How Should YOU Play in the Xbox Ecosystem?

It is now clear more than ever that the Xbox brand is not just targeting traditional console players. The vast majority of their marketing, infrastructure investments, capability efforts, as well as many other things have all pointed to a general “we want everyone to play on Xbox.” To play “on Xbox” doesn’t necessarily refer to the literal box under your TV anymore, it refers to the Xbox ecosystem; it’s games, it’s social interface, and other connectivity and integration. There are more ways than ever to access the Xbox library of games. There is the current console generation, Xbox One which includes the One S, One S All-Digital, and One X versions. There is the next-gen hardware, Xbox Series S and Series X. There is PC gaming, since all Xbox Game Studios releases now come to Steam and Game Pass for PC on release day of the console versions. Starting this week, there is now Cloud Gaming, available through a Game Pass Ultimate subscription.

Microsoft has given the gamer options. For people like me, that’s a good thing. Let me decide what’s best for me, my lifestyle, and most important to many people – the wallet. Let’s examine these options and do our best to determine what’s the best fit for the gamer inside of you. These options I’m about to discuss are not ranked in any particular and are my genuine best attempt to use people’s general behaviors, tendencies, and financials to decide what is best for them. There’s always circumstances that can come up that are unique to only you and your exact scenario may not be covered here, but I trust you’ll use this information to make the best decision regardless. Let’s get started!

Current Generation Gaming (Xbox One) – This is a little trickier to explain than you might think. The original Xbox One by most estimations is going to run like potato the further we get into next-gen games. If this is all you got, then it’ll work, but I’d recommend saving up for a new console. However, if you’ve got an Xbox One S or One X, both consoles should perform fine for the next couple years. The One X in particular is currently seen as the most powerful current gen console, so it’s not unthinkable that it can still hold its own for the next 2-3 years, or more. If you’re short on funds currently, have a gigantic backlog of current generation games, or just don’t feel all that hyped for any of the announced upcoming next-gen games, by all means, try and squeeze a few more dollars of value out of Xbox One. If you’ve got Game Pass, surely you’ve not played every game on there just yet so feel free to take your time upgrading. Keep in mind that the more time goes by, the less your current console will be worth via a trade in at a place like Gamestop. The upside to that is you can hold out for a good discount, perhaps a good Black Friday deal over the next 2-3 years and probably save more money on the purchase that you would’ve lost by not trading in your older console sooner. All indications are that Microsoft will be doing their best to keep Xbox One viable for as long as possible.

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Next Generation Gaming (Xbox Series S and Series X) – Alright, so if you’re paying close attention here, you’re probably someone that is fairly certain or heavily considering the console upgrade for next generation. If that’s not you, then go back a section and see if you can be content sticking with Xbox One for a bit longer. For people that are certain they want that “next-gen experience” which of course is somewhat of a grey area based on the current games announced you know you want the new shiny thing, it’s just a matter of which shiny thing essentially. You’ve got two choices – Series S and Series X. These consoles are very clearly for different audiences. This is not to say that some people won’t be on the fence between the two systems, but the masses shouldn’t be if Xbox’s customer education and marketing is on point (which can be a big if sometimes).

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Xbox Series S is basically the budget console. It’s the new car with the automatic windows, power steering, good gas mileage and a few other things but it doesn’t have the 4-wheel drive, the sunroof, the reverse camera and things like that. It is priced at $300, which is $200 less than the Xbox Series X, and $100-$200 cheaper than the PS5 depending on the model. It’s also the same price as the portable Nintendo Switch, but very much more capable for higher end games. Whatever criticisms there are for this console can always be shrugged away with “but still, look at that price!” The cons are no disk drive for physical games, less internal memory, and weaker graphics capabilities than PS5 and Xbox Series X, namely 4K resolution. It’s pro’s are that is does everything else the same as those systems but at a greatly reduced price. It’s processing power is the same as Series X and technically on paper is faster than the PS5. It will have same next gen features such as faster loading times and quick resume. It’s a great bargain for anyone trying reign in that monthly family budget or not trying to break the savings account for Christmas this year. If you only play a handful of games, such as Fortnite (or any battle-royale), annual versions of FIFA, Madden, Call of Duty and don’t care about playing movies or physical media, this is probably your guy right here. If you don’t have a 4K TV or more importantly don’t care about playing games in 4K because something like framerate is more important to you, well then the reasons for Series S are piling up. Even if you don’t play any of those games but largely just stick to 2-3 games for long periods of time, then the system will still have plenty of storage for you to manage with. Casual gamers will love this system. New gamers will love this system. Veteran gamers that don’t consider the Xbox brand their preferred method of gaming might still pick one up as well. There’s a good amount of value, intrigue, and marketability for the Xbox Series S.

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Xbox Series X is the heavy weight. Using our car analogy from before, it’s the Cadillac Escalade. All the bells and whistles for next-gen consoles. It boosts the highest graphical power, targeting 4K as it’s baseline and reportedly 8K ready (assuming that ever becomes a thing in the next 10 years). It will handle 60 frames per second with ease and do quite nicely for those developers wishing to push up to 120 fps. It has the most built in storage space out of all the next-gen options. The only metric on paper that it isn’t the best or tied for best is it’s SSD speed, which is a smidge slower than the PS5. That’s it. It’s a straight up beast. This beast does cost $499 and includes a physical disk drive. It’s a big chunk of change, but it is boasting performance that on it’s launch day is more than most people’s gaming PC’s (for now). If you’re an enthusiast and have got the disposable income set aside, and perhaps don’t want to worry about storage space (by comparison), graphical capabilities, or having to upgrade anytime soon, this is likely your best match. People with an already build PC that has a 2080ti or better graphics card could elect to put that $499 into improving their PC rig if they wish. If you don’t have a PC to speak of for gaming, you’re talking about spending roughly $1500 on a new PC build just to match the Series X performance. The Series X is only a third-ish of that cost. Some people have a great gaming PC, but just prefer console. The people that have that kind of disposable income for a great PC but prefer console gaming will probably want Series X as well. We’ll talk more about PC in a moment.

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In summary for next generation systems, if you’re looking to squeeze the value out of every last dollar and don’t give a rip about 4K resolution, go with the Series S. If you want the best and you don’t mind opening up the wallet a little, go with the Series X. The affordability argument for each console gets another layer to it however. Microsoft has it’s All-Access program for new consoles. The reader’s digest version is that you can finance your new console (and the Gamepass subscription) into 0% APR monthly payments over 24 months. Personally speaking, I’m not a fan of using credit to purchase something that is purely of entertainment value. With that said, the concept is basically the same as every time most people get a new cell phone. The monthly payment for the phone is lumped into your monthly service bill. At the end of the 24 months you own the console outright. You can get Series S and 2 years of Xbox Gamepass Ultimate for $25 per month, Series X and 2 years comes out to $35. If you don’t want the big lump some payment but have decent to good credit, you could go this route for Series S. If you are trying to be cost efficient but can see the long-term benefits to investing into the beefier console, Series X, because you perhaps want that extra storage or you plan on getting a 4K TV eventually, then you could go this route as well.

PC Gaming – It’s been standard now for a few years that Microsoft’s 1st Party games now release on Steam the same day they are released on console. PC performance all depends on your PC itself, but you have the same access to mostly the same library of games. PC has it’s own slice of the Game Pass subscription as well, you can use Game Pass for PC on it’s own, or use Game Pass for PC as part of your Game Pass Ultimate subscription. If you’ve already put a ton of cash into a PC fairly recently or you just prefer PC gaming in general, you still have significant access to the Xbox ecosystem. “But wait, doesn’t Microsoft want me to buy their console instead of playing on PC?” Not really, at least not in the traditional sense. Their business strategy as well as how they measure success is not in outdated console war metrics, but in software sales, active users, and total subscriptions. These three things bring the company more profit than console sales. Yes, they still need to sell some consoles because not everyone has a PC and if they don’t have a PC or a console, then it’s harder to sell software and the only thing left is a subscription service, which we’ll cover below. Consoles are generally sold at a loss, software is sold with as much as a 30% piece of profit to the bottom line. So if they can get you to buy software, getting up to 30% a pop without also having to take the loss on a console sale, why wouldn’t they? Anyway, that doesn’t matter to you. What matters is, if you like your PC, it runs great, you like playing games on PC, and you really don’t feel like buying another box for under your TV (or monitor), then by all means, use your PC to join the Xbox eco system through Steam purchases or Game Pass.

Cloud Gaming – Cloud gaming capabilities, formerly known as Xcloud, launched this week for those individuals with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription. Currently android devices, mostly cell phones and tablets are set and ready to go with over 150 games to choose from. In it’s current state, Cloud Gaming with Game Pass is likely to be more of a supplemental service for people in the United States and more developed countries. There’s no doubt large audiences in places like India and elsewhere around the world where a cell phone device that streams games is more accessible for the average person that console or PC hardware, will think of it as their primary means. Until Cloud Gaming has more time to solidify itself, this is just speculation on my part. However, it’s unlikely that Cloud Gaming will just be an android cell phone and tablet service forever. Expect PC and Laptop browser capabilities to follow later on down the road. If you’re tired of different generations of hardware, dozens of game cases laying around and perhaps just want something to take with you to play when you’re bored at the doctor’s office, waiting for your flight at the airport, or various other situations of that nature, consider Cloud Gaming with a Game Pass Ultimate subscription. Those examples are just referring to phone and tablet usage. A really old laptop or PC can become your cloud gaming device if the browser support comes along. With cloud gaming, no downloads or patches, cords, cables, etc etc; you essentially game on someone else’s computer in a galaxy far far away, well not a galaxy, but you get the picture.

What Option Is Best For YOU? – As mentioned at the beginning, there are many options. If you’re like me, you might have one of these options as your primary but still use other secondary avenues to stay engaged in the eco system. Microsoft is determined to get people from all corners of the world, many varying economic backgrounds, and gaming backgrounds into their ecosystem. How are they doing that? Multiple entry points into the ecosystem. Older console, newer console, PC, and Cloud. We have more options to play games than ever before. The best part of more options is, YOU DECIDE!

Joel Mead is a gaming enthusiast since 1990 when he got an NES for Christmas. He occasionally streams on Twitch and you can find him talking about Xbox, Nintendo, and gaming in general in the RunJumpStomp discord community. Follow him on twitter @meadiocregamer.

Don’t Blame Sony, Blame Square Enix

Last week, the news dropped announcing that beloved Marvel character Spider-Man would only be a playable character on PS4/PS5 for Square Enix’s upcoming game, Marvel’s Avengers, set to release next month. The Avengers, in case you’ve been under a rock the last 8-10 years, are the group of well-known comic book heroes from Marvel comics. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen some of the recent Avengers movies. If you haven’t, consider yourself a statistical anomaly (just kidding, but really go watch them). Spider-Man will arrive as a playable character only on the PS4 and PS5 versions of the game sometime next year. Yes, you heard correct, the Xbox console versions as well as the PC version of the game will not have Spider-Man available. Yep, that kind of stinks.

Sony has been seen as the bad guy here, forking over an assumed large chunk of change in order to get this exclusive character for their version of the game on the Playstation consoles. Now, those of you who know me know that I’m an Xbox guy. That’s where I game, that’s the ecosystem I’m most comfortable in, and Microsoft is the company I trust more than the others. As a potentially slightly biased Xbox guy, I could easily be blaming Sony for not getting to play as Spider-Man on the Xbox version of Marvel’s Avengers, right? Wrong! I personally place most, if not all, of the blame on Square Enix, the game’s publisher. Now, let me get a few disclaimers out of the way. First, I am actually not planning to buy this game, even before the Spider-Man news. My boys and I have fun with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 on the Nintendo Switch, so that’s kind of my Marvel game right now when I need to scratch the itch. Second, the game has not looked impressive to me during the different gameplay trailers, marketing events, and other information available on their website. Third, I have no shortage of games to play right now, so unless a game looks really awesome at launch, I normally pass and wait for a deep sale.

While it’s true that Sony had to offer something in order to get Spider-Man, the final decision was ultimately that of Square Enix. Sony likely placed the first phone call as I don’t believe it’s normal practice for the publisher to shop exclusivity deals. However, Square Enix, eventually had to decide whether the pile of money that Sony offered was worth withholding potentially the most popular Marvel character from the Xbox and PC versions of their game. Sony made the first phone call, but Square Enix answered the phone, stayed on the line, and provided the routing number to their bank account for Sony’s incoming wire transfer. Square Enix is not a small company and they often make really good high-budget games. They did not need this money to get their game off the ground. Trust me, I blame Sony for a lot of things wrong in the video game industry, but not this time.

So what can we do? We can do the one thing I ALWAYS tell people to do when they think a company is acting too greedy. You vote with your wallet! If you’re primarily an Xbox or PC gamer and you’re really bothered by this, don’t buy the game, period, even if you also have a Playstation. If you’re a Playstation gamer and feel some disgust, it’s probably going to be harder for you but don’t buy the game. If you don’t care about Spider-Man, or the type of business practice doesn’t bother you, then buy the game and enjoy it. I hope you have fun, seriously, no sarcasm. But if you’re someone that fumes whenever you hear of exclusivity deals of this sort, you have to take a stand at some point, otherwise it is more certain to continue. Hit Square Enix (and Sony if you’re someone that disagrees with me about who is to blame) where it hurts the most; their bottom line. Make the Square Enix suits have to explain to their board of trustees why that deal they made ended up being a horrible decision. You can do it, I believe in you! Avengers assemble!

Joel Mead has been a gaming enthusiast since he got an NES for Christmas in 1990. You can follow him on Twitch where he streams occasionally, as well as follow him on Twitter .

5 Myths I’ve heard about Xbox Gamepass

I’m a big fan of Game Pass. I see many positives to it, and frankly little to no negatives. It is no surprise to me that Game Pass surpassed 10 million subscribers as of late April according to various media outlets. It is unclear what composition of these 10 million subscribers are Game Pass for Console, Game Pass for PC, or like myself subscribers of Game Pass Ultimate. However, 10 million is still a large number. In my view, it is not large enough. Many more people can benefit from the Game Pass subscription. Many have wondered how many subscribers to Game Pass there will be once “soccer moms” and “soccer dads” learn about it. These terms refer to people unlike me (although my kids player soccer) that don’t follow gaming news and/or their households have very casual or infrequent gaming sessions However, I’ve heard some myths out there about Game Pass that are either misleading, at best a half-truth, or flat wrong that could have stopped folks from signing up by now. Let’s address five that I’ve personally heard.

  1. Game Pass is just Halo, Gears, and a bunch of filler.

Anyone that knows even a little about Game Pass knows that this statement is quite silly. This is likely just some fanboy-ism of a competing platform that is trying to cloak itself in, at best – ignorance, or worse – an attempt to completely mischaracterize the service. But if you’re friends with people like that and don’t know anyone who currently subscribes to Game Pass, you might have believed them. But, let’s expose this first myth. A lot of people like Halo. A lot of people like the Gears franchise. However, people also like The Witcher 3, which of as of April has sold over 28 million copies worldwide. What? Game Pass (for console) has The Witcher 3? You mean the same Witcher from the Netflix show? Yes! That one! It also recently had Grand Theft Auto V, which is the highest selling game across multiple platforms the last few years. It also currently has Red Dead Redemption 2, which broke many console sales records it’s first launch weekend in late 2018. Filler, you say? Just for clarity, I’m not recommending any of those games in particular for the children of said soccer parents.

According to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass website, there are 240 games currently on Game Pass for Console and 197 on Game Pass for PC. I’ve only mentioned three games so far. Granted, I’ve mentioned really really great games, but intentionally more-so well-known games (or franchises) to highlight a point so that hopefully these named examples will sound familiar to the soccer moms and soccer dads out there. Personally, I’ve only actually played one of those three that I mentioned. Why? Because there are so many other great games that I’ve spent time playing and I just can’t find the time to play all of them. I’ll mention more of those other games a little later, but just a handful of others I’ll mention to deal the finishing blow to this myth would be Batman Arkham Knight (sold 5 million copies in its first few months after launch), Rocket League, which if I’m going to reach the soccer moms or dads then maybe I should mention that this game was actually part of the center plot to an episode of Fuller House on Netflix, and Untitled Goose Game which won game of the year at the DICE 2020 awards. Again, I could keep going about the games, but I’m sure at some point that I have a character limit. Let’s move on, and I’ll do my best to stop saying soccer moms and soccer dads.

2. If I play games on Game Pass, I’m not supporting developers.

There may be lack of business knowledge to this one. Yes, in a perfect world, we would all be able to pay $60 on the release date for every game we’ve ever wanted to play. And indeed, this would put the maximum amount of net profit dollars into the pocket of your favorite developer or a developer that you think did an amazing job on a game. And there’s no argument to that. Heck, if you love a developer enough, buy their Day 1 special edition, buy hats and shirts, and gift additional copies of their game to friends and family. That’s what I would do if money weren’t an issue. However, the average person does not have that sort of disposable income to buy every new game, even if you tend to like every game that comes out. I do know a handful of people that seemingly buy every game on day 1 and I wonder how they do it. But guess what? Those same people are also subscribed to Game Pass, so who knows?

For those of us without unlimited disposable income, other hobbies to throw money at, or have varying long term financial goals, we can’t buy everything. This is partly why many of us are on Game Pass. But, allow me to insert Morpheus from The Matrix and say, “what if I told you that most developers are receiving financial compensation for their game to be on Game Pass?” It’s true. Developers don’t just say “well, shucks looks like we can’t sell anymore copies of our game, so let’s just throw it on Game Pass.” And the data showing the number of downloads and time spent playing the individual Game Pass games is no doubt being collected. If the developer/publisher’s game is a big hit on Game Pass, then that gives them a little bit more bargaining power (for more compensation) when it comes time to renew the Game Pass contract agreement. More people playing their game and talking about their game is free publicity and furthers their brand. However, there’s actually more to it than that. It leads up into our next one.

3. Game Pass will stop more game purchases in the future.

So I’m nearing completion of Red Dead Redemption 2 through Game Pass. It’s a very good game in my view. I probably don’t love it quite as much as some other folks, but it was a game I knew for certain that I would not buy day 1 because the genre of game tends to not be my favorite. With that said, I’ve definitely enjoyed the experience. It was clearly good enough to make me think about buying the first Red Dead game. It has also made me more likely to buy Red Dead Redemption 3 (or whatever they call it) on day 1 whenever that game releases. So Rockstar games surely didn’t get the equivalent of $60 from me playing their game on Game Pass, but they’ve exposed a new player to their game franchise which could potentially lead to more actual game sales in the future. It won’t work out this way with every game, and that’s OK. Not every game is for everyone. But to tie in with the previous point, it will support developers further.

4.You need an Xbox to have Xbox Game Pass.

Microsoft created a separate subscription service for PC players. As mentioned above, it’s called Xbox Game Pass for PC. There are well over 100 games on the service currently, and hopefully you’ll believe me by now that Game Pass is not just a bunch of filler. It is true that Game Pass for PC does not have the identical library to Game Pass for Console. There are many reasons for this, but I can see how not having an Xbox will prevent you from squeezing the most value out of Game Pass as a whole so perhaps this statement has bit of truth baked into it. With that said, this statement will likely become less true over time.

During E3 2019, Microsoft confirmed that it’s game streaming service, Project Xcloud, will be integrated at some point with Xbox Game Pass. I am currently a part of the IOS beta test group for mobile devices. I haven’t tested my Ipad yet, but I know folks who have and they say it works perfectly fine. I’ve played a few hours of Halo on my Iphone 6s. It’s not the way I prefer to play games, but it’s perfectly good quality for what it is. Further down the road when all of the beta tests are over and Game Pass and Xcloud are integrated, you will be able to utilize your Game Pass subscription on cell phones, tablets, PC’s – either download or stream it, and potentially even Smart TV’s. Microsoft and Samsung recently made an agreement for certain types of Samsung TV’s to have the Xbox Game Pass App pre-loaded on the TV. Some of these TV’s are already in people’s homes by the way. It is not crazy at all to think you will be able to stream games directly on your 4K TV at home, possibly with no intermediary device needed. I will probably always own an Xbox console. But as time goes by, owning the console will be less and less important to enjoy and take advantage of Game Pass.

5. Gamepass isn’t very good value.

I’m actually ok with this statement if they just added “for me” at the end. Maybe you only play games like FIFA or Madden. Or maybe you only play Call of Duty games, or perhaps you spend the majority of your gaming time on retro consoles and their game library. If that’s you, then the value of Game Pass may not be the best fit for you in its present format. It’s fine. We like what we like and I would not suggest someone get the Game Pass service if all they want to do is play the newest FIFA game. I get it. I stopped buying new Nintendo Switch games for my son because he just ignores them and returns to Fortnite as I’m sure many 9 year-old kids are doing these days. However, to say that Game Pass itself isn’t a good value as a general statement would be bordering on the absurd if you ask me. Let me break down how I’ve seen the value.

I’ve been a subscriber to Game Pass Ultimate for nearly a year. In that year’s time, a Game Pass Ultimate subscription has cost me $180 out of pocket. That’s 12 months at $14.99 per month. If you add up the retail prices (at places like Wal-Mart, Amazon, or Best Buy) of all the games that I’ve played through Game Pass Ultimate in that time, it is approximately a $600 value. For Xbox first party games that I’ve played on day 1, it will assume full-price, since that’s when I usually play them. First party games during this time would be Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Gears Tactics, Minecraft Dungeons, and The Outer Worlds to name a few. I’ve already mentioned Red Dead Redemption 2, but I’ve also played through all the newer Tomb Raider games, some of the Wolfenstein games, some of the Batman Arkham games, and many others.

But wait a minute, you wouldn’t have played ALL of those games if you didn’t have Gamepass, so you can’t say that it saved you over $400 over the last year! That’s true, I wouldn’t have played all of those games, and some of them definitely not day 1. But with a fixed cost of $180 per year, I’m experiencing much the value of the service. I don’t have to ever buy any of Microsoft’s first party games, and I get them on day 1. Even if I only played 3 regularly priced day 1 Microsoft titles per year, the service would pay for itself.

Again, I have the ultimate subscription. Currently if you just want Xbox Gamepass for console, it’s only $120 for the year ($10 per month), which drops it to 2 first party day 1 titles per year in order to be a wash. I’m using the Microsoft 1st party games as the example here because they are always there on day 1 and they never leave Game Pass, so it’s not a moving target of trying to add up 3rd party game values at different price points, but you definitely could if you wanted to. To finish off the point, I leave you with a tidbit I shared with friends on twitter on May 4th. For the calendar month (May) I would be playing the new Gears Tactics game and Red Dead Redemption 2. Out of pocket on that day, it would have cost me $98. For the month of May, it still only cost me $14.99. Value, my friends, value.

Joel Mead has been a gaming enthusiast since he got an NES for Christmas in 1990. You can follow him on Twitch where he streams occasionally, as well as follow him on Twitter .