Anyone who’s tried the Xbox Cloud Gaming beta on Linux (which is likely a small crowd, I know) may have noticed that the image quality is a little rough, even by cloud gaming standards. Now, though, community members have found a quick workaround to get better image quality, and we have an official explanation for why the hack works and why the problem exists in the first place.
On Monday, Reddit user Spiritual-Ad2806 posted on the Xcloud subreddit, saying that they were able to trick the Xbox service into showing them a better quality stream on Linux by making it think it was running on Windows. Doing that is relatively simple; they used an Edge extension to change their user agent, which is essentially a string of text that tells websites what browser you’re using, as well as various other pieces of info about your system. When they switched to a user agent that told sites they were running on Windows 10 instead of Ubuntu or Manjaro, they got a noticeably better picture.
I tried this out for myself using Linux Mint and this browser extension (though I can not completely vouch for its safety, so proceed with bail), and it totally worked. The differences, which you can see an example of above, can be subtle depending on what game you’re playing, but I’d consider the workaround mandatory if I was going to be playing any game with any amount of text.
As for why this works, Jordan Cohen, one of the leads on the xCloud project, offered an explanation on the Linux_Gaming subreddit. According to his comment, Linux is not officially supported by Xbox Cloud Gaming, so it “reverts to a default resolution and bit rate” that should work on most devices. Cohen says that the team decided to look at the user agent instead of trying to figure out what features a browser actually supported because it was simpler.
According to Cohen, the Xbox Cloud Gaming team is “working to improve support and access for a wider range of devices and operating systems” and is “considering changing defaults to be smarter.” While that’s far from an official announcement, it does sound like Linux / Xbox gamers may want to keep an eye out. For now, though, the user agent trick seems to work just fine if you want to get the most out of your Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
Update July 8th, 4:15 PM ET: Jordan Cohen confirmed to The Verge that he wrote the Reddit comment. This article has been updated to reflect that confirmation.