Microsoft’s upcoming next-gen console, the Xbox Series X, will break with tradition by not launching with exclusive games only playable on the new hardware. Instead, Microsoft is leaning into its Xbox Play Anywhere strategy and fully supporting backwards compatibility moving forward.
According to Microsoft Studios head Matt Booty, who spoke with UK gaming site MCV, “over the next year, two years, all of our games, sort of like PC, will play up and down that family of devices,” Booty said. “We want to make sure that if someone invests in Xbox between now and [Series X] that they feel that they made a good investment and that we’re committed to them with content.” This does seem to imply that there will be a point at which new first-party Xbox games designed for the Series X won’t run on the standard Xbox One, but that would appear to be a ways out after launch.
This isn’t a drastic departure from what Microsoft has been hinting at for months now. The company has said it plans to make all first-party games on Xbox playable on Windows 10 as part of its Xbox Play Anywhere initiative. The company also said back in June at E3, before the official Series X reveal and when the new console was known only as Project Scarlett, that its next-gen console would also play Xbox One games. The same is true of Sony’s PlayStation 5, with Sony confirming earlier this year that its new console would be backwards compatible with PS4 games. (Sony, however, has not yet said that it won’t have games launching with the PS5 that can only be played on that device.)
“All of our games, sort of like PC, will play up and down that family of devices.”
But this is the first time Microsoft has said explicitly that its new console won’t be launching with a dedicated slate of first-party exclusives, as has been the case for pretty much every new console generation of the last couple of decades. The biggest first-party Xbox Series X exclusive, Halo Infinite, was already confirmed to run on both the next-gen Xbox and Xbox One, as well as Windows 10. But Booty here is clarifying that that will be the case for every new Xbox game going forward for at least a year after the Series X launch.
This is a bit of a double-edged sword for Microsoft. The company has gone to great lengths to ensure that its digital library of Xbox games includes old 360 titles as well as a whole range of classic, ported, and indie games. It’s also built out the Xbox platform to support backwards compatibility between the Series X and the Xbox One, as both are built off the same architecture.
This is great for consumers who worry about abandoning their entire libraries when they upgrade to the latest hardware, which has been one of the primary pitfalls of buying a new console in past generations. Without enough good new games on the new console, you might have been stuck paying hundreds of dollars for a device that you didn’t want to really turn on all that much until the software library was appropriately padded out.
The downside, of course, is that Microsoft doesn’t have a very strong argument for why you should upgrade to the Xbox Series X if it doesn’t have exclusive games and if you can get similar or even better performance for the same titles on a gaming PC.
Microsoft is hoping that the Series X’s impressive specs and its ease of use over the PC platform will be selling points, especially for players who maybe haven’t upgraded to a new console since the original Xbox One back in 2013. But the company’s current approach to exclusives and cross-platform play might make the Series X an especially tough sell if you already own, say, the Xbox One X, released back in 2017, or a capable gaming PC.
Update January 10th, 6:50PM ET: Clarified that Microsoft is referring to first-party games published under Xbox Game Studios, and not all games on the Xbox platform.