The key to Microsoft’s future success seems to lie in their past.
After a generation of struggles, Microsoft and Xbox are finally primed for a better next generation, having spent the last few years painstakingly working back all the advantages they willingly ceded to the competition at the onset of this console cycle. But as good a position as Microsoft is in right now, the height of Microsoft’s console ambitions was with the Xbox 360 – more specifically, in the lead up to that console’s launch, and the first half of its life cycle.
Given that, it should come as no surprise to anyone that in a lot of regards, it seems like the Xbox Series X is following a similar playbook as the Xbox 360 did in its time (and, indeed, as the original Xbox did too – the original Xbox One reveal now seems like an aberration where Microsoft lost sight of what exactly made Xbox so beloved to begin with).
In a lot of ways, of course, the Series X is looking different from the Xbox 360. A large part of this has to do with the simple fact of the matter that the console market is a far different place now than it was back in 2004-05. Back then, online gaming on consoles was a novelty (if that), proprietary hardware ruled the roost, third parties declared allegiance to one console, and then stuck with it through the generation, exclusives were numerous (even from third parties), and the concept of an ecosystem flat out did not exist.
All of that is different in today’s day and age. Consoles are now using standardized hardware, most games are multiplatform titles, even first party games often hit other systems (at the very least PCs, but in some cases, competing consoles too), and as the concept of discrete console generations continues to blur, and online and digital gaming becomes more and more entrenched, ecosystems have become the primary battleground.
But the core of the Xbox 360’s success, the thing that made it so compelling to gamers and developers around the world alike, was that it was simple but powerful machine, (relatively) cheap but high end, and focused, above all else, on one thing and one thing alone: delivering the best possible experience for video games and those that play them.
The Xbox Series X seems to have returned to that original vision. In February, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer finally confirmed some of the rumors that had been swirling about the Xbox Series X – this is going to be an incredibly powerful console, with 12 TFLOPs of GPU processing power (using the more modern RDNA instruction set over the last generation GCN set, meaning these 12 TFLOPs are more powerful than 12 TFLOPs from hardware based on the GCN instruction set would be).
More than just the sheer hardware grunt, however, what stands out is the centrality of the gaming experience with the Series X. Some of it comes as no surprise – anyone who has been following Xbox over the last few years knew to expect that all your accessories and games would work on the new system, for example. Similarly, that the console will continue with Microsoft’s pioneering trailblazing with the Game Pass was all but a given before the official confirmation.
But what truly stands out with the Series X is the confirmation of things such as the ability to suspend multiple games at once (where this generation allowed for only one) – in theory letting players switch among many ongoing titles with minimal downtime – or the fact that the console will maintain the suspend state of those games even when it is powered off (current generation systems can only do so in their respective low powered sleep modes), which, again, should enable players to jump right back into games without any trouble or friction.
Then there is the announcement of the Smart Delivery functionality, which could theoretically be a game changer, if it catches on. Smart Delivery is essentially Microsoft extending cross-buy (or Play Anywhere, as they call it) to its logical extreme, including on the technical backend: one executable, meaning one file, one client, only, which appropriately scales across all compatible hardware.
To put that in simpler terms, this means you buy a game once, and it is available on your Xbox One S, Xbox One X, and Xbox Series X alike, all at once. However, this goes a bit beyond just that. Theoretically, if the game is indeed using one executable across all consoles, then that means that functionally, it doesn’t really care what it is running on. So, for example, your save from your Xbox One S is available for you on your Xbox Series X, without any effort or manual cloud backups, or anything of that nature, necessary. There is a seamless continuity between your experience across multiple Xbox consoles – the kind of continuity that even companies like Apple and Google have not yet been able to properly achieve.
This is largely hypothetical right now. The specifics of the Smart Delivery initiative are unknown, and even if it works exactly as described above, it would need large scale buy in from third party publishers across the board (though one high profile developer, at least, has already committed to supporting it). But it, again, points to the centrality of the gaming experience that Microsoft seems to be emphasizing and prioritizing with the Series X.
When you look at the specifics, it’s actually hard to draw too many parallels between the Xbox 360 and the Series X, but that has more to do with the fact that many things that the Series X is doing now simply were not possible back in the 360’s time (and many things the Xbox 360 did, such as proprietary storage and memory cards, which the Series X won’t be doing, were commonplace for the console market back then and are not now). But ultimately, the Series X seems to be following in the spirit of the 360 in the one way that should matter to those who play games more than any other – by offering a powerful, focused system that enables playing games with no friction or other nonsense getting in the way.
Whether or not the Series X lives up to its promise remains to be seen – but initial impressions, at least, appear to be very encouraging.
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.