If you were heading into Microsoft’s Xbox game showcase yesterday to witness a demonstration of why next-gen gaming and the “world’s most powerful console” matter, you were probably left a little disappointed. Microsoft’s event featured a solid showcase for the future of Xbox and Xbox Game Studios content, but it did little to 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 that Microsoft’s true next-gen focus is Xbox Game Pass.
I’ve been writing for months about the importance of Xbox Game Pass and Microsoft’s strategy to leverage the subscription service to reach many millions more Xbox players than traditional consoles do. Microsoft wants to build the Netflix for video games, and early indications show that its bet is already starting to pay off with 10 million subscribers. Some developers are also reporting increases in game sales and more players, and Microsoft has some big plans ahead with xCloud for Game Pass — particularly around the ability to instantly play games or demos.
Microsoft showcased nine out of 15 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 content but, more importantly, a roadmap for what to expect for Game Pass. There was a diverse amount of games on display, even if it wasn’t clear exactly when we’ll get to play most of them. Microsoft made a clear commitment throughout the showcase, though: every single game will arrive on Xbox Game Pass on day one.
Even Destiny 2, a game that’s bundled with Google’s Stadia Pro subscription, is heading to Xbox Game Pass in September. Despite Destiny 2’s content problems, it’s still a title that’s played by more than a million people every day across Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Bungie also has big plans for Destiny 2 that extend way beyond 2022, and while there’s no exclusive content deal going on here, it certainly sets Xbox up as the platform for Destiny over the next few years.
Bungie’s Xbox Game Pass commitment came around 20 minutes after Microsoft showed off Halo Infinite gameplay for the first time. Described as a “spiritual reboot” of Bungie’s original Halo: Combat Evolved, Microsoft has opted to take Halo in an open-world direction for the foreseeable future. An eight-minute demo of gameplay showed off Master Chief’s new grappling hook, the open-world Halo ring, and the return of Brutes.
While it will have delighted hardcore Halo fans to see Master Chief return to fight Grunts and Brutes, the gameplay did very little to showcase why the Xbox Series X matters. Many had assumed Halo Infinite would serve as a visual or technical showcase for the Xbox Series X, particularly because it’s planned to launch alongside the new console.
The Halo Infinite gameplay reveal has left fans unimpressed by the gameplay and visuals, and the overall art direction feels dated. Other fans simply want to see why the open world matters and 343 Industries’ plans for how Halo Infinite will adapt in years to come. But there are still a lot of these questions that remain unanswered just months ahead of launch.
“Halo Infinite continues Master Chief’s saga from Halo 4 and Halo 5, and it’s really the start of the next generation of gaming for Halo,” explained Chris Lee, Halo Infinite studio head, in a Q&A session with media yesterday. “We look at this as a platform that will grow over time and will continue to bring new stories into it. You won’t need to have multiple releases to have a full story with a beginning, middle, and end. We’re thinking about how we do that for years to come.”
It’s not clear if Halo Infinite will be the type of system seller that you typically associate with next-gen consoles, but that might not even matter. Microsoft doesn’t want you to have to buy a copy of 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 simply wants you to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass — and with Halo Infinite arriving on day one on Xbox Game Pass later this year, it’s a big reason to do so.
Microsoft’s Xbox games showcase has left the Xbox Series X feeling like another entry point into Xbox Game Pass, rather than a necessary purchase. There are existing consoles that can also access Xbox Game Pass like the Xbox One S that Microsoft will continue to manufacture and sell. There are also the billion Windows 10 PCs out there or the millions of mobile devices that will get access to Xbox Game Pass through xCloud streaming. Xbox Series X is one of the best ways to play Xbox games, but it’s certainly not 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, possibly as soon as next month. This second console is designed as a more affordable option, with 1080p and 1440p monitors in mind. Microsoft is likely to reveal pricing for both the Xbox Series X and this second console, codenamed “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 subscriptions that offer an Xbox One S All Digital Edition with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which includes Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass access. A second, cheaper next-gen Xbox would slot 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 to what Sony is doing with the PlayStation 5. Sony is taking the more traditional route with a next-gen launch, focused on exclusive games for the PS5. Microsoft is investing in content for the long term to market Xbox Game Pass and to try to reach more people than a traditional next-gen console launch will.
Microsoft has spent the past few months teasing the technical details of its Xbox Series X console, but yesterday was a clear games showcase for Xbox Game Pass content instead of just the Series X. Microsoft has also downplayed the importance of the Xbox Series X console, promising that you won’t need to buy it to play “Xbox Game Studios titles we release in the next couple of years.” While that message got a bit murkier yesterday, it’s clear some of the titles Microsoft showed simply won’t launch within the next couple of years. It’s likely that Xbox One owners will still be able to play them, just via xCloud streaming once Microsoft has upgraded its servers next year.
The Xbox Series X is still a powerful console that will improve existing and upcoming 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 over the next couple of years, but there’s more needed to demonstrate why “the world’s 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 true focus for its next generation of Xbox gaming. Microsoft isn’t measuring its Xbox success by console sales anymore, but by how many people play Xbox games through an Xbox Game Pass subscription in the future.