The Case for a Controversial Console
With the launch of the ninth console generation coming in just two more weeks, the excitement that is being felt within gaming circles is palpable. All of the next gen console preorders were sold out within minutes of them going live, and for those lucky few who managed to secure their orders, the week of November 9th will be a busy one. As has been the case for nearly two decades now, the big two competitors will be Sony and Microsoft, pitting their flagship consoles (The Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X respectively) against each other, in a battle for the domination of the holiday market. However, in this generation, Microsoft has introduced a wrinkle into the traditional two console battle; a smaller, less powerful, but more cost efficient console known as the Xbox Series S, which is retailing for $200 less than its aforementioned competitors.
The backlash to this announcement was sudden and harsh in the gaming community, with many expressing their belief that this console would be holding technological progress back so that Microsoft could enforce parity with the more powerful Series X. Others were confused, wondering why this console, barely an upgrade on current generation hardware, would need to exist at all. Suffice it to say, the general reaction to the announcement of the Series S has ranged from vitriolic to apathetic. However, for my money, this is the console I’m currently most excited about.
I think that the Series S has the potential to serve a number of underappreciated, niche audiences, but for now I want to focus on a couple of key factors that I think will give the system a place in the new generation. To begin, consider the world that these consoles will be launching in. It’s one in which many people, especially in the West (one of the largest markets in this industry) are facing unemployment, eviction, and a loss of healthcare. While it is much too late to be pushing back the release of these consoles, both companies are being forced to market them as luxury products in a time where many don’t even know where their next paycheck is going to come from. By offering a much lower price point (almost half of the $500 price tag on the Series X and PS5), Microsoft is providing people with a way to enter into the next generation without bankrupting themselves on a flagship console.
This ties in with a broader approach to the new generation that Microsoft is attempting, which is to get people invested in the Xbox ecosystem at any cost. According to a rumor floating around the internet, the company is taking a big hit on the production costs for these units, especially on the Series S. This indicates that they think the trade off is worth it in order to have an Xbox console be the one that occupies the most homes by Christmas. While there is a conversation to be had about corporate consolidation and the dangers of monopolies in any industry (especially given how large Microsoft has grown over the last two years), this means that there is a huge market that will be invested in the new generation that might otherwise have been ignored for several years. By extension, that means huge growth for an industry that will inevitably be hit hard by current events.
This should be reason enough for the existence of the Series S, but there are other factors that will contribute to its success. The price point at which it is launching is low enough to compete with the current consoles, despite the increase in power. This means that when current hardware inevitably breaks, it will be roughly the same price to upgrade to a newer generation, which will mean new sources of revenue for Microsoft. This, combined with their commitment to backwards compatibility with old tech and games, means that there will be more people than ever invested in the newer generation, and that’s something that anyone with even a passing interest in the industry, or medium, should be excited about. After all, what purpose is there in trying to exclude others from an industry that is making such strides towards inclusivity? There’s room for the Series S in this medium, and there’s room for new competition too.