The All-Digital Future Of Xbox

With each passing day, it seems ownership of one’s entertainment media is becoming a product of the past. Streaming networks host your favourite films and television shows and apps like Spotify and Apple Music give you access to the songs from your favourite artists, all for just a few dollars a month. Long gone are the brick and mortar stores that lined their aisles with physical discs (or cassette and VHS tapes if you’re my age), discs you can then take home and fill your shelves with and showcase to your friends. Video games on the other hand, seem to be falling into a bygone era when it comes to physical media, in no small part due to Xbox.

A recent post on Resetera revealed leaked documents from Microsoft’s FTC court filings, which presented the company’s plans for a mid-gen refresh to their current console lineup. The images leaked revealed three consoles codenamed “Ellewood,” “Brooklin,” and “Uther,” which correspond to the Series S, Series X, and Series X in “XDL,” respectively—the “XDL” presumably denoting something relating to Xbox Design Labs. According to the images posted, “Ellewood” will be a minor upgrade to the Series S, keeping with its four teraflop/1440p resolution target. The more notable upgrade comes from a design shift for the Series X’ “Brooklin” refresh.

Tweet by Wario64
Tweet by Wario64

In addition to being a disc-only version of the present Series X, the “Brooklin” will feature a cylindrical design almost reminiscent of Apple’s contentious “trash-can” Mac Pro from a decade ago. The images of the Series S’ “Ellewood,” however, looks to dawn the same design language of the Series S. If true, the choice is an odd decision as it would mean there would be no design cohesion between the two consoles nor a visual separator from its current version.

It is curious that neither consoles are getting a spec bump, particularly when it comes to the Series S. It makes partial sense, as it was revealed by Digital Foundry during their weekly podcast a couple months back that when Microsoft had initially shown them the Series X, they did so by calling it their mid-gen refresh, making it a point to label the Series S their “standard” machine. The thought was to have the Series X stand as the console players would expect from a mid-range refresh. The X would remain the primary console alongside the Series S.

Evidently, this isn’t how the gaming public – at least from where I stand – sees these two consoles. It has further led to developers making their feelings towards the Series S heard. Microsoft themselves are lifting certain parity restraints to bring the critically acclaimed Baldur’s Gate 3 to their “standard” console. The decision to leave their underpowered console as is, is baffling. It’s unclear why one would even consider the “upgrade” to the “Ellewood,” with both its price-point and design allegedly remaining the same, with the notable updates being its Wi-Fi chip and storage capacity.

Xbox Series S
Xbox Series S. (Pic: Microsoft).

With these new consoles, Xbox will leap into its all-digital future. Whereas leaks suggest Sony are working on a PlayStation 5 with a detachable disc-drive, it seems Microsoft will be nixing the ability to insert a disc into their future consoles. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it was only a few days ago that Xbox caused a stir amongst the gaming community with their now-deleted nine second advert for Game Pass that belittled the days where one would put their owned CD’s in thick cases; contrasting it with the ease of Game Pass and the ability to cycle through their digital library. It was a hypocritical advert at best. Mutahar from SomeOrdinaryGamers, a YouTuber and longtime advocate for physical media, outlines how some physical discs shown in the advert were unavailable to play on Game Pass and unable to be played via backwards compatibility.

This is the future that Xbox envisions, however. One day, everyone will play on the Game Pass via a console, phone, tablet, smart TV, or a cheap cloud-enabled device from Microsoft themselves – another tertiary product potentially on the horizon if the leaks are to be believed. A future where Remote Play and Xbox Cloud Gaming become the norm, and players remain at the mercy of whatever titles the company decides to add or remove each month. It’s a future that I’ve personally been acquainted with for some time, being both a longtime advocate for the Game Pass and consistent user of Xbox Cloud Gaming. Yet, though I enjoy the comfort of Game Pass and get giddy each time I play my triple-A games on shoddy Starbucks Wi-Fi on my phone, I can’t say that the idea of being perpetually tied to a subscription service that can take away my beloved titles on an impulse, with no alternative way to access them, is a future that I can truly get behind.

Unfortunately, it seems it’s one that’s closer than we think.

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