Regardless of whether or not you purchase a next-gen console later this year, a fair number of your late 2020 game purchases will let you play on your current-gen system and its successor later on at no additional charge. Plenty of studios have either publicly committed to Smart Delivery, Xbox's free game upgrade system for the Series X, or to other arrangements that grant Series X or PS5 entitlements to current-gen buyers. According to new reports, Microsoft is actually telling third-parties not to charge for next-gen upgrades.
Sources tell VideoGamesChronicle that Microsoft "has told developers that they cannot charge players to upgrade their current-gen games to Xbox Series X versions as DLC, as an alternative to its free Smart Delivery scheme." Instead, Smart Delivery aside, companies are being encouraged to offer alternatives like EA's Dual Entitlement program or a cross-gen bundle, as with NBA 2K21's $99.99 Mamba Forever edition. The report also notes that developers and publishers "can still offer owners of current-gen games a discount on purchasing a second next-gen version of the game on the Microsoft Store."
GamesIndustry.biz adds that it "has heard similar reports" regarding Microsoft blocking publishers from charging for upgrades.
"[D]evelopers and publishers ultimately decide how they deliver their games," a Microsoft representative says in a statement to VideoGamesChronicle, "and we work with them to provide the best possible experience based on their needs."
Smart Delivery, which also syncs progress and achievements across generations, will be the norm for Xbox's first-party releases launching across Xbox One and the Series X. It has also been embraced by third-party titles including Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Cyberpunk 2077, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
While Sony doesn't have a branded cross-generational upgrade program in place, games including Cyberpunk 2077 and EA's Dual Entitlement-eligible titles FIFA 21 and Madden NFL 21 do have free upgrades guaranteed for the jump from PS4 to PS5.
At this early stage, most developers and publishers appear to be on board with some form of one-time cross-generational purchases, with NBA 2K21 standing out as the lone example of a title that will cost more for the option. With both next-gen consoles promising significant backward compatibility functionality, free or paid upgrades aren't the only way that current-gen titles will carry over to new systems, but so far, it seems that most titles planning cross-gen releases will have an option to avoid double-dipping.