The first of the duelling console developers to bite the bullet and share a next-gen release date and price point was Microsoft. On Tuesday (September 8), the tech giant unveiled salient facts about one of its two upcoming next-gen consoles: It wasn’t the system most fans were anticipating, but yet, it might just be the one to clinch Microsoft the next-gen console race crown.
Sure, Microsoft has since rolled out the red carpet for the Xbox Series X – which has been priced at the expected £449 (US$499) – but it’s the company’s brand-new console which slots into the affordable console gap usually filled by Nintendo that might be the true game changer. The Xbox Series S is 60 per cent smaller than the Xbox Series X, will be entirely digital with a teensy 512GB SSD and will launch on November 10 for the astonishing price of £249 (US$299).
Yes, I know that’s still a lot of money, but there’s no denying that it’s an attractive price-point for a next-gen system that, historically, unduly dents the finances of eager early adopters. My (still desperately beloved) Halo 5 Guardians 1TB Xbox One cost £400 half a decade ago. My upgrade to Xbox One X Project Scorpio Edition in 2017 set me back £450. The idea of unlocking the power and pleasure for next-gen for almost half that? Holy shit, where do I sign up?
And yes, eyebrows are wagging about the name of it. Unlike Sony’s simple, if uninspired naming conventions, Microsoft has jumped from Xbox to Xbox 360 to Xbox One to Xbox Series, with a plethora of offshoot consoles – including “slims”, “S” and “X” versions – thrown in for good measure. But if you’re obsessing about the absurdity of its name, I fear you might be missing the point: this reasonably priced next-gen console has thrown the race for next-gen wide open again.
While it’s unlikely to attract the type of gamers who routinely scrutinise tech specs and frame-by-frame comparisons, this system seems to be targeted at bringing more casual players into the Microsoft fold, including parents with next-gen consoles sitting on Christmas wishlists.
No, it likely won’t replace the Series X for the faithful, but next-gen graphics and features for £249 is undeniably tempting, particularly when you consider pairing the more low-cost tech with the might of the Xbox Game Pass.
If you’ve yet to try it out, Xbox Game Pass is like other subscription services offered by the more prominent publishers like Ubisoft and EA, only vastly superior. That’s largely thanks to its extensive library of games and day-one, free delivery of first-party titles, such as Halo Infinite (delay pending, of course). At £15 a month and inclusive of Xbox Live Gold – which itself costs circa £40 per year and is usually required to access online features for most games – the tech giant looks set to plug an affordable console gap that’s currently dominated entirely by the Nintendo Switch.
Looking ahead, I’m curious how the tiny 512GB of storage will fare on an all-digital console, although it may offer ports for storage expansions. But what we do know is Microsoft will shortly be ramping up its xCloud streaming service and, if successful, pairing that a £250 next-gen console might truly dominate.
I doubt the problematic launch of the Google Stadia is far from Microsoft’s collective hivemind, what with its the bungled public launch and lacklustre take-up by intimate consumers who don’t yet have the faith nor infrastructure to get behind it entirely. But combining a cloud gaming streaming service with the power of Xbox Game Pass just might make a phenomenal package… especially when paired with Xbox All Access, a monthly payment plan that lets consumers spread the cost, too.
Will the Series S reverse Microsoft’s console fortunes? Who knows. Next-gen isn’t even here yet, and there are plenty of people on either side of the aisle insisting that Sony or Microsoft have already “won” or “lost” the race. But with Sony still holding out on precise release dates or prices, it’s impossible to predict which company will flourish and which will falter. But one thing’s for sure: with an affordable next-gen system now squarely targeting Nintendo’s market share, all bets are off.