I’m sitting here with the new Xbox Series X in front of me. A chiseled hunk of black basalt. An object more than a console, taking up more space than you’d hope but maybe a little less than you expect from the pictures.
I’m describing what it looks like in part because the rules of engagement with the new hardware is that, right now, we’re only allowed to describe what it is, what it comes with, and the box it was packaged in. ‘Unboxing’ content was once a fun blogging genre, and now remains popular on YouTube, but it’s not exactly the height of gadget coverage.
That said, there is something important about what this new Xbox might represent. I’ve talked in the past about how Microsoft has shifted the business strategy around Xbox toward a 'Netflix for games’ style subscription service. And now the hardware is here it’s a reminder that this could be the last heavy-duty client-side game console Microsoft ever makes.
It’s been seven years since the Xbox One launched, so looking ahead we should be looking beyond 2025 at the earliest for where the next 'next gen’ era could reside. By then, we’ll be well into the thick of the ubiquitous 5G internet era, and many years past the current beta-phase of cloud-streamed game services.
Right now, we still need the Xbox to get the best possible 4K HDR 120Hz gaming experiences. Streaming games as a low-latency video connection to a cloud service is still a nascent technology, but give it a few years and it will be optimised and speeds will increase and we’ll be playing games anywhere, anytime without a need for installing anything at all.
Every customer Microsoft can convince to shift toward a Game Pass subscription will be someone who is paying the company $192 per year or the service. Over a typical console lifetime, that’s a lot more than the price of a console, with a far better profit ratio than selling an expensive to R&D and produce twice a decade.
We will still need hardware. There will always be places and times when we want to be able to play games offline. It would be dreadful for accessibility for everything to become an online-required game world.
But with the size of this thing and the display of raw processing power it aims to represent, it feels like the end of a journey to where high fidelity gaming has now reached a destination. The demand for higher resolutions and faster refresh rates and more data throughput is cresting, creating the chance for smaller and smarter hardware in future, or even the potential for future mobile devices to bear the load instead of needing big boxes under our TVs.
If this is the last Xbox, it’s a piece of design that will look nice in a museum one day. And the journey from Xbox, to Xbox 360, to Xbox One, through variant 'One’s that fill that name with irony… Microsoft certainly proves it cares nothing for linear naming conventions.
Expect the Xbox 2 in 2027.
I remember wondering some similar thoughts back in 2013. Would that be the last console generation? I feel more confident this time around, but also acknowledge that time moves faster than we think, and old habits die hard…