Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s Xbox division, has published a new blog post on the company website with fresh details on the Xbox Series X. Most of the high-level specs are things we’ve already covered — 12 TFLOPs of GPU power, 4x the processing power of an Xbox One, ray tracing, and so on — but there are some details on backward compatibility and how Microsoft is treating its cloud-based Xbox Game Pass that are new to the conversation.
Microsoft has already said that the Xbox Series X will be compatible across four generations of Xbox hardware (OG, 360, Xbone, XBX). When it comes to future compatibility, games that can play on both the Xbox One and the Xbox Series X will be delivered using a service Microsoft calls Smart Delivery. Thanks to Smart Delivery, you’ll only need to buy a game once to play on either an Xbox One or an XBX. When you trigger the install, the appropriate version of the game will be downloaded to your hard drive or SSD.
Microsoft has committed to using Smart Delivery for “all our exclusive Xbox Game Studios titles,” and states that third-party developers “can choose to use it for titles that will be released on Xbox One first and come to the Xbox Series X later.” Microsoft uses the example of Halo Infinite as a game that will ship for both platforms. Buy it once and you can play it on either system, though there may be restrictions to prevent you from playing on both consoles simultaneously.
The one question we have is whether Microsoft plans to continue to support the Xbox One for all that long following the launch of the Xbox Series X. According to Xbox Addict, there were 100 Xbox 360 games released in 2006, 189 in 2007, and 224 in 2008. By 2011, this was up to 262 games a year. Once the Xbox One was impending, however, the number of Xbox 360 releases went into sharp decline: 143 in 2013, 61 in 2014, and five in 2015. It would be nice to know if services like Smart Delivery are intended to extend the life of the Xbox One, or just to provide a more convenient way to buy games on that platform while it remains in development.
Microsoft is emphasizing backward-compatibility in the Xbox Series X generation like never before, with declarations of seamless support for titles going back to the original Xbox and the ability to use controllers and peripherals from the Xbox One era with the new console. Games like Halo Infinite will launch simultaneously on Xbox Game Pass and in retail, demonstrating that Microsoft views its streaming service as a first-tier launch platform rather than a place to dump games after their initial release window.
Life in the Cloud
About three weeks ago, Spencer declared that Google and Amazon, not Sony and Nintendo, were the company’s biggest rivals for game streaming. On the face of it, this was a nonsensical claim, given that neither Google nor Amazon are current gaming rivals to the major console players. I raised the question of whether Microsoft was repeating the mistakes of the Xbox One launch, when a complete misunderstanding of what its own customers wanted led to a disastrous unveil and early press cycle.
One explanation for this framing that I alluded to in that article is that the cloud-first idea may be part of an effort to justify the existence of Xbox under Satya Nadella. Nadella has demonstrated that he views Microsoft as a cloud-first, cloud-centric company, and that all of Microsoft’s business efforts are expected to align with that perspective. Spencer’s blog post kicks off by mentioning streamers and game streaming, anchoring the concrete hardware of the Xbox Series X alongside a discussion of cloud gaming more generally. There are prominent references to games being provided via cloud services, either via Xbox Game Pass or Microsoft’s Project xCloud. Backward compatibility and Smart Delivery are major launch features. So far, Microsoft is putting more emphasis on the cloud’s ability to deliver backend infrastructure as opposed to fundamentally different gaming experiences, which is probably a smart move.
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