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Microsoft changes Xbox Series X launch plans for the year of the pandemic

Published Jun 9th, 2020 6:50AM EDT
Xbox Series X Price
Image: Microsoft

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  • The Xbox Series X price and release date remain a mystery, as Microsoft isn’t ready to share those details.
  • Xbox chief Phil Spencer is acutely aware that the novel coronavirus pandemic will impact sales this year, but the new console will hit stores this fall, as previously planned.
  • The price is going to be important, Spencer said in an interview with BBC, but Microsoft is focusing on the experience. “Our strategy does not revolve around how many Xboxes I sell this year,” Spencer said.

For gamers, it should have been the year of brand new gaming consoles, but then the novel coronavirus pandemic happened. The world changed almost instantly, and the PS5 and Xbox Series X took a back seat to the health crisis. Life as e knew it came to a halt, as drastic social distancing measures were imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Tens of millions of people lost their jobs in the process, as working from home became a luxury not everybody could afford. Buying the new Xbox or the PlayStation 5 will turn out to be exactly that for many people this year, a luxury they won’t afford. But Microsoft is ready for selling the Series X during the pandemic, fully aware that sales will be affected by the ongoing pandemic.

Without the coronavirus, gamers would have been treated to E3 2020 this week. The gaming event was canceled months ago, right alongside other major events in the tech world. Sony was never going to be a part of E3, but the company does have planned a PS5 event later this week. As for Microsoft, the company’s Xbox chief Phil Spencer chatted with BBC Click about the challenges of launching the Xbox Series X in this particular year, ahead of the company’s July event.

The good news is that the Series X will hit stores this fall, and Spencer doesn’t seem to envision any delays. The exec did say the Xbox team had to figure out early on in the pandemic whether the supply chain will be functional and whether they’d be able to test the new hardware.

“But when I look at the hardware production now, I feel really good,” Spencer said. “We have test kits at home, and we’re all using them, so we can ensure that everything’s working the way it should.”

“We’re also making good progress with the software platform that we’ve built to ensure the games run well,” he added. “And with regards to the supply chain, it looks like builds of the consoles will be uninterrupted.”

Spencer noted that Microsoft experienced a couple of weeks missing in their Xbox test cycle, “but I feel like we’ll be able to absorb a lot of that into the schedule, and I feel really good about our autumn launch.” Spencer did not actually reveal a launch date for the Series X during the interview.

It’s unclear whether Microsoft will announce the Series X release date in July or tell fans how much the console will cost. Recent reports did say that Microsoft is looking to undercut the PS5’s price, so we may have to wait for this cat-and-mouse game to play out.

While the Series X seems to be on track for that fall launch, Spencer is aware that the massive economic uncertainty will affect sales.

“We see the impact of people getting furloughed and layoffs. It’s tough,” Spencer said. “And we are a leisure activity. We’re not a requirement. We’re not food. We’re not shelter.”

Without actually revealing the price of the new Xbox, Spencer did note that they’re looking to make the console as affordable as possible and offer people choice.

“We’ve got an Xbox All Access subscription programme that allows people to buy their next console by paying a monthly charge,” he said. “And if now is not the time for you to buy a new console, and you’re going to stay with the console you have, we’re going to keep supporting that console.” On top of that, he said that new technologies like smart delivery will let users move their game collections to the new hardware once they buy it.

While acknowledging that “price is going to be important,” Spencer also said that gaming is a durable industry, hinting that it will survive the coronavirus economic crisis like it survived the 2008-09 recession.

“Our strategy is centered around the player, not the device,” Spencer said. “If this is not the year when a family wants to make a decision to buy a new Xbox, that’s OK.”

The Microsoft exec added that the company’s strategy does not revolve “around how many Xboxes I sell this year,” but about the overall experience.

As for new game development, Spencer admitted that working from home is possible to a certain extent. Some parts require people working together, like motion-capture of actors or extensive music work. The implication here is that some new games may be delayed, but Spencer would not name any names.

He did say that Xbox subscribers do play 40% more games than others, and the pandemic was responsible for creating over 270 million new friend relationships on Xbox Live during the lockdown.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.