If you went to Microsoft’s Xbox game showcase yesterday to see how next-gen gaming and the “ most powerful console in the world ” matter, you were probably a little disappointed. Microsoft’s event had a solid showcase for the future of Xbox and Xbox Game Studios content, but it didn’t convince me why I should buy an Xbox Series X. Instead, it made it clear that the Xbox Series X is just one of many ways you can play Xbox games, and Microsoft’s real focus on the next generation is Xbox Game Pass.
I’ve been writing for months about the importance of Xbox Game Pass and Microsoft’s strategy of using the subscription service to reach many millions more Xbox players than traditional consoles. Microsoft wants to build the Netflix for video games and early indications show that the bet is already starting to pay off with 10 million subscribers. Some developers also report increase in game sales and more playersand Microsoft has some big plans with xCloud for Game Pass – particularly around the ability to play games or demos directly.
Microsoft presented nine out of fifteen of its studios yesterday, with five new Xbox Game Studios titles and four new third-party games. It was a roadmap for the Xbox Series X and its contents, but more importantly, a roadmap for what to expect for Game Pass. There was a variety of games on display, even if it wasn’t exactly clear when we are going to play most of them. However, Microsoft made a clear commitment during the showcase: every game arrives on Xbox Game Pass on the first day.
Even Destination 2, a game bundled with Google’s Stadia Pro subscription, will be going to Xbox Game Pass in September. Despite Destination 2‘s content issues, it is still a title played by more than a million people every day on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. Bungie also has big plans Destination 2 that stretch well beyond 2022, and while there’s no exclusive content deal going on here, the Xbox is definitely setting up as the platform for Destiny the coming years.
Bungie’s commitment to Xbox Game Pass came about 20 minutes after Microsoft showed up Halo Infinite gameplay for the first time. Described as a ‘spiritual restart’ of Bungie’s original Halo: Combat Evolved, Microsoft has chosen to take Halo in an open world for the foreseeable future. An eight-minute demo of gameplay showed Master Chief’s new grappling hook, the open world Halo ring, and the return of Brutes.
While it will delight hardcore Halo fans to see Master Chief return to battle Grunts and Brutes, the gameplay did little to show why the Xbox Series X matters. Many had accepted Halo Infinite would serve as a visual or technical showcase for the Xbox Series X, especially since it is planned to launch alongside the new console.
The Halo Infinite Gameplay reveal hasn’t made fans impressed by the gameplay and visuals, and the overall art direction feels dated. Other fans just want to see why the open world matters and 343 Industries’ plans for how Halo Infinite will adapt in the coming years. But there are still many of these questions that remain unanswered several months before launch.
‘Halo Infinite continues the story of Master Chief of Halo 4 and Halo 5, and it really is the beginning of the next generation of gaming for Halo,” Chris Lee explained, Halo Infinite studio head, yesterday in a Q&A session with the media. “We see this as a platform that will grow over time and continue to tell new stories. You don’t need multiple releases to have a full story with a beginning, middle and end. We are thinking about how we will do that in the coming years. ‘
It is not clear if Halo Infinite will be the type of system vendor you typically associate with next-gen consoles, but that may not even matter. Microsoft doesn’t want you to have to buy a copy of it Halo Infinite or even upgrade to a new Xbox Series X console to play it, as it will be available on both PC and Xbox One. Microsoft just wants you to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass – and with Halo Infinite later this year on the first day on the Xbox Game Pass, that’s a good reason.
Microsoft’s Xbox game showcase has made the Xbox Series X a new entry point to Xbox Game Pass, rather than a necessary purchase. There are existing consoles that also have access to Xbox Game Pass, such as the Xbox One S, which Microsoft will continue to manufacture and sell. There are also the billion Windows 10 PCs or the millions of mobile devices that can access Xbox Game Pass via xCloud streaming. Xbox Series X is one of the best ways to play Xbox games, but it is by no means the only way or the broader focus of Microsoft’s ambitions with gaming.
Microsoft is also expected to launch a second, cheaper next-gen Xbox next month. This second console is designed as a more affordable option, with 1080p and 1440p monitors in mind. Microsoft will likely release pricing for both the Xbox Series X and this second console, code-named “Lockhart,” once it’s ready to officially confirm it exists.
It seems increasingly likely that this second next-gen Xbox will serve as Microsoft’s big push for Xbox Game Pass and as a subscription-based Xbox. Microsoft already has Xbox All Access plans with an Xbox One S All Digital Edition with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, including access to Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass. A second, cheaper next-gen Xbox fits perfectly into Xbox All Access as an affordable subscription with Xbox Game Pass access.
Microsoft’s overall strategy with Xbox and the Xbox Series X is clearly different from what Sony does with the PlayStation 5. Sony takes the more traditional route with a next-gen launch, targeting exclusive games for the PS5. Microsoft is investing in long-term content to bring Xbox Game Pass to the market and try to reach more people than a traditional next-gen console launch.
Microsoft has been teasing the technical details of its Xbox Series X console in recent months, but yesterday was a clear showcase of games for Xbox Game Pass content rather than just the Series X. Microsoft also shares the importance of the Xbox Series X- console toned down, promising that you don’t have to buy it to “play Xbox Game Studios titles that we will release in the coming years.” While that message got a little darker yesterday, it’s clear that some of the titles Microsoft showed just won’t launch in the coming years. It’s likely that Xbox One owners will still be able to play them, only via xCloud streaming once Microsoft upgrades its servers next year.
The Xbox Series X is still a powerful console that will enhance existing and future games for this next generation. But Microsoft still needs to demonstrate that clearly. We now know Microsoft’s plans for Xbox Series X and Xbox Game Pass content for years to come, but there’s more to show why ‘the most powerful console’ matters.
While the next stop is the all-important Xbox Series X price, it’s certainly very clear that the Xbox Game Pass subscription is Microsoft’s real focus for its next-generation Xbox gaming. Microsoft is no longer measuring its Xbox success by the sale of consoles, but by the number of people who play Xbox games in the future through an Xbox Game Pass subscription.