Summary List Placement
It may not feel like it just yet, but soon enough we’ll be looking back on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 as “last-gen” consoles.
Both Sony and Microsoft are on the verge of launching their respective next-gen consoles: The Xbox Series X is scheduled to launch this November, while Sony’s PlayStation 5 is on track for a “holiday 2020” launch.
So, what makes Microsoft’s new console different from Sony’s new console? Let’s dig in.
1. The Philosophy: “For us, the console is vital, and central to our experience. We heard you — a console should be designed and built and optimised for one thing, and one thing only: gaming.”
With the Xbox One, Microsoft notoriously fumbled the announcement. While introducing the Xbox One in 2013, the company spent a lot of time talking about “entertainment” rather than gaming – the core of all video game consoles.
This time, Microsoft isn’t making the same mistake.
When the console was first detailed in June at E3 2019, the annual video game trade show, the very first thing that Xbox head Phil Spencer said about the new console was the quote above – “we heard you” being core to that message.
Spencer, on behalf of Microsoft, is making a direct effort to earn back the so-called “core gamer” audience that was so critical to the success of the Xbox 360.
To that end, the first details on the Xbox Series X, which was then code-named Project Scarlett, were focused on the kind of under-the-hood specs that appeal most to that core audience.
2. The specs: A big step up over even the most powerful Xbox One console — “four times more powerful than the Xbox One X.”
“Xbox Series X will be our fastest, most powerful console ever and set a new bar for performance, speed and compatibility,” Spencer said last December when the console’s design and name were revealed at the 2019 Game Awards.
The Xbox Series X, he said, is four times faster than the current Xbox One X – an already powerful game console.
But let’s not beat around the bush. Here are the approximate specs of Microsoft’s next Xbox:
- Processor: AMD “Navi” processor (“SoC”): “At the heart of our next-generation console is our custom-designed processor, leveraging the latest Zen 2 and and Navi technology from our partners at AMD.”
- Memory: GDDR6 RAM
- Optical Media Drive: Blu-ray disc drive
- Storage: Solid-state drive
Microsoft says all that hardware can produce 8K visuals, and up to 120 frames-per-second. The company also says that the SSD will load games faster than ever before, and multiple games can be left suspended with a “quick resume” feature. Simply put, the feature lets players, “continue multiple games from a suspended state almost instantly, returning you to where you were and what you were doing, without waiting through long loading screens.”
All these specs are relatively meaningless, of course. What matters is how they’re used.
3. The broad goal for Xbox Series X: Make it easier to play games on whatever device you want, with whoever you want to play with. (But also, yes, it will still play discs).
Microsoft’s been talking about a new Netflix-like video game streaming solution for a while now, called Project xCloud. You can even use it yourself for free – it’s currently in beta, and is set to go live soon.
The idea is you can play whatever games you want on whatever device you want (as long as you have a strong, stable internet connection). That plan is still in the works, and is a part of the vision for the next generation of Xbox – but so is a physical disc drive and a digital storage system as well.
But this isn’t a video game streaming box. Xbox Series X is very much a video game console in the traditional sense.
In the long run, Microsoft wants Xbox Series X to be the centrepiece of a broader strategy to get people playing games on whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want, even without owning a physical video game console.
4. The games: Microsoft is touting “thousands of games spanning four generations,” but the big exclusive just got delayed.
In the console’e June 2019 announcement video, a Microsoft employee says “hundreds” of people inside and outside of Microsoft are already working on games for Xbox Series X.
The video also revealed “Halo Infinite” as a launch title for the next-gen Xbox console – the next major entry in the decades-old “Halo” first-person shooter series.
The game has since been delayed to some time in 2021, and Microsoft has shifted focus to the console’s ability to play “thousands of games spanning four generations.”
The company has also announced a slew of upcoming post-launch games, including new “Forza” and “Fable” games, and “Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2.”
It’s safe to assume that major first-party game franchises, like “Gears of War,” are in production. Microsoft has said that “15 Xbox Game Studios are developing the largest and most creatively diverse lineup of Xbox exclusive games in our history” for the Xbox Series X.
Outside of Microsoft, at least two major next-gen games are in the works that we already know of: “The Elder Scrolls VI” and “Starfield,” both from Bethesda Softworks.
And beyond that, all the major multiplatform games are headed to the next-gen Xbox: “Call of Duty,” “Assassin’s Creed,” and all the major annual sports games (“Madden,” “FIFA,” “NBA 2K”) are locks.
5. The look: “We wanted to design a console where the form was driven by the function. And the function, as I said, was to really play the highest power, most immersive games possible.”
The design of the Xbox Series X, first revealed on December 12 at the 2019 Game Awards, is a major departure from traditional game console design.
Rather than looking like futuristic DVD player, like so many game consoles before it, the Xbox Series X resembles an austere PC tower. It has a disc slot for Blu-ray discs, a glowing Xbox button for turning the console on, and there’s at least one USB plug hiding out on the lower right corner. We’ve yet to see what it looks like around back, but the top is just a massive air duct for cooling.
In an exclusive hands-on with Xbox Series X, GameSpot’s Peter Brown described the console’s size as such: “Series X’s square footprint is roughly as wide as an Xbox One controller and (again, roughly) three times as tall.”
Moreover, it can be oriented horizontally or vertically, which should allow it to be easily fit into home entertainment centres.
6. The Details: All your Xbox One stuff is coming forward to the next-gen Xbox, including the backwards compatible stuff that worked there.
The Xbox Series X console will play all your Xbox One games. It will also play all the original Xbox and Xbox 360 games that your Xbox One would play, and it will work with all your Xbox One accessories.
Indeed, Microsoft confirmed that the Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 – a $US180 premium controller for the most discerning gamer – will be compatible with both the Xbox One and Xbox Series X.
“Your games, your achievements, your progression, your accessories – your console gaming experience with Xbox? It all comes forward,” a Microsoft staffer said in the June 2019 intro video.
Given that, and given how popular some games are with current-gen console owners – think “Fortnite” and “Minecraft” – a big question was whether those games will work across game console generations.
It sounds like the answer is yes.
“At the highest level, if you talk about these games that have such massive communities today, a lot of those developers and studios are going to want to think about how they grow their community – not take it to zero and rebuild it,” Xbox head Phil Spencer told Business Insider in an interview in June 2019.
Spencer said he didn’t want to speak on behalf of any developers, but that the concept philosophically “fit right in” to the company’s vision for the future of Xbox.
7. One hugely important detail: “Smart delivery” is a new feature that enables game makers to sell one version of a game that works across both the current- and next-generation Xbox consoles.
When “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla” launches this holiday, anyone who buys it will automatically own it on Xbox One as well.
That goes for all of Microsoft’s first-party games and a variety of third-party games.
“We’re making the commitment to use Smart Delivery on all our exclusive Xbox Game Studios titles, including ‘Halo Infinite,'”Xbox leader Phil Spencer wrote in a letter this past February, “Ensuring you only have to purchase a title once in order to play the best available version for whichever Xbox console [you] choose to play on.”
Furthermore, Microsoft is extending this functionality to any game makers publishing on the Xbox Series X. One such third-party studio to embrace the functionality is CD Projekt Red, the team behind one of 2020’s most anticipated new games: “Cyberpunk 2077.”
“Gamers should never be forced to purchase the same game twice or pay for upgrades,” the company announced in early 2020. “Owners of #Cyberpunk2077 for Xbox One will receive the Xbox Series X upgrade for free when available.”
The move breaks with the unfortunate tradition of game makers selling multiple versions of the same game while console generations transition, but it makes more sense than ever given how consumer expectations have evolved with the rise of smartphones and persistent software libraries.
8. The services: Xbox Game Pass is coming to the next-gen, and it’s a critical component of Microsoft’s strategy.
In the summer of 2017, Microsoft made an ambitious bet on a new Xbox service: Game Pass.
The service would offer a curated library of over 100 games, and it cost just $US10 per month. Moreover, every major Xbox game published by Microsoft, from “Halo” to “Gears of War” to “Forza Motorsport,” would be published to the service’s library at launch.
In the years since, Xbox Game Pass has become one of the best deals in gaming – a coup from Microsoft’s Xbox division in a console cycle dominated by Sony’s PlayStation 4. Game Pass now boasts over 10 million users, as of late April.
Since Game Pass launched, titles needed to be downloaded to be played, but this September, Microsoft plans to shake up the video game business. Every Game Pass game will instantly become streamable to play, making it the world’s first game streaming service with a built-in library, Netflix-style.
For $US15 a month, you’ll be able to stream over 100 games to smartphones and tablets. Moreover, you can pick up those games on your new Xbox Series X (or gaming PC) and play right where you left off.
Game Pass was already a successful part of Microsoft’s Xbox strategy with the current generation, and it’s poised to be an even bigger part of the next generation.
Check out the full reveal of the next-generation Xbox Series X game console right here:
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