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Letters from the Front

Now that the Xbox Game Showcase has come and gone, I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the past recent weeks and have came to a conclusion: if you’re heading into the Game Showcase to witness a demonstration of how gaming will be in the future then you went in with the wrong impression or the wrong set of standards. Microsoft’s event featured a roadmap and a solid showcase of what’s to come, but it didn’t really sell anyone on WHY they should buy an Xbox Series X. Instead, it made it clear that Xbox Game Pass is Microsoft’s true next generation vision and the Series X is just one of many places where you can play Microsoft’s exclusives and games.

I’ve been writing about Game Pass for the past several years and how Game Pass is the most important asset in Microsoft’s armory and their strategy to use Game Pass to leverage the subscription service to many more that are outside the realm of Microsoft. Microsoft wants to build the Netflix version of videogames and it’s been paying for them with 10 million subscribers and counting every day someone chooses to enroll into Game Pass. Some developers are reporting newer sales and newer players and Microsoft has some big plans involving xCloud for Gamepass, particularly around the idea of to instantly play games or demos.

At the showcase, Microsoft showed nine out of 15 of its studios, with five new Xbox Game Studios titles and four new third-party games. The showcase was a roadmap for the Series X and its upcoming content but, more importantly, it was a roadmap for Game Pass. Every game at the showcase is coming to Game Pass date and date, including Destiny 2 next month and while there is no exclusive deal set in place, it shows that the Xbox is the premier platform to play Destiny 2 on.

Bungie’s commitment came after Halo: Infinite, described as a spiritual reboot of the classic franchise, Microsoft has opted to take Halo into the open world and the 8 minute demo showed off the game with Master Chief having a lot of new toys and the return of the brutes and the elites.

While the demo delighted fans of the franchise, it left many unimpressed and did very little to showcase why the Series X matters. Many assumed, including myself, was that Halo: Infinite was going to be the triple A banger that would showcase all the features the Series X is claiming and touting in marketing but in my personal view, it left me sort of mixed due to the gameplay and visuals that the game was shown off but there’s a lot of questions that needs to be answered. It’s not clear if Halo Infinite will be the system seller that everyone was thinking, but it may not even matter. The goal is to get you to subscribe to Game Pass and with Halo Infinite date and date to Game Pass, it’s a huge reason to subscribe.

When it to comes to the Series X, the showcase left the console in the wind a little bit: another entry point into Game Pass, rather than a necessary purchase. There are existing pieces of hardware that can also access Game Pass like the Xbox One S or the billion Windows 10 PCs out there and the millions of mobile devices that will get access to Game Pass through Project xCloud. Series X may be the best place to play but its not the only way to play Microsoft games.

Microsoft’s overall strategy with the Xbox brand and the Series X itself is different to Sony’s plans with the Playstation 5. Sony is taking the tried and tested route, focusing on exclusive games for the PS5. Microsoft is investing in content for the long term to market Game Pass which will try and reach as many people as possible. Microsoft has spent the last several months talking about the power and specs of the Series X, but there was a showcase for Game Pass instead of the Series X and Microsoft downplayed the Series X by a huge margin, they promised that you won’t need to buy a Series X or Series S to play “Xbox Game Studios titles we release in the next couple of years.” That message got murkier at the showcase, it’s clear to see that some of the games within the lineup won’t launch in the next 2 to 3 years. It’s likely that those still on the One will be able to play them.

The Series X is still a very beefy system that will improve games in the next generation, but Microsoft needs to demonstrate that clearly. Why should I buy a Series X? Why does the Series X matter? All of these questions need to be answered in the next several months before launch.

While the price is up next, it’s clear to see that Game Pass is Microsoft’s true next generation vision and how we play our games in their ecosystem. Microsoft is no longer measuring the Xbox brand’s success through console sales, but how many people subscribe to Game Pass.

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