name in gaming and some triple-A titles will help Voda's credibility

Gaming is a tough market to crack, as Google and Apple are about to find out, so a better way of going about it might be to partner with a big-name insider that can lend you that all-important credibility.

Vodafone UK appears to have done just that, striking a deal with Microsoft that will give select customers early access to the software giant's upcoming game streaming service, which currently goes by the name, Project xCloud.

For both parties, this partnership is a no-brainer. Microsoft gets to see how xCloud performs on a live mobile network, with real customers. Vodafone gets to see how its networks cope with the rigours of streaming high-end Xbox games to smartphones and tablets. Knowledge gleaned from the trial should help Vodafone and Microsoft make any tweaks needed to deliver the best user experience possible. That's the idea, anyway.

For Vodafone in particular, it should gain an insight into how best to pitch services like xCloud to its subscribers, such as minimum connection speed and recommended data plan, for example. Earning a reputation as the preferred mobile network for gamers would be no bad thing for Vodafone. Microsoft also has a catalogue of triple-A titles, which should help pull in the sort of punters that are actually willing to spend money on games.

On the face of it, this seems to be a more pragmatic approach than the one recently adopted by Deutsche Telekom, which has chosen to develop its own cloud gaming service, MagentaGaming, scheduled to launch next year. The German incumbent will have to do all the heavy lifting on its own: attracting big developers to its platform, fostering a community of engaged players (who can play nicely with one another), delivering a service that actually works, and establishing MagentaGaming as a credible brand that's here to stay. The same can be said of Google's upcoming Stadia service, and Apple Arcade too.

In order to be eligible to take part, Vodafone customers must have a phone or tablet running Android 6.0 or later and equipped with Bluetooth 4.0, a Microsoft account, and a wireless Xbox One controller.

See what sticks

This technical partnership is part of what seems to be Vodafone's multipronged approach to addressing the gaming market.

In May, it struck a partnership with Hatch, a cloud gaming service specifically for mobile devices. This one is pitched squarely at casual gamers, and offers access to 100 mobile games.

Then there is Vodafone's partnership with ESL, the world's biggest esports company. Together they are hosting a mobile gaming tournament, the Vodafone 5G ESL Mobile Open. It began in May and will conclude this weekend at Milan Games Week. This one is very much aimed at aspiring pro gamers, and has a total prize pool of €165,000.

Rather than attempt to take on and beat the gaming industry at its own game, so to speak, Vodafone is steadily infiltrating it instead, aligning itself with well-known brands that between them address the casual, enthusiast, and even professional gamer segments. If it perseveres with this strategy, it could prove to be shrewd move.

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