Microsoft’s understated Xbox Series X reveal says a lot about its future

2020 is here. Alongside a new decade comes a new generation of game machines and all the pyro and ballyhoo that comes with them. While Sony still hasn’t revealed the exact look of the PlayStation 5, Microsoft took to the stage to kick off The Game Awards with an early look at the Xbox Series X. It’s a bold choice that places a new console on the same level as a goose annoying The Muppets and a licensed Fast and Furious game. Tradition states that it deserves more, but Microsoft’s strategy seems anything but traditional going into the new year. A new Xbox is still a big deal, but not for all the reasons you might think.

The box doesn’t make the services…

Xbox Series X bigger than Xbox One

First, here’s what we know about the Series X so far. It’s a big machine, standing tall like a PC tower or wide like an old-school DVR. It has all the bells and whistles you could imagine, supporting ray tracing and other high-end PC options. It also boasts the same SSD technology that Sony has bragged about, meaning fewer minutes wasted on loading. The controller differs only slightly from Xbox One, and will even work on older consoles if you need it to. While we don’t know for sure, all that power and compatibility will probably come with a hefty price tag. We’re seemingly getting the Xbox One X variant of the console right off the bat.

ALSO: Xbox Series X to cost around $500 to manufacture, analyst estimates

This is great news for early adopters, the type of folks who will gobble up each and every new bit of hardware. However, the mass audience needed for a truly successful console launch won’t jump on quite as easily. Rumors continue to point towards Microsoft having a second box in the works, one that will satisfy those that can’t afford the full experience on launch day. Whether that comes right at launch, later down the road, or never is still up in the air.

…The services make the box

Project xCloud Xbox Game Streaming Promo

But the physical box is not quite the point and demonstrates where Microsoft currently is. Ever since the current Xbox management took over, the company has shifted the business, almost as a necessity. Xbox One was an albatross around Microsoft’s neck, so it brought PC back into the fold. It gave players a reason to take notice by introducing Game Pass, a subscription service that delivers on the promise of “Netflix for Games.” Then, it doubled down by both promising that every first-party title would appear on that service and purchasing enough studios to put weight behind that promise.

Besides all that, you can consider Xbox Game Streaming, an initiative currently in beta that will likely launch wide sometime in 2020. This will allow players to stream Xbox games across their devices, from phones to computers to everything else that isn’t a standard Xbox. Rumors here say that it will deeply integrate with Game Pass, perhaps coming for free in the Game Pass Ultimate bundle. Subscribers of any stripe will have a huge library they can play on anything, with more devices likely joining the fray as the months roll on. Simply put, the focus hasn’t been on the console for quite a while, and it probably won’t change in the new year.

What are Microsoft’s plans for Xbox Series X?

Halo Infinite Concept Art Stinger Environment

Microsoft’s next-gen plans seem to involve breaking down a lot of what we consider a traditional divide between generations and is the core reason why the nonchalant nature of the reveal shows where the company is. Master Chief’s latest adventure will come to both the new Xbox and Xbox One, as well as Windows 10 PCs. If players are on Game Pass, they get to play for free right alongside someone spending their Christmas money on a new machine. This, by itself, is how far Microsoft has come since it is essentially giving away its biggest launch game and not tying it to the box itself.

Microsoft has also confirmed that Series X and future new Xbox console will support all games from previous Xbox consoles, so new players will have a wide library of games to choose from when they get home. Series X is for those who want new hardware, but the launch is more about the next generation of the Xbox platform.

With all that said, it makes sense that the console reveal was at The Game Awards and not its own stage. Sure, it will be exciting to see what the new console can do, but Xbox means so much more than a single box now. Even if the name seems like a Wii U-sized bad idea and resembles an ashtray, the games are what matters going forward. Revealing the box now just lets Microsoft focus on the stuff that matters because it’s probably always going to be a hunk of plastic you hardly actually look at.

We’re entering a new era of gaming, where wars between console and PC fade into the background. It’s not about the delivery method as much as it is about the content, and Microsoft seems poised to capitalize on that new paradigm. Time will tell if its lineup of new exclusives will compete with Sony and Nintendo’s proven track records. Even if Microsoft falls somewhat short of the mark, owners of all three consoles will likely have the option of playing the biggest Xbox Series X blockbusters if they so choose. And that’s a gaming market most people can probably get behind.