Microsoft held its eagerly anticipated Xbox Games Showcase just a couple of days ago and people had been touting it as their most important presentation to date. The next generation of consoles is looming just beyond the horizon with both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 slated for a holiday 2020 launch yet we don’t even have a price point for either system. Both Sony and Microsoft have been staying relatively hush-hush in regards to specific details consumers should know by now, like an exact release date and price tag. What we do know, however, are the games coming to each console. Sony presented its lineup of upcoming games and wowed people with some truly incredible looking titles like Horizon Forbidden West and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Part that showed us the next generation of video games is coming this year. With Sony’s bevy of games inciting the same feeling of seeing the initial demo of Watch_Dogs, people had their eyes on Microsoft to do the same with their Series X which we know is composed of more powerful hardware. Well, they held a presentation, showed a lot of interesting games, and left the masses completely unenthused.
They kickstarted the event by giving the people what they wanted–the first glimpse of Halo Infinite gameplay. Master Chief crashlands onto an eponymous Halo and steps out into lush greenery reminiscent of the very first Halo and it looks…good. Gunplay looks punchier than ever and the added gadgets to Master Chief’s arsenal–the pocket-sized holo-shield and grappling hook–seem like welcome additions to Halo’s already fun and frantic gameplay. Graphically, though, it didn’t inspire awe like the supposed ‘world’s most powerful console’ should. Regardless, the game looked good if not a little underwhelming and the same could be said with most of the showcase. All titles they showed–Everwild, The Medium, Obsidian’s Elder Scrolls-competitor in Avowed–all seemed like promising games. But none instilled the excitement that comes from seeing games that feel like next-generation titles. Spectacular visuals and unprecedented ways a game could be played were all but absent from Microsoft’s integral presentation. The most exciting tidbit came not from the games themselves but the company’s long-standing subscription service.
Xbox Game Pass is the most budget-friendy (and legal) way to play games right now. The catalog is impressive as it stands with more than a hundred games that range from most if not all of Microsoft’s first-party releases, big triple-AAA blockbusters like Red Dead Redemption, to even recent indies like the grotesque Carrion. The deal is arguable one of the most impressive subscriptions in entertainment with a relatively low price of 15 USD/month to play both on your PC and Xbox. It’s even cheaper if you just want one or the other with console Game Pass at 10 USD/month and PC Game Pass for 5 USD/month. If that can’t seduce you, the first month for all versions of Game Pass go for 1 USD and every title announced at the Xbox Games Showcase will be available day one on Game Pass. That is absurd.
With 2K revealing that the next-generation versions of their NBA 2K titles would be priced at 70 USD, it seems as though we’re approaching a point where games are, once again, becoming even more expensive. A price hike in games hasn’t happened ever since the days of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 where the universal standard was set at 60 USD from the former 50 USD of the previous generation. While this may seem like a dreary thought a for a typical consumer’s wallet, the fact of the matter is that most full-priced games are already laden with microtransactions and the average person probably pays more than 60 USD on a big-budget, triple-AAA video game. On top of that, games are continuing to grow in size, spectacle, ambition, and development costs. This is a constant growth, as with most industries in the tech field, and yet games have remained at their 60 USD price tag at the potential cost of the well-being of the developers themselves.
Yet, here we are, with Microsoft giving its players their whole slew of first-party titles, and then some, at a market-friendly price and doing so in a way that doesn’t undercut game developers as well. It’s a win-win situation for players and game-makers alike; games are going to find themselves in the hands of more fans at a relatively cheap price. Game Pass is an appealing pathway for companies to take that’s only bound to improve once the Series X launches. But the elation for Microsoft box is mostly tepid at best because, and even I’m guilty of this, the pragmatic approach of the Game Pass is enticing to my wallet but not the part of my brain that seeks pleasure from unrealistic E3 demos. The next-generation signifies new horizons for what video games are capable of from a technical perspective. Sony presented this with their lineup of first-party games and even if most of them aren’t arriving soon, they give us prospective games that define the beginning of a new generation. So far, Microsoft hasn’t done the same.
As much as I think Halo Infinite looks like it’ll be a fantastic game, the Series X won’t have the shiniest or most attractive games at launch. It won’t have that one game you’ll show of to others to justify buying a $500 box. It won’t. But in the long-term, a couple of years down the road, when we’re in thick of the ninth generation of game consoles, the Series X might be the console to choose–at least for the casual customer. Microsoft has admitted that Game Pass isn’t turning a huge profit but as the catalog grows in terms of both quality and quantity after the launch of the Series X, the everyday consumer may opt for Microsoft’s “tower of power”. Most hardcore fanatics would most likely have gotten their console of choice by then and what’s left are the customers looking to play the most games they can with the least amount of money. The Series X is not the console for early adopters nor is it for the most dedicated fan of games who own a capable gaming PC. it’s the console for the silent majority, for the casual fan looking to play games that won’t cost them a month’s worth of groceries.