The existence of the Xbox Series S is no surprise. We've known for some time that Microsoft was working on an all-digital, more affordable alternative to its Xbox Series X console – even if the company hadn't officially confirmed this was the case until now.
What was a surprise was just how affordable the Xbox Series S – priced at just $299 / £249.99 (around AU$400) – turned out to be.
Now, $300 still isn't cheap, and it's certainly not pocket money to most people. When compared to other consoles, though – in both current and past generations – this price tag has left me pretty gobsmacked. Next-gen hardware will be achievable for less than $300!
While Sony hasn't revealed the PS5 price, we're not expecting it to be anywhere near this low. So before Microsoft has officially revealed the price of its flagship console, the company already has a major advantage over Sony – and, given it comes in cheaper than the Switch, Nintendo should be worried too.
- Xbox Series X vs Xbox Series S: which console is right for you?
- Xbox Series X price and pre-orders: what we know
- Xbox Series X games: all the games confirmed for the new Xbox
More accessible next-gen
Microsoft's whole approach to next-gen seems to centre around accessibility, and the Xbox Series S epitomises this mission.
From the inception of the Xbox Series X, Microsoft has cited that it does not wish to leave current-gen Xbox gamers behind. But what could have easily been brushed off as lip-service from the company seems more and more legitimate as we creep closer to the console's November release date. Microsoft has promised no Xbox Series X console exclusives for a few years, backwards compatibility with four generations of Xbox games and, through its Smart Delivery initiative, Xbox One players will be able to upgrade select titles (like Cyberpunk 2077) to the Xbox Series X for free.
While Sony seems to be pushing gamers into upgrading to the PS5, with console exclusive games and content, Microsoft has taken a more accessible approach, emphasizing that its goal is to leave no gamer behind – appealing to the mass rather than the minority.
While this may seem like a somewhat odd strategy from the company, which to all extents and purposes should be trying to sell as much of its shiny new hardware as possible, in reality Microsoft seems to have a longer-tail plan in mind.
The product Microsoft is trying to sell isn't the Xbox Series X or the Xbox Series S: what the company really wants to sell is Xbox Game Pass.
Xbox Game Pass is one of the greatest innovations of the current generation, allowing subscribers to pay a monthly fee to access over 100 games on their Xbox One. Paying a little bit more for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, meanwhile – $15 / £10.99 / AU$15.95 per month – grants subscribers access to all these games, Project xCloud streaming and Xbox Live Gold. When you consider the average physical game is around $60 / £50, it's a fantastic bargain.
Microsoft is leaning further into Xbox Game Pass in the next-generation, with the consoles acting almost like a vessel for the service. It makes sense, then, that Microsoft isn't pushing anyone into next-gen – it just wants you to be part of the Xbox ecosystem, preferably through Xbox Game Pass.
But this approach is more accessible to us as consumers. For one, it means we get access to over 100 games (including new Xbox titles) for just $15 a month. We also get to try out new games without feeling like we 'missed out' if it isn't for us. And it also doesn't assume everyone has the money to shell out on a brand new Xbox game straight away, offering a more affordable option that doesn't alienate those who aren't flush. That's something Sony and Nintendo don't seem to place high on their priority list.
Move over Sony and Nintendo
Now, I could talk about how accessible Microsoft's approach to next-gen had been all day. But it's with the Xbox Series S that we really start to see this build up come into play. And Microsoft has been very clever.
The Xbox Series S not only provides a bridge between the Xbox One S and the Xbox Series X, in terms of both tech and price, but it does so while being considerably cheaper than the Xbox One X was. It blows my mind that I'll be able to purchase a console that's more powerful than the One X, at $200 less than its launch price.
In addition, if you consider that consumers will be able to pick up the $299 next-gen console and, when paired with Xbox Game Pass, immediately have access to over 100 games from the off, for just $15 a month, the value is unrivalled (but I'll come back to that).
Considering there's many who don't want or need the Xbox Series X's high-end specs, the Series S will provide a more affordable and low spec option that's sure to be a bigger hit with the mainstream consumer. After all, affordability is key for families, while those who just purchase consoles for their annual fill of FIFA or Call of Duty may not be as fussed about all the bells of whistles of the Series X as an avid gamer would be. It's a taste of next-gen without the next-gen price tag.
Meanwhile, those who do want to purchase an Xbox Series X will at least have the option to pay in instalments through Xbox All Access, again making the jump to next-gen easier – and more accessible – than ever before.
While Sony is also on track to release a PS5 Digital, a more affordable alternative to the PS5, I very much doubt it'll be as cheap as the Series S. Let's not forget, either, that PS Now is nowhere near as valuable a subscription service as Xbox Game Pass.
While Sony hasn't confirmed its next-gen pricing, we do know that the consumers will likely only have two choices at launch: buy a standard PS5 or a PS5 Digital, and neither are going to come cheap.
It's also worth noting that the Xbox Series S comes in cheaper than both the PS4 and the Nintendo Switch – but with considerably more power and the ability to play next-gen titles. That makes it a bridge to next-gen not just for Xbox fans but for gamers across all platforms. Combined with Xbox Game Pass, who can resist?
- PS5: release date, design, specs and news for Sony’s PlayStation 5
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Vic is TechRadar Gaming's Associate Editor. An award-winning games journalist, Vic brings experience from IGN, Eurogamer and more to the TechRadar table. You may have even heard her on the radio or speaking on a panel. Not only is Vic passionate about games, but she's also an avid mental health advocate who has appeared on both panels and podcasts to discuss mental health awareness. Make sure to follow her on Twitter for more.