At Gamescom 2021, Microsoft announced that it will extend its game streaming service (Xbox Cloud Gaming) from PC and mobile devices to game consoles starting on Christmas Day this year. In addition to supporting the new consoles Xbox Series X/S, Xbox Cloud Gaming will also be compatible with the Xbox One models. TrendForce’s investigations indicate that the Nintendo Switch remains the mainstream option in the consumer market and is expected to reach 30.13 million units in annual sales for 2021. The PlayStation 5 consoles, which have been in severe shortage since its release, will take second place with annual sales of 17.61 million units, while the Xbox Series X/S will take third place with 8.66 million units sold this year.
Xbox One owners will comprise the majority of Xbox Cloud Gaming users on game console platforms
Microsoft has been making long-term efforts to promote cloud-based game streaming services. One such example includes the improvements that it made to its web browser to better support Xbox Cloud Gaming and permit the service to run on PC and mobile devices, with official PC and iOS releases taking place in June 2021. Microsoft’s announcement of game console compatibility with Xbox Cloud Gaming represents yet another step taken by the company towards its goal of extending game streaming services to all platforms.
As previously mentioned, Xbox Cloud Gaming supports not only the latest Xbox Series X and S consoles, but also the previous-gen Xbox One models. This wide compatibility can primarily be attributed to the fact that game streaming services have relatively low hardware requirements, thereby making it compatible across virtually all console hardware. The other reason is Microsoft’s aim to quickly expand the user base of Xbox Cloud Gaming. After all, very few people currently possess Xbox Series X/S consoles because these consoles have only been recently released, and their sale volumes have been constrained by the severe shortage of electronic components. Hence, the ability to quickly expand Xbox Cloud Gaming’s user base is contingent on adoption by current owners of Xbox One consoles, whose total cumulative sales are relatively high by now.
Going forward, Microsoft is expected to leverage the attraction of Xbox Cloud Gaming to draw consumers to purchase the Xbox Series X/S through the Xbox All Access installment payment plans. This is also why Microsoft is aggressively collaborating with and acquiring game developers, as having more games playable through Xbox Cloud Gaming will make the service more attractive to consumers.
Xbox Cloud Gaming will likely reduce the willingness of existing Xbox One owners to buy new consoles
Microsoft’s core strategy revolves around its platform and service. By attracting consumers through service first, Microsoft will then be able to raise the sales of its hardware. Put another way, increased hardware sales result in an expanded user base, which will further result in increased earnings through both platform and service.
Hence, the initial sales performances of the Xbox Series X/S are not a point of focus for Microsoft. If the company is able to expand its user base, Microsoft does not even necessarily need to ensure the popularity of the Xbox Series X/S. It can instead potentially release other modified models that are better suited for game streaming services or even simpler, dedicated game streaming boxes. However, in consideration of other services such as Xbox Live Gold, as well as earnings from players that do not subscribe to game streaming services, Microsoft must still maintain a range of game consoles that can compete with the PS5 in terms of specs.
Although Microsoft’s core strategy is in alignment with its software services for the PC market, such as Office and Windows, the heavy push for Xbox Cloud Gaming will inadvertently lower the console replacement demand of existing Xbox One owners. Furthermore, the difference in hardware specifications between the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S will also complicate the software development process for game developers, in turn reducing the willingness of developers to create games for the latest Xbox consoles and affecting the sales performances of the Xbox Series X/S.
Therefore, it makes sense that despite the similar specs between the Xbox Series X and the PS5, their sales numbers differ wildly. At any rate, the Switch will remain the sales leader in the game console market in 2021, with the PS5 experiencing a gradual sales growth and the latest Xbox consoles lagging behind.