Opinion: The Xbox Series S Might've Already Won Microsoft The Next-Gen Battle
There's no point in beating around the bush, I've always been an Xbox fan. I don't know what it is, but I've always found the gaming experience to feel a bit better on the Microsoft consoles compared to Sony. Having been an avid user for years, this new announcement of the Series S & Series X certainly excited my inner console fanboy, and as much as I'll most likely end up owning a Series X, its little, less expensive brother might just make for incredible value for money.
The big thing that the Series S has on its side is affordability, coming in at £249 or $299, a whole lot cheaper than the original Xbox One's starting price of £429, marking a difference in strategy for Microsoft compared to 2013. Its decision to release a more attractively-priced, all-digital console at the start of the release cycle alongside its flagship means that Microsoft have opened up the next-gen gaming experience to a wider audience. Microsoft clearly haven't given the new generation a fatal kiss of death, much like they did with the Xbox One when discussing the launch price. Being all-digital brings a whole new dimension too, with Microsoft appearing to future-proof themselves for the disc-less world that will eventually find its way to console games in the next few years. It's only a matter of time, not least when digital stores for PC games such as Steam or Origin have certainly become the norm these days.
Where the Series S gets its lower price point from is the components that are bundled inside it. However, before you go mad and say "It's a budget console, what did you expect?", I'm not actually complaining. As you'd perhaps expect, the Series S shares a lot of components with its bigger brother, using the same AMD processor, clocked only 200MHz slower than the Series X at a speed of 3.6GHz. With 4 teraflops of performance, it's designed to provide 1440p gaming at 60fps, and comes with a 512GB SSD, half the size of the one in the Series X, and 10GB of ultra-speedy DDR6 RAM. This component convergence doesn't half make the Series S an attractive proposition - if 4K isn't your biggest concern, the Series S certainly looks to give you a pretty damn good bang for your buck, especially if it does live up to the zany promise of having 3x the processing power of the Xbox One.
When it comes to design of course, much like the other consoles of the lineup, the Series S has received its fare share of criticism, being compared to a hotplate, or an air conditioning unit:
Sure, it's not the best-looking console, but then again, to the same community of gamers, the PS5 looks like a Virgin Media wifi router, and the Series X looks like a fridge. If we're going on looks alone, then no console really wins. The Series S wins when it comes to overall dimensions, being just 11 or so inches tall and 2.5 inches wide in its vertical position. When it comes to overall volume, the Series S is 60% smaller than the bigger brother, and looks equally brilliant in vertical or horizontal orientations, harking back to the universally appreciated looks of the old Xbox 360, which I think everyone had either upright or on its side dependent upon how they were feeling that day.
It looks to be an absolutely incredible deal if I'm honest and I'm sure Microsoft will have people queuing out the door to buy one. However, if leaks are to be believed, Sony's response of an all-digital Playstation 5 could be set to have the Americans quaking in their digital boots. According to some leaks before the big day tomorrow, the all-digital PS5 could be set to have a launch price of $399, or roughly £349, which on first glance seems a little over-the-top, as it overcuts the Series S by a whole $100. However, when you read into it, the performance levels of this digital PS5 look to be apparently on par with the proper console, whereas the Series S is ultimately a scaled-down version of the Series X, both in size and features.
There a couple of other niggles however. Fundamentally, with an all-digital console, it lacks a disc drive, so you'll be forced to pay the prices that Microsoft charge in the Microsoft Store. Traditionally at least, digital editions of games have been seen to be more expensive than their physical counterparts, meaning that the money you'll end up saving on the console itself is then essentially reinvested into the overinflated prices for digital games. If the Series S is to truly become a proper all-digital competitor, than Microsoft really should take a leaf out of Valve's book when it comes to reductions and sales for games. Better still, they should respond to the sellers of physical games - if GAME drop the price of the FIFA 21 a few weeks after release, then Microsoft, to compete and also drive more traffic (and potentially more purchases) to the store, should also be able to offer a similar price. What they have in essence is a monopoly of convenience - at the current moment, gamers are encouraged to pay their inflated prices unless they look elsewhere, but even then, the reputation of the likes of G2A could catch up with them and people will ultimately go for the most convenient and hassle-free option. If the Series S is to become a bonafide success, then Microsoft have got to seriously rethink their digital pricing strategy.
In addition, the push of Xbox Game Pass ultimately leads to the Series S being a cloud gaming box, pushing more revenue Microsoft's way when it comes to subscriptioms. The fact they've lost the 12 Month Xbox Live Gold revenue isn't actually too big of a deal, not least when you consider the extra money they make on a Game Pass subscription. At £10.99 a month, if you own the Series S for two years, and pay out for 24 months of GP, you'll end up essentially buying the Series S twice, or have the cost of a Series X and a couple of games to boot. It seems to be the way of the world these days by way of a lease culture that's being cultivated, and I don't blame Microsoft, but in some instances, this does seem to be a money-making racket.
We've got to wait just another day to see what Sony's response is, but as first impressions go a long way in this business, the Series S certainly looks to have won not just me over, but a lot of others as well. I don't think anyone anticipated next-gen performance for sub-£300 at the launch of a new console, but until people get their hands on it, we won't know what it's truly capable of.
Microsoft's Series S & X consoles launch on November 10th, and pre-orders open on September 22nd.