Microsoft Pushes Publishers to Offer Next-Gen Game Upgrades for Free

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Microsoft is reportedly urging developers and publishers to adopt its Smart Delivery system and to offer current console owners a free upgrade to the Xbox Series X version of a game. The company has reportedly told publishers that they are not allowed to charge players to upgrade an Xbox One game to the Xbox Series X as an alternative to delivering that upgrade for free via Smart Delivery.

Here’s what this means in practice: If a developer wants to sell you two different versions of the same game, one for each console, that’s fine. 2K is taking this path with NBA 2K21. What 2K isn’t allowed to do is charge new XSX owners who previously owned the game on Xbox One an extra $20 to unlock the XSX’s graphics and performance enhancements.

Publishers are not required to use Smart Delivery. EA has its own system, dubbed Dual Entitlement, which appears to work in the same manner. Thus far, FIFA 21, Cyberpunk 2077, Destiny 2, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla have been announced as games you’ll only have to buy once, and all first-party MS games will use Smart Delivery.

The SoC inside the Xbox Series X. The CPU performance improvement from Jaguar to Zen will be significant.

Thus far, it looks like Microsoft’s plan for the Xbox Series X is to make it as much like a PC as possible in certain respects. Backwards compatibility — heretofore a distinct advantage for the PC — will be robust and implemented at launch, not patched in afterwards. If MS can convince more developers to use Smart Delivery or an equivalent free-upgrade system, day-one buyers will be guaranteed better performance and visuals in games they already know they like. Xbox One X games that don’t receive visual upgrades should still run better on the XSX, given its superior GPU and CPU horsepower.

Is it the same as the PC’s backwards compatibility? No. But the ability to play Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One games on the Xbox Series X represents an effective game library stretching back close to two decades. I can see why PC gamers might not find it equivalent, but it’s impossible to deny that Microsoft has implemented the feature in its own ecosystem.

Smart Delivery is, I think, an exceedingly smart move. Microsoft is playing catch-up to Sony in a major way this generation. By emphasizing backwards compatibility, they’ve created a long-term value proposition for the long-term Xbox customer that Sony doesn’t match. It’s a subtle strength, but it plays well as a customer-friendly move.

It’ll be interesting to see if the free upgrade path tends to yield better or worse results compared to the updated graphics if you buy the same game twice. Microsoft seems to be making a lot of the right moves this console generation. I’m curious to see how it all plays out. Hat-tip to Hot Hardware for surfacing the story.

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