In discussions of next-gen consoles, I often see the questions pop up: "Why would I get an Xbox Series X if I have a good PC and Game Pass?" or "I'm fine with the Xbox One X, why would I jump to a Series X?" Well yeah, why would you? Xbox, as a brand, kind of doesn't care if that Game Pass subscriber with a beefy PC buys the next console--that person is already in the Xbox ecosystem. And if you're cool with your One X, you're still buying games and likely subscribing to Xbox Live and/or Game Pass services as well.
Head of Xbox Phil Spencer has made this approach quite clear over the past few years. And uh, he most recently reiterated it on Animal Talking, the Animal Crossing: New Horizon talk show hosted by Gary Whitta.
On the show, Spencer said, "'How many consoles do I sell versus how many consoles does another company sell; Sony, or Nintendo, or other companies back in the day?' That’s not our approach. If that was our approach, we wouldn’t put our games on PC. We wouldn’t put our games on Xbox One. We wouldn’t do xCloud and allow people to play games on their phones."
Phil Spencer has been consistent and vocal with this messaging, because it is the future of Xbox. Microsoft's goal isn't to get everyone to buy a specific piece of hardware, the goal is to permeate everyone's devices with gaming under the Xbox umbrella. The Xbox Series X will just be the top-tier option, if you want it. If not, well, there are several other ways to play Xbox games.
Before the Xbox Series X was even revealed, we spent some time with Spencer to get his detailed thoughts on running the Xbox brand. In our profile, he told us, "The number of people that are actually buying a console every generation isn't growing dramatically, if at all." He continued, "At one point you have to recognize that you can't just lead with one device. You can't just say, 'Here's an Xbox. I'm going to go sell this device to every single person and that's what they're going to play on.' That just doesn't work."
In many ways, Microsoft is letting the Xbox Series X speak for itself. By all accounts, it's a technological marvel that'll act as the best possible Xbox console available when it comes out. "I want to have a great experience on the television and I think Xbox Series X is absolutely going to deliver that," Spencer assured. As Microsoft has revealed more about the Series X's technical prowess, that seems to be the case--the Velocity architecture, the cooling system, quick resume, native 4K resolution, 8K and 120Hz capabilities, and that ultra-fast SSD that can even surpass what's on the market for high-end gaming PCs. There's enough there to justify the existence of the Xbox Series X, but not everyone needs or wants that to play games.
As we inch closer to launch and dive into more comparisons between PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, it's important to keep in mind exactly what the Xbox brand is aiming for and how it defines success.
"We want you to be able to use Game Pass across any screen you want to play on, and that would be our long-term goal. It's not about playing on any one individual screen," Spencer said on the talk show. He's made it clear, too, that Microsoft is still playing the numbers game, just a different one: "How many players are playing, how many games are they playing, are they enjoying those games, how many friends are they playing with? That's our approach for Xbox and getting people on board."
Keep in mind that console manufacturers notoriously sell units at a loss, and make their money through game sales and subscription services. And since that's the case, it's really smart that Xbox is doubling down on the latter, and widening the pool of people who have the opportunity to buy into those things. But it's not all rainbows and sunshine quite yet.
Xbox head of marketing Aaron Greenberg indicated that Game Pass isn't a huge money-maker right now, saying it's "not a big profit play." Rather, it's again, playing the numbers game in a different way. "When people feel like you're over-delivering on value, they want to not only continue to use your service, but they want to tell their friends about it. The most powerful marketing is word-of-mouth," he said. And it's pretty easy to get your friends on board if they're not bound by having to buy the latest and greatest hardware if they don't want to. Greenberg assured that they're not worried about the short-term, and said, "Ultimately, we think long-term, that's the right thing for the business and will have long-term benefits for us."
Xbox has made it a point to bring all its first-party games to PC because it wants you to buy those games, or subscribe to Game Pass to get access. In that regard, I guess there's no true Series X exclusive, but Microsoft also isn't playing that game anymore either. For example, an upcoming title called The Medium will not be coming to Xbox One by virtue of it taking advantage of Series X-specific hardware capabilities, but it will be available on PC. This suggests that, eventually, the Xbox One platform would be phased out, but by many accounts, an entry-level type of Xbox Series console is on the way--the rumored Xbox Series S. And when Xbox One owners do want to make the jump, they'll have their entire library to bring along with them via Smart Delivery or the fact that Xbox has made a concerted effort to make nearly every major game backward compatible.
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As we inch closer to launch and dive into more comparisons between PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, it's important to keep in mind exactly what the Xbox brand is aiming for and how it defines success. Sure, Xbox won't have Halo: Infinite as a system seller at launch, but the metrics for success aren't just console sales anymore. Halo: Infinite is coming to PC and Xbox One too, so getting you to play Halo: Infinite in some form is the goal (even through its free-to-play multiplayer model), and will be for any of Xbox's big games. If you want to do that on the Series X or any other capable device, Xbox is leaving that up to you. As Spencer said, "Access to games, access to your friends and the community--we want people to feel like they're a member of Xbox and that membership isn't about one device, it can be on multiple devices."
Microsoft's flagship gaming platform isn't necessarily the Xbox Series X, hell, it may not even be a console--it very much looks like it's Xbox Game Pass, which is on any Xbox console or PC, and will eventually be on phones via xCloud. It's time to stop looking at the Xbox Series X like it's supposed to be Microsoft's savior or that the Xbox brand is putting all its eggs in that basket with a future riding on console sales. That's not Xbox's game. It's evident how they've structured their ecosystem, and it's evident in the way they've communicated it.
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