So, we’ve just passed two years since Microsoft’s fourth generation home console was released, and like Sony’s PlayStation 5, the triumphant reception of new console release was instead hampered by stock shortages and scammers. But, contrary to Sony’s beleaguered PS5 launch, Microsoft’s new generation has been a little easier for gamers to get their hands on. The smaller, less powerful, but most importantly, significantly cheaper Xbox Series S has been largely available the whole time too. With arguably a games library lacking in must play first party exclusives, especially when compared to PS5, Xbox Series X|S excels in its services. Xbox Game Pass is still phenomenal value for money.
With an extensive library of quality titles available for a relatively paltry monthly subscription fee, Xbox Game Pass encourages players try as many a game as possible. This boon in affordability is unique to Microsoft’s offerings; fewer financial barriers to entry has welcomed in a raft of new players. This, of course, is significant for Microsoft’s shareholders as the Xbox Series S has sold by the boatload. Together with the Xbox Series X, this current crop of home consoles is Microsoft’s best-selling generation since the Xbox 360.
Microsoft doesn’t release official sales figures, of course, but industry analysts estimate the total number of Xbox Series X and S consoles to be somewhere in the region of 16 million. They are public on the increase in year-on-year sales figures though – compared to the same period last year, Microsoft’s console sales are up 13% in Q1 2022. The Xbox Series X|S is selling well in markets Microsoft have historically struggled to find a foot hold in too, such as Japan. Also, in the US, Microsoft claim Xbox Series X|S is outselling PlayStation 5, which marks a significant about turn as Xbox sales have traditionally floundered behind Sony’s flagship console. It was certainly outsold in 2021, but Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella states the company has “sold more consoles to date than any previous generation of Xbox and [has] been the market leader in North America for three quarters in a row among next gen consoles.”
As of January 2022, Game Pass reached a milestone 25 million monthly subscribers. Towards late summer 2022 however, it emerged Microsoft had experienced a 6% drop in console subscription and first-party game sales when compared to the same period last year. We’ve seen drops in subscribers across all kinds of media services throughout 2022, so Microsoft’s drop in numbers might just be indicative of a tough financial environment and current cost of living crisis for many.
They may have already hit a potential maximum number of subscribers on consoles too, as PC Game Pass subscribers have experienced significant growth despite console downturn. What is clear is the Game Pass service – with its first-party day one releases and focus on small scale indie titles – continues to be a solid offering.
Microsoft have recently added Xbox Game Pass Family and Friends too, allowing up to five subscribers to reap the rewards of Game Pass Ultimate together. It’s a feature Xbox players have been asking for a while, so it’s fantastic Microsoft have finally implemented it. Microsoft’s strength in services feeds into their eco-system strategy; gamers are encouraged to play across console, PC, laptop, and mobile thanks to Game Pass Ultimate’s cloud-streaming capability. Now, whilst the cloud streaming portion of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is still technically in beta, we’re seeing more and more games coming with bespoke touch controls to enhance playability on tablets and mobile. Latency is improving too; with Google Stadia bowing out, Microsoft’s gamble on cloud gaming means they’re now without any serious competition. It’s still a way off mainstream adoption, but it’s a segment that is growing, with gamers likely tempted by the prospect of plucking games out of Game Pass’s extensive library to play wherever they are.
And here is where Xbox Series X|S is succeeding – its Game Pass library is stacked with quality titles that’re playable for next to nothing: FPS staple Halo: The Master Chief Collection, majestic Ori and the Will of the Wisps, , and Microsoft first-party exclusives Gears 5 and Forza Horizon 5 are just a handful of stellar games instantly accessible in Xbox’s Game Pass library.
Forza Horizon 5, in fact, was just released as Xbox Series X|S marked its first birthday this time last year. It’s celebration of freewheeling car culture against a jaw-droppingly vibrant Mexican landscape was arguably the Series X|S’s first essential first-party title. In truth, first-party titles for the Xbox Series X|S are still somewhat light weight in Microsoft’s portfolio, but there have been a few gems and platform exclusive games released this past 12 months.
Halo Infinite streamlined all that was cool about Master Chief’s previous space-odysseys by focusing on frenetically shooting strategically smart aliens with an assortment of awesome sci-fi weaponry with less emphasis on extravagant space opera narratives. Gunplay in 343 Industries open-world Halo Infinite is solid, but it’s fair to say its multi-player component has dwindled. Updates are coming that’re hoped will re-usher players in, but with such stiff competition from a raft of battle royale mainstays, Halo Infinite’s online player base might never recover. Criminally overlooked interactive drama As Dusk Falls plunges players into the lives of two families, their interweaving stories told 30 years apart against a gorgeous rendition of rural Arizona.
The next year is an important one for Xbox Series X|S – plenty of promising first-party titles and Microsoft exclusives originally slated for 2022 releases will finally see the light of day in 2023. Bethesda’s promise of an explorable intergalactic universe in Starfield looks the pick of the bunch, but Arkane’s co-op FPS Redfall, magical action-adventure Everwild, and dark fantasy sequel Senua’s Sage: Hellblade II should finally emerge after suffering delays in 2022.
Perhaps most important however is the eighth iteration of Turn 10 Studio’s racing sim Forza Motorsport, currently slated for release some time next year. This title has long been touted as the truest exemplifier of Xbox Series X|S’s graphical power with Turn 10 Studio being one of the first developers to build a game from the ground up that takes advantage of Xbox Series X|S’s development kit. With unparalleled load times, smooth 120 FPS racing, and unprecedented car feel and responsiveness, Forza Motorsport bears the weight of the entire generation up to now on its shoulders.
It’ll be interesting to see how long the less equipped Xbox Series S can keep pace with its more powerful big brother as more graphically intense games release throughout 2023 for Xbox Series X|S. Microsoft consistently market Xbox Series X as the most powerful console available but we’re yet to experience a title which fully capitalizes on its capability. Forza Motorsport looks set to change this, and that title alongside Starfield are exemplifiers of a console now beginning to hit its stride.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.
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