To date, all of Microsoft’s communications regarding upcoming consoles have focused on one product — the Xbox Series X. Normally, a “Series” contains more than one product, but Microsoft has continually communicated that the XSX is what there is. We now know that’s wrong — courtesy of Microsoft’s own packaging.
Twitter user Zak S found a white Xbox controller for sale on OfferUp and bought it. The typical Xbox Series controller is black — this has already been illustrated — and the box for this new controller clearly states that it’s compatible with both the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S.
Xbox series X controller found in the wild!! pic.twitter.com/TEns4z45CB
— Zak S (@zakk_exe) August 9, 2020
It’s hard to see the writing on the box, so I ran the photo through Topaz Gigapixel AI and then cropped it down:
The way the label is written leaves no doubt that the Xbox Series X and S are both considered part of one family, while the Xbox One is listed separately. It’s not clear why Microsoft insists on calling both sets of hardware family a “series,” since we have no word on any future hardware upgrades. It’s like having two separate product “families” with just one product each.
One reason Microsoft may have held its silence on the Xbox Series S is that it’s trying to figure out how best to position the console against Sony. We know Sony initially had concerns about pricing before it decided to increase production. We know that the Xbox Series X, on paper, looks significantly faster than the PS5. This should translate into an advantage over that platform, but I don’t want to speculate on how large it’ll be — too many moving parts, and we literally have no data on game scaling between the two. The one price tag we know is the Xbox One S, already on the market at $300 and apparently retained into the next generation of hardware.
Imagine a world where Microsoft sets the price of the Xbox Series X at $600, drops the Xbox Series S in at $400, and cuts the Xbox One S down to $200-$250. Sony is launching two PS5’s, but the only known difference is the lack of a Blu-ray drive, so let’s assume a fairly narrow price split of no more than $100 between them.
Xbox One S: $200 – $250
Xbox Series S: $400
PS5 Digital: $500
PS5 Standard: $600
Xbox Series X: $600 – $700.
Microsoft is well-positioned in this stack. The XBone and the XSS are both cheaper than the PS5, but the performance jump from XO to Xbox Series S is going to be substantial — possibly even linear with respect to price. The PS5’s are more powerful than the XSS but also cost more, and the Xbox Series X crowns the stack, in halo positioning. Here’s what Microsoft doesn’t want to happen:
Xbox One: $200 – $250
PS5 Digital: $500
Xbox Series S: $500
PS5 Standard: $600
Xbox Series X: $600 – $700
In this model, the Xbox One is still anchoring the bottom of the product stack in a unique position, but the Xbox Series S is going head-to-head with the more powerful PS5. Sony decisively won the current console generation, likely leaving Microsoft no doubt what will happen in a hypothetical rematch. The point of developing two distinctly different console SKUs is to bracket the competition. In the first stack, gamers can get vastly better than Xbox One or PS4 perf for less money than the Xbox One X or PS4 Pro cost when new. In the second stack, the PS5 offers more performance at the same price point.
There’s no sign that the Xbox One X impacted which consoles people were more interested in buying. Sony buyers seem to have stuck with that ecosystem, while Xbox gamers bought the XOX. Owning the top of the stack at launch may help win gamers at launch, but clearly taking over that position midway through the last cycle wasn’t enough to meaningfully change the ratio of Xbox versus PS4 sales. Microsoft appears to have designed an SoC that has a fair chance of giving them performance dominance, but figuring out how to bring the midrange option to market is trickier. This may be part of why it’s getting so close to launch and we still don’t have any price information. Sony and Microsoft may be playing a game of chicken, each hoping the other will announce first.