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Xbox chief: the best argument against the Xbox Series S was Sony

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Microsoft is manufacturing more Xbox Series X consoles than Series S for now

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Microsoft’s Xbox Series S wasn’t exactly a well kept secret, but the company’s decision to create a second next-gen Xbox to go up against the PS5 wasn’t an easy one. Ultimately, Microsoft’s decision to build two next-gen consoles came down to the company’s desire to reach a broader audience than Sony was targeting.

The Xbox Series S lacks the raw horsepower found in the larger Xbox Series X or the PS5. That’s left many wondering why Microsoft created two very different next-gen Xbox consoles, while Sony has focused on a single powerful PS5. Some Microsoft employees were even questioning the decision, and the company’s Xbox chief has revealed to The Verge that “the best argument against doing [two next-gen consoles] was Sony.”

In an interview with The Verge, Microsoft’s head of gaming Phil Spencer says the idea of an entry level Xbox Series S “was questioned a number of times internally.” Despite the reservations and Spencer having “a ton of respect for what Sony does,” Microsoft persisted to create the $299 Series S as a more affordable entry point into next-gen gaming all with the knowledge that Sony was only pursuing high-end hardware.

The Xbox Series S and Series X.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

“It was really this inclusion: how do we include more people in the launch euphoria and hype and everything that happens, and make it as accessible to [as many] more people as possible,” explains Spencer. “We want to think about how we bring more people into the gaming funnel, have more people experience this art form that we love,” says Spencer. “The pushback against [doing one console] was always, but we want to grow, we want to find new customers.”

The Xbox Series S complicates the next generation of gaming somewhat. Sony’s approach was to create two PS5 models with the same hardware specs, and one without a disc drive. “The way I would frame it, the best argument against doing [two-next gen consoles] was Sony,” reveals Spencer. “We didn’t think that they were going to do it.”

Both the Xbox Series X and Series S are difficult to find and purchase right now, and that’s a situation that’s likely to last for months yet. “We started manufacturing late summer,” reveals Spencer. “We were a little bit later than the competition, because we were waiting for some specific AMD technology in our chip. We were a little bit behind where they were, where Sony was, in terms of building units.”

Sony’s PS5 console.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

That decision to hold for a full implementation of AMD’s RDNA 2 technologies will likely mean Sony has more units to ship out this holiday season. Microsoft hasn’t revealed what the benefits of having full RDNA 2 support will bring to Xbox Series X over the PS5, or why the company was willing to hold and impact its shipping plans. It’s a decision that could play out in what’s supported in games in the months and years ahead.

For now, you’ll likely see more Xbox Series X devices available over the next year than Series S. While the Xbox Series S is positioned as the entry point, Spencer has revealed Microsoft is still currently manufacturing more Xbox Series X consoles than Series S to keep up with demand. “We figured that our first holiday, and probably our second holiday, you would see more of the higher end SKU, the Series X sold,” says Spencer. “We built more Series Xs than we did Series Ss. I think when we go into spring and summer, we’ll probably moderate that a bit. Over the long run, in most cases, price wins out.”

You can read or listen to Nilay Patel’s full interview with Phil Spencer right here.