In a stunning blow to the Xbox Series X launch lineup, Microsoft announced yesterday that Halo Infinite will be delayed to 2021. The general consensus among industry insiders and fans alike is that this move is good for Halo Infinite and bad for the Series X launch. Think for a moment the state Halo must be in for Microsoft to make the difficult decision to push it back past the launch date, and then imagine rallying an entire console around that game. Yes, I anticipate that Halo Infinite will now be better received in 2021 than it would have been this November. Many are calling for the delay of the Series X, and that might be a natural reaction, but I believe there are a few things Microsoft can still do to successfully launch this console in November.
Bundle 6 Months of Game Pass Ultimate
This is a no-brainer. Each box needs to come with a code packed in to give them immediate access to Game Pass Ultimate on day one. It'll also need to work to add six months to the membership of existing customers. Get everyone home on day one with access to over 50 AAA games at their leisure, playing upgraded versions on what is essentially a very powerful PC. Game Pass Ultimate subs include access to PC Game Pass, xCloud, and Xbox Live Gold—this will be a major value in enticing folks to grab a Series X. Game Pass is still the best exclusive on Xbox, and I think that's enough.
Timing the Launch with Major 3rd-Party Games
Assassin's Creed Valhalla and Cyberpunk 2077, two of the biggest third-party games this year, are releasing on Nov. 17 and 19 respectively. It is imperative that the Series X be available before these games launch—I was originally predicting a Nov. 20 release date to give them more time to finish Halo, but now that that's off the table, Nov. 6 it is. This hypothetical launch date gives plenty of time for players to get adjusted to the console, sift through the Game Pass library, while not waiting too long before they can play Cyberpunk 2077 in 4K at 60 fps. Assassin's Creed will unfortunately only run at 4k30, but it runs the same on a PlayStation 5. Still, performance should be noticeably better than current-generation consoles.
Cloud Save Sync Between Series X, PC, and xCloud
Project xCloud launched into open beta on Aug. 11, so all Game Pass Ultimate subscribers can test it out with a small selection of games (and it's coming out for more people soon). While there are still a few bugs to work out, it operates as promised—you'll be playing Ori and the Will of the Wisps at home on your Series X in 4k120, then head out the door to work. On your lunch break you pull out your (Android) phone, tablet, or Chromebook, pop open the Game Pass app and within seconds you're playing Ori at 1080p60 on the same save file via xCloud.
Then you head home and your boyfriend wants to watch TV, so you pull up the same game save of Ori again on your PC and continue playing. People know about xCloud, but Microsoft needs to double down on marketing how it can be used. This, along with Game Pass, is Microsoft's only real claim against buying a PS5.
Backwards Compatibility All the Way Back to the OG Xbox
Xbox is already pushing this feature as a main selling point of the Series X. There are over 1,000 games from all the way back to the original Xbox, all playable on day one. Any games you own already on Xbox One will be waiting for you to download as soon as you sign in. This is huge; with PS5 having only around 100 backwards-compatible titles at launch, Xbox is offering 10 times that.
Market Game Streaming to PC/Chromebook from Your Console
In addition to xCloud, the Xbox Console Companion App allows players to stream any game from their Xbox Series X or Xbox One to their Windows PC or laptop at full resolution and frame rate. Perhaps not this fall, but in 2021 you could be playing Halo Infinite on your outdated laptop in 1080p60 while your roommate is using the TV. Xbox needs to stress this—you can play their games anywhere, any way you want.
Consolidate Xbox Apps On All Platforms
Microsoft. You cannot keep touting how "easy" it is to switch between your services on console, PC, and mobile with this mess here. The first order of business is to clean up the Google Play Store—consolidate your services and/or make it clear which app does what. Until recently, xCloud was hosted in the Xbox Game Streaming "Preview" app. Now, the open beta for xCloud is located in the "Xbox Game Pass (Beta)" app. It took me longer than I'd have liked to find the app I needed to try out the open beta.
In addition, games need to be removed from the Microsoft Store on PC before launch. The PC Xbox app is still technically in beta, but launching the 1.0 version a few weeks before the Series X launches will be a huge help. The Microsoft Store is a confusing and barely functional marketplace with a difficult to navigate UI. The Xbox app is much cleaner and user friendly, and we don't need players wondering if they bought the game on one store or the other or what that means for syncing with xCloud or with their console. If Microsoft is advertising "Play Anywhere," figuring out how to play anywhere shouldn't require a PhD.
Bundle Game Pass with Android Tablets on Black Friday
Samsung is riding high on Apple's announcement that iPhones will not be compatible with xCloud. In fact, the new flagship Galaxy Note 20 and Tab 7 tablet has an optional bundle with three months of Game Pass Ultimate, including xCloud support. While there are certainly some iPhone users that will switch to Android on their next upgrade because of this development, I don't anticipate that number being very high. What I've observed is a surge of interest in Android tablets so that iPhone users can stick with their preferred phone ecosystem but still utilize the benefits of xCloud. Samsung has the right idea here, but Microsoft needs to be reaching out to all Android tablet manufacturers to get a deal going before the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales this holiday.
Price, Price, and Price
The Xbox One launch flopped largely because of the $499 price tag (which was due to the built-in Kinect, now defunct) in comparison to the $399 PS4. With Sony's shiny new console appearing to be launching at no less than $499 (and by some accounts up to $599), it is imperative Xbox undercuts their price. CEO Phil Spencer has made it clear that they don't care where or how you play their games or even if you buy their consoles—they just want you on Game Pass. Many, myself included, have a gaming PC and are all set with Xbox games. Many, many more folks do not and will be looking for a console to jump to for next-generation games. If Spencer and Xbox are committed to that idea—just getting everybody in the world a platform for Game Pass—the Series X needs to launch for $399 or less. If not, the leaked cheaper model (Xbox Series S) needs to go for anywhere from $99-$199 (depending on what it is) to get gamers on Game Pass. I'm going to be blunt here: Xbox is not offering anywhere near the quality of games that PlayStation is, at least at launch. The price of the console should reflect that.
I have listed a lot of things for Xbox to do in a short amount of time here, although they've already got a foothold on most of them. I think Xbox still offers something you can't get anywhere else with Game Pass, Play Anywhere saves and xCloud. As long as they rally their marketing around that, they can still have a successful launch this holiday.
What does Xbox need to do to convince you to buy a Series X? Let us know in the comments below!