Back in the middle of 2016, Microsoft was just revealing the first details of Xbox One Scorpio (which became the Xbox One X), and Sony was just confirming the rumored existence of the PlayStation 4 Neo (which became the PS4 Pro). At the time, we had a simple question for the console industry’s near future:
In 2021, will developers still be expected to make games fully compatible with the original Xbox One and PS4 (console hardware that will be pushing eight years old at that point)? Or will developers be allowed to focus on the ‘legacy’ Neo/Scorpio hardware and (presumably) whatever new top-end upgrade will replace them?
Now that such a heralded console future is approaching the console present (a year ahead of our original predictions), we at least have a temporary answer as far as Microsoft is concerned. In a recent interview with trade magazine MCV, head of Xbox Game Studios Matt Booty revealed that there are no plans to sequester the first year or two of games for the upcoming Xbox Series X away from compatibility with the original Xbox One.
“As our content comes out over the next year, two years, all of our games, sort of like PC, will play up and down that family of devices,” Booty explains. “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.”
The console is the new PC
It’s hard to overstate how weird the idea of an exclusive-free launch is for a new generation of video game consoles. Back when the original Xbox One launched, for instance, you had to upgrade your aging Xbox 360 hardware if you wanted to play heavily promoted first-party games like Killer Instinct, Forza Motorsport 5, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Dead Rising 3, to name just a few. Those exclusives were supposed to be the “system sellers” that would convince otherwise satisfied console gamers to shell out hundreds of dollars for new hardware.
For the Series X launch, though, even heavily promoted launch titles like Halo Infinite will apparently still be playable on your original Xbox One (even if that seven-year-old system is old enough to have come bundled with a Kinect). In that same MCV interview, Booty notes that the Halo Infinite team “is definitely going to be doing things to take advantage of [Series X].” What Booty doesn’t talk about, of course, is how that team may be held back by a requirement to accommodate players on more limited Xbox One hardware.
Booty’s interview notably focuses only on first-party content, so third-party developers could theoretically create games that require the power of the Series X. Looking at previous console transitions, though, third-party developers are usually more likely than not to spend the first few years of a new console generation splitting their major games across multiple tiers of hardware. In late 2013, for instance, games like Battlefield 4, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, NBA2K14, and Skylanders Swap Force were all launching on the brand new Xbox One and the eight-year-old Xbox 360 versions at the same time.
It’s unclear at this point whether early Series X releases will even have to be split into separate versions to work across multiple Microsoft console generations. The history of 2017’s Xbox One X suggests a single version of a new game might be playable across three different levels of Microsoft console, with only minor patchable graphical differences between them.
But the Xbox One X was always sold as a “mid-generation” stopgap upgrade which would never feature games that required an upgrade from the original Xbox One. For the Series X, Booty is limiting that kind of promise to “the next year, two years,” implying there will be some point where the original Xbox One (and even the One X) loses developer support and becomes as defunct as the Xbox 360.
When that phaseout will come, and how suddenly it will hit, are still unknown at this point. But the fact that the transition won’t even start in earnest when the Series X launches is something console owners aren’t used to.
On the PC side, gamers are more accustomed to this kind of gradual obsolescence cycle. In that market, different game makers can set more granular “minimum requirements” for GPU, CPU, and RAM levels, and players can upgrade individual parts when enough games warrant the investment.
In Microsoft’s new tiered Xbox hardware universe, the eventual shift from “everything works on Xbox One” to “nothing works on Xbox One” may come a bit more suddenly. Still, it’s interesting to see that Xbox One owners won’t need to upgrade to the Series X later this year to enjoy any exclusive software for the time being.
Listing image by Xbox