Microsoft has thoroughly convinced me: I don’t need to buy an Xbox Series X. The games don’t look “next-gen” enough. There aren’t enough titles I actually want to play. Yesterday, the company announced its flagship game, Halo Infinite, won’t even arrive until 2021. Besides, almost all of Microsoft’s key games are also coming to Windows PCs, and some may even come to the PS5 as well. And while I have a sneaking suspicion that Microsoft is breaking a big promise by not bringing some Xbox Series X games to the Xbox One, another possibility is that many of the biggest reasons to buy a new Xbox won’t be available until long after its November launch.
But intriguingly, I don’t think Microsoft will mind me skipping the Xbox this gen. The company will be too busy laughing all the way to the bank.
Of the 18 full games that appeared in Microsoft’s Xbox Games Showcase on July 23rd, all but one — CrossfireX — are slated to run on Windows PCs. Amazingly, that PC slate includes Microsoft’s ultimate killer app: Halo. It’s the game that arguably sold the world on the original Xbox, a franchise that’s been a mainstay for Xbox ever since, and one of the biggest middle fingers that Microsoft ever gave Apple’s Steve Jobs. (Remember when Jobs introduced Halo?)
Now, Halo Infinite is coming to Windows PCs, and it sounds like it’s going to be a first-class citizen there. “A dedicated team at 343 is focusing on ensuring Halo Infinite offers a best-in-class experience optimized for the PC platform,” writes developer 343 Industries, adding that “special PC features” are on the way — perhaps including ray tracing. Microsoft won’t even make you download it from the Windows Store; you’ll be able to buy it on Steam. After living through the mess that was Games for Windows Live and Microsoft’s repeated unsuccessful attempts to push the Windows Store, I still can’t believe I can actually write those words.
And while an early look at Halo Infinite may not have blown us away with its graphical fidelity (hey there, Craig), it’s a must-buy for people like me. I adored the original Halo: Combat Evolved. I played it on Xbox. I bought it on PC. I beat it on Legendary. It’s the reason I can’t agree that The Duke was a terrible gamepad: the flashlight and grenade buttons were in just the right places.
This tweet does a good job of summing up my feelings about the Halo Infinite reveal:
Yesterday, I felt like I was transported back in time to when I was a kid and was so excited about a new @Halo game. It was awesome.
I hope I never lose that feeling pic.twitter.com/XzYmVGJFDo
— (@GoldenboyFTW) July 24, 2020
All of this is to say I will almost certainly pay Microsoft $60 to play this game — if not more. After all, Halo Infinite is being pitched as a Destiny-esque game that’ll evolve over time, one that will represent “the next ten years for Halo,” instead of continuing with numbered sequels. And you’d best believe Microsoft is hoping that means a continuous revenue stream.
Okay, so I’m buying Halo Infinite. Let’s say it costs $60, yeah? Now let’s compare that $60 to how much I’ve spent on Microsoft games over the past six-plus years, ever since the Xbox One was released.
Oh, that’s right, I didn’t buy an Xbox One. The last Microsoft game I bought was for the Xbox 360; when Sony started shoring up must-play exclusives and Microsoft wasn’t able to match them, I purchased a PS4 instead. I spent $0 on Xbox this past console generation — which means if I buy a single “Xbox Series X” game, I’ll have instantly given Microsoft more money than I have in many years.
And Microsoft won’t even have to sell me a box to earn those dollars, which is handy when you consider that brand-new game consoles are often sold with very slim margins indeed. They do that because they know you’re more likely to buy games for the box that already made a hole in your wallet and filled a hole in your entertainment center. But if enough people already own gaming PCs or earlier Xbox Ones — particularly in an era when true console exclusives are rare anyhow — why not make easy money from those people?
(I’ll be curious if Sony does the same. It’s already taken the first step with a PC port of Horizon Zero Dawn, one of its most gorgeous exclusives for PS4, and other previously PS4-exclusive games have also been making their way to Steam.)
Besides, Microsoft has other ways to achieve gamer lock-in now. Instead of spending $60 on a single copy of Halo Infinite, I might well opt to pay $15 a month for Microsoft’s Game Pass Ultimate, which is looking like a better deal all the time. Yes, as a PC gamer, there was no way I was going to pay for the old Xbox Live Gold to get online multiplayer I’m used to having for free. But now that a subscription buys access to over 100 PC games — not just back catalog but new first-party Microsoft games on launch day — and will let me play them on my Android phone with xCloud, too, I’m definitely going to give it a look.
Heck, Microsoft is even experimenting with PC-first games like Gears Tactics and Microsoft Flight Simulator now. Flight Simulator has typically been a Windows franchise, but this one’s coming to Xbox. And yet, the PC is still first. Both will be part of Game Pass as well.
Like my colleague Tom Warren says, Xbox Game Pass is Microsoft’s true next-gen Xbox. It was the one clear message Microsoft sent during the same 57-minute presentation that convinced me not to buy the actual Xbox.
And if I spend even a single dollar on the one-month trial of Xbox Game Pass just to play Halo at launch, that’s one dollar more than I’ve spent on Microsoft games in years. I wonder how many other would-be Microsoft gamers can say the same.