Microsoft has made two announcements of note this week. The first – for those who primarily spend their time and money on free-to-play titles like battle royales and MOBAs – is that these games are now actually “free” to play on Xbox consoles. The Xbox Gold requirement to access online multiplayer has been removed for a list of over 50 games.
This list includes several big names like Apex Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone, Destiny 2, Fortnite, Path of Exile, ROBLOX, Rocket League, SMITE, and Warframe. Given these games generate a ton of income on microtransactions and Microsoft takes a 30% cut, this seems like a sensible move that’ll increase player counts and, ultimately, prove more profitable for them over time.
The other big announcement on the Major Nelson blog is the arrival of more FPS-boost backwards compatible titles – this time focused primarily on EA-published multiplayer games. These are, of course, also available with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
Two things stand out to me. The first is that very few people have HDTVs that support anything above 60Hz natively. There are far more 30fps games from last-gen that would benefit immensely from operating at 60fps. While I’m thrilled at the prospect of playing Titanfall 2 at 120fps, this is clearly a marketing push for their brand (“We do 120fps!”) and Xbox Game Pass.
The second is that Xbox Series S only supports 120fps for select games, which is surprising as its backwards compatible performance has often been better than the Series X as it uses Xbox One S versions. It shares the same CPU (only 6% slower) but the GPU differential between the Xbox One S is larger than that between the Xbox One X and Series X (3x vs. 2x). I know performance does not scale linearly with hardware, but it makes me wonder if the Series S memory configuration – less RAM at slower transfer speeds – is the problem?
Despite my cynicism, both announcements are going to be a further boost for Microsoft’s player-friendly image and allow many free-to-play gamers to shave some costs off their favourite hobby.