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.