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Roku could be a crucial cloud gaming partner

Today, Roku revealed its next-generation player and new entry-level soundbar as well as the expansion of its Roku Channel beyond its devices and onto Android and Apple mobile devices, but its biggest content move in some time may lie ahead.

Roku has always done a good job staying above the platform war fray. More impressively, with its homegrown operating system, it has avoided being beholden to Google or the Google Play Store while still supporting YouTube as well as video services from Amazon and, most recently, Apple (even if the Apple TV+ transports you into a weird quasi-Apple TV interface).

Now, with major cloud gaming services from Microsoft, Google and Amazon staking out platforms on which to land, Roku could find itself in the catbird’s seat. Such platforms have modest hardware requirements and are likely well within the capabilities of most if not all devices in Roku’s lineup. Roku would be a particularly attractive partner for Microsoft, which, unlike Amazon with FireTV and Google with Google TV platforms and devices, has no low-cost first-party external box on which to offer its Xbox Cloud Gaming as part of its Game Pass subscription.

Cloud gaming is immature enough that offering Microsoft’s could gaming wouldn’t do much to cannibalize the Xbox Series X or S. And even in Amazon’s or Google’s case, Roku’s standing as the smart TV software behind one in every three TVs sold in the U.S. is an irresistible draw.

For Roku’s part, having access to these cloud gaming services would be a shot in the arm to its content lineup. Despite the recent additions of big guns Disney+ and Peacock and more Roku Channel partners, the platform retains a long tail of niche content. Roku dabbled into casual games on the platform years ago, but attracted just a handful with no major titles. Now, though, it’s churning out boxes that can handle 4K televisions, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos, and is selling wireless home theater products, all of which make for great device support for high-end gaming experiences that wouldn’t tax its inexpensive devices.