Things are looking up for the Xbox One and Microsoft heading into 2019. Sales are up, new developers are working under the Xbox banner, and services like Game Pass and Backward Compatibility continue to be popular with gamers. It's safe to say that Xbox has some momentum as we approach the next-generation, and we're hoping to see Xbox capitalize on it in 2019.
In 2018, Microsoft's Xbox One hardware saw massive growth in sales, at one point outpacing the PS4 by nearly double. Analysts attributed this mainly to the Xbox One X, which by now is clearly the front-runner for most powerful home console. And while the PlayStation 4 is still the overall market leader, the Xbox One is no longer in the same position it was when it first launched.
Beyond just the Xbox One X's power, Microsoft's biggest achievements in 2018 were all on the service side as Xbox Game Pass continued to expand. We expect Game Pass to play an even larger role for both the Xbox One and Microsoft's next-gen plans in 2019.
Xbox Game Pass Gets More Games and Becomes Available on More Systems
Xbox boss Phil Spencer already said he'd like to see Xbox Game Pass on every available platform, and plans are underway to bring Microsoft's popular subscription service to PC. The Netflix-style subscription service—where for a flat $9.99 fee every month players can access a library of games—has proven to be the Xbox One's killer app. As an added value to the service, Xbox first-party games are released on Game Pass the same day as retail.
While we may or may not see Game Pass come to PC in 2019, we can certainly expect to see more games announced for the platform this year. Microsoft already announces a steady drip of titles each month for Game Pass, and last year's Xbox X018 event featured the Game Pass service prominently when Microsoft used the event to announce 16 new Game Pass titles.
Even if major third-party games don't release day one on Game Pass, mid-size titles and high-profile indie games aren't off the table. Both Ashen and Below came out on Game Pass at launch, and it wouldn't surprise us to see some big name indies doing the same in 2019. Likewise, there's a chance some of last year's biggest games could come to Game Pass this year.
New Xbox One Consoles
While we know the next-gen Xbox is in the works, that's not what we're talking about here. Instead, we're looking forward to seeing the digital-only Xbox One console rumored to come out sometime in 2019. According to reports, this Xbox One will not include a physical media drive and instead only support digital downloads. As a result, it could be even smaller than the Xbox One S and definitely smaller than the launch Xbox One.
It's been suggested this console will be cheaper than the current line of Xbox One consoles (An Xbox One S retails for about $200) which can put it firmly in the $100-to-$200 range. While digital-only hardware has proven to be hit-or-miss in the past (think PSP Go), Microsoft is apparently readying a conversion program that will let customers exchange physical Xbox One game discs for digital codes to sweeten the deal.
The rumors of the digital-only Xbox One console makes sense, especially given the popularity of the Xbox Game Pass. Combining digital-only hardware with software that gives players a library of digital-only games for a fixed monthly price is a killer one-two punch and could make gaming even more accessible to budget-conscious gamers and families. This approach to gaming freedom is a far cry from the Xbox One launch years ago when the system was perceived as restrictive and uninviting.
More First-Party Games
If there's one weakness in the Xbox One going into 2019 it's the first-party games line-up. While 2018 saw the launch of Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2, and Forza Horizon 4, the Xbox One's overall line-up of exclusives pale in comparison to that of the PS4 and Nintendo Switch.
Luckily, Microsoft picked up a host of new studios last year, while existing studios are confirmed to be working on some highly-anticipated projects. Just last year Microsoft announced it acquired Playground Games (Forza Horizon), Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice), Compulsion Games (We Happy Few), Undead Labs (State of Decay 2), inXile (The Bard's Tale 4), and Obsidian Entertainment (The Outer Worlds). There's also the new The Initiative studio in Santa Monica that Xbox is building from the ground up, and it's already hiring some big triple-A alumni from studios like Naughty Dog and Sony Santa Monica.
While some of the developers like Playground Games and Undead Labs have been working exclusively for Xbox previously, their acquisitions lend credence to some of their rumored projects. We've been hearing for some time that Playground is working on a new Fable reboot, and who knows? Maybe one of these studios will release some small game for the Xbox One as a little teaser for future projects?
Meanwhile, Xbox's legacy studios already announced some big projects. 343 Industries has Halo Infinite in the works, while The Coalition is busy with Gears 5. It's unclear if we'll see either games before the launch of Xbox's next-gen console, but at least we know they're coming.
Information on Next-Gen "Project Scarlett"
All of this leads up to the one thing we hope to see from Xbox this year: more info on its next-gen console. Xbox was first out of the gate when Phil Spencer announced a new hardware was in the works at its E3 2018 press conference, but we don't know anything beyond its existence. Since the E3 press conference there have been numerous reports surrounding "Project Scarlett", including how the next-gen Xbox might be a series of devices catering to different audiences.
This is like how the Xbox One is currently, with the Xbox One X, Xbox One S, and rumored digital-only Xbox One all targeting different types of consumers. The current rumors state that there will be a new Xbox One X-style successor that's all about power, while lower-spec Scarlett models could be more budget-friendly. Scarlett will also likely see deeper integration with Game Pass, include backward compatibility that extends to Xbox One, and maybe stronger network capabilities for Microsoft's Project xCloud game streaming service.
The Xbox One was slow out of the starting gate, but 2018 felt like a major turning point for the system. While there still aren't a lot of exclusive titles, Xbox successfully convinced gamers that its strong ecosystem of services and multi-tiered consoles are worth investing in. If anything, all of this shows the groundwork for what could be a tremendous next-gen for Xbox and we hope to see where it all leads starting this year.