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Digital only Xbox One S would stand as an interesting case study for Microsoft’s future in games

Rumour has it that Microsoft is planning to ship a digital-only version of the Xbox One S in May 2019, with pre-orders set to open in April. While the hardware specifics for any potential new hardware are not yet known, the report seems in line with a slow but continued shift towards a digital-only future, one that may be closer than we think.

We know of this report by way of the folks over at Windows Central:

“Microsoft is reportedly set to call the discless Maverick console the ‘Xbox One S All-Digital Edition,’ with preorders aiming for mid-April 2019, and with general availability coming in early May 2019. It looks as though it could be near-global simultaneous launch for almost all existing Xbox markets.

Regardless as to whether or not the rumour turns out to be true, it falls in line with Microsoft’s ongoing effort to digitise its games library and platforms, fed by an ongoing analytical narrative that points to an eventual disc-less future (perhaps by as early as 2021). 

The debate — or argument — surrounding digital-only platforms tends to focus on storage capacity, which, given the size of today’s games, would need to be substantial, probably at least 2TB to offer a viable storage solution.

There’s also the topic of bandwidth, although that isn’t an issue for major Xbox markets like North American and most of Europe. There is the issue of Australia, however, which continues to lag behind with its staggered rollout of the troubled National Broadband Network (NBN). 

Microsoft has been down this road before … sort of. When it first revealed the Xbox One back in 2013, it envisioned an always-online, digital focused console, one that would prioritise the digitisation of games and media licensing, ahead of disc-based media.

That didn’t sit so well with gamers, with the huge backlash prompting the company to backflip on a number of key ideals, namely but not limited to, forced Kinect connectivity, forced online connectivity, and restrictions with used games software.

Its initial reveal arguably set it back and gave Sony and its PlayStation 4 a substantial boost leading into the current generation, a boost it would utilise to ride for more than five years, leading into a sixth.

Microsoft, meanwhile, just seems to be strolling along: it’s led the way in some regard with the Xbox One X, offering an all-round more powerful and appealing upgrade on the original Xbox One lineup, than what the PS4 Pro did on the original PS4. There’s no doubting now that the Xbox One X is the most powerful console on the market. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite have the exclusives lineup to help differentiate it, or give it any substantial justification to invest in native 4K console gaming as it currently stands. That said, the Xbox One X stands as a fantastic piece of hardware.

There’s also been two widely praised digital services that I feel go severely under-appreciated by the wider gaming community (especially those with a bizarre distain for anything and everything Microsoft related). Those two services are EA Access, and Xbox Game Pass.

EA Access was at the time the only console-based, publisher-exclusive, subscription-only online service, offering paying users a growing selection of “vault” games, discounts on new releases, as well as early access.

At the time of its reveal, Sony said that EA Access wasn’t worth the money: it’s turned out to be a genuinely valuable service given the growing library on offer.

Microsoft then opted for a subscription-only digital service of its own with Xbox Game Pass, a service similar to PlayStation Now, but with the appeal of offering new Xbox exclusives (included in the price of your subscription). The pros and cons of each competing service are up date for debate, although the two a similar yet different, with Microsoft’s offering being download-only, whereas PlayStation Now is Cloud-based, and thus currently restricted to certain markets, with a staggered launch.

Sony’s service may yet stand the test of time and be the better of the two. Given the latest divide between the two companies, and Microsoft’s continued shift towards a digital-only era, however, and it’s obvious why Xbox Game Pass is so widely regarded amongst Xbox fans and neutral gamers alike.

So, how does this all fit in with Microsoft’s apparent shift, and the rumoured digital-only Xbox One S? Well, the idea behind the console suggests it could be packaged and advertised alongside the Xbox Game Pass experience: buy a console, which comes packaged with a subscription, and you never have to buy a game again … so long as you’re happy with what’s on the service. But even still, you could easily make do with what’s currently available on Xbox Game Pass if you’re a more casual, spontaneous gamer.

Looking forward, it paints a picture for a company that appears to be continuously looking to branch out and expand its horizons towards a digital frontier. 

Firstly you have Xbox Live availability on the Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android.

Secondly, you have the rumoured Xbox Game Pass on Nintendo Switch thing from last week, which may never happen, but we know that Microsoft is pushing the XCloud, and that the company wants Game Pass across televisions, phones, and consoles. Whether those consoles include the likes of PlayStation and Nintendo hardware, time will tell.

 Thirdly, and while we hear this almost every generation, it appears more true than ever: the next Xbox — which may actually be this rumoured Xbox One S version — will likely be the last Xbox console. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Xbox, quite the contrary. It means the same as what PlayStation Now means for the PlayStation family: it’ll merely branch off into an entirely digital arena, one not restricted by hardware, but one rather flexible in where it can be played.

Much like Netflix apps on our Smart TVs and phones, Xbox Game Pass could act as the Xbox “console”, our gateway to the world of Xbox. 

Microsoft certainly wouldn’t be a pioneer in that regard, but from a purely gaming perspective on the console front, it could mean being first to the party in completely digitising the console gaming landscape.

Given how many of us already download our games, it seems like the future is already set in stone for Microsoft and Xbox.

What are your thoughts on the rumoured new version of the Xbox One S, and what do you see for the future of Xbox? Sound off in the comments below.

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