Reliance Jio is partnering with Microsoft to bring the Project xCloud game streaming service to India. At Microsoft’s Future Decoded Event in Mumbai this week, Reliance Industries Chairman and MD Mukesh Ambani confirmed in a televised interaction with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella that Jio isn’t just working with Microsoft on services for startups but with xCloud as well. While Project xCloud is slated for a 2020 release date in India, no telco partners were mentioned until now.

Both companies have a deep relationship even dating back to Microsoft’s formation what with Ambani befriending Bill Gates while at Stanford, and that Microsoft’s enterprise tech such as Azure is being used by Jio extensively.

However Ambani himself revealed that the telco giant is working with Microsoft to bring Project xCloud to India. It came up towards the end of a near fifteen minute televised interaction (from 13:24 onwards in the video below). Most of it focussed on India’s potential and how Jio and Microsoft have tried to empower the country’s citizens.

Out of the blue, Nadella asked Ambani (on the behest of his son, Akash) if he would be a gamer in a decade (spoiler: he doesn’t think so). Ambani claimed that “with everything we’re doing with xCloud and our broadband connectivity, I think there is huge potential for some of us who don’t know what gaming is.”

Neither Microsoft nor Reliance have replied to our request for comment at the time of publication regarding Project xCloud India plans and we will update this story if we hear from either or both companies.

Now keep in mind that this was never announced by either company prior to Ambani’s comments. In fact, at Reliance’s last AGM most of the Indian media simply assumed Project xCloud was a part of the deal due to a questionable showing of Reliance’s own “cloud gaming” tech running off an “Android set top box” when it appeared to be FIFA 19 with Xbox controller button prompts. Such a device or service has yet to see the light of day.

Multiple sources that work closely with Jio have told The Mako Reactor that the company has three teams working in the games space. One is in charge of liaising with developers to have their games on the JioPhone app store, essentially feature phone fare made compatible with the JioPhone family of devices that run on KaiOS. The other is developing the living room and android set top box gaming initiatives, and a third is focussed on esports (whose head quit last year). A quick check on LinkedIn verifies the existence of these three departments.

None of these divisions have achieved any major sense of scale or disruption in India the same way Jio has with its cellular and Internet services. Though with a Project xCloud deal, this could all change. Perhaps even make Jio a legitimate contender in the space.

Though more than Jio, it would help Microsoft’s chances in India tremendously. The Xbox One hasn’t sold well in India and judging by the specs on the Xbox Series X, it’s unlikely we’ll see a better price for that console. Rather, Microsoft has more to gain from this partnership.

Through Jio’s 380 million subscribers (as per Ambani at the event, a report in January stated there were 369 million Jio users) seeding an ecosystem of gamers through Project xCloud and Game Pass could result in widespread adoption minus the expensive hardware costs associated with hardcore gaming. If implemented correctly with the right pricing and games, it could very well change how gaming is perceived in India overnight — essentially what Ambani’s comment means.

That said, there are a host of challenges to see this through such as data caps, consistent Internet connectivity, rising Internet costs, and seamless payment options. And that’s before considering that Sony may launch PS Now before the Jio-xCloud partnership bears any fruit or Google’s own plans for a Stadia launch in India.

Why wasn’t this reported elsewhere?

As we stated earlier in this piece, Jio using Project xCloud was never announced or revealed by either company before this event. It appears that the Indian media jumped the whole armoury, forget the gun with headlines either talking up or talking down Ambani’s views on gaming without context. Some even going to the extent of bringing esports and gambling to the conversation.

Here’s the entire quote. It was in reply to Nadella asking, on Ambani’s son’s behest, if he (Mukesh Ambani) would be a gamer in 10 years.

That’s difficult…Akash is very excited in terms of India… Gaming doesn’t really exist in India and with everything we’re doing with xCloud and our broadband connectivity, I think there is huge potential for some of us who don’t know what gaming is. It’s very hard to imagine that gaming will be bigger than music, movies, and TV shows all put together but we will see.

It appears that Ambani is referring to gaming not existing to those who don’t know what gaming is, i.e. the opportunity to grow the base of gamers in the country beyond its current install base. And in such a situation its initiatives including Project xCloud could help.

As you can tell, the “we will see” at the end of his remark is akin to a parent telling his child “we will see” when being asked for something that may not be possible. Like staying up after bedtime or splurging Rs. 40,000 on the Xbox One X to play Halo 5 (which earns its 16+ age rating). In this case however, when you consider the amount of data Jio has on its users, it’s no surprise Ambani chooses to be cautiously optimistic. A refreshing change from the usual spree of Indian C-level execs who try to talk up gaming without knowing what it is.

Obviously reporting what India’s richest man says accurately isn’t going to drive traffic so it’s no surprise that mainstream outlets chose the other option.

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