The next generation of consoles is almost here.
Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and the lower-priced Series S both hit the market on Nov. 10 (two days before its competition, Sony’s PlayStation 5, debuts), and the hardware giant is taking a very different approach to this newest round of hardware than in past generations. Microsoft has been touting the Series X’s impressive specs and performance, but also in the mix are its exclusive services — specifically, Xbox Game Pass, which allows for more flexibility in Xbox gaming than ever.
Xbox Game Pass, which originally launched in 2017, has become an integral part of the Microsoft gaming ecosystem. For $10/month, subscribers get access to more than 100 games on either their Xbox consoles or PC. For $15/month, Game Pass Ultimate offers an upgraded version: subscribers can get access to all those games on their Xbox consoles, PCs and, as of recently, their Android devices via xCloud — and can pick up and play on their save files on any of those devices. A subscriber doesn’t even need an Xbox Series X (or any Xbox at all) to take advantage of Microsoft’s big subscription play, a strategy that might seem counterintuitive as it prepares to unveil its new hardware.
Despite the flexibility, however, Microsoft still sees console gaming as its signature experience, Liz Hamren, head of platform engineering and hardware, tells Variety. It’s just about taking that to other places.
“We still see the console as our flagship experience, [and] the living room as the best, most immersive place to play,” she says. “I think the idea is, we’ve developed this ability to deliver amazing, immersive gaming experiences to folks in their living room with dedicated hardware and we want to take that to other places, and we want to take that Xbox experience, the core of the Xbox experience, other places.”
Part of that strategy, she says, is the Xbox Series S, a smaller, paired-down version of the next-generation console that doesn’t include a disc drive and costs $300. And for the last three years, it’s also largely included Game Pass.
Hamren says Microsoft’s priorities haven’t changed, though, since the introduction of Game Pass and xCloud. As she puts it, the company has mostly “gotten more and more player-centric versus device-centric, and thinking about how we deliver games to players wherever they play.”
And it’s not as though the company is jumping into the next generation on Nov. 10 and leaving its old consoles and gaming behind. On the contrary, Hamren emphasizes that the backwards compatibility that the Series X offers, allowing users to play their previously owned games with next-gen graphics, was something in particular that fans had asked for.
In a blog post in July, Xbox head Phil Spencer noted that players “won’t be forced into the next generation,” especially since Xbox Game Studios titles in the next couple of years will be available on both the Xbox One and Series X.
“We really think about it more as a complete Xbox ecosystem, not just a hard transition from one generation to the next,” Hamren says. “We’ve seen a lot of demand for next-generation consoles. That said, people will upgrade when they’re ready.”
As it embarks on the next generation (and as gaming has become more and more mainstream), Hamren says Xbox is focused on three aspects: “performance, games and your community.”
“I think that we just continue to look at what our players care about, and it’s performance, it’s games, and it’s playing with their friends,” she says. “As we continue to make investments… we’re always kind of keeping that in mind.”