January 30, 2023

A green image of an Xbox Series X console.

2022 was somehow both a really big, successful year for Xbox and Game Pass and one where it felt like the gaming giant was starting to lose some steam.

Sure, the Xbox Series S has quietly become one of next-generation’s biggest success stories – easy to find and cheaper than the PS5 or Series X – but Microsoft also struggled to release anything big in 2022. got some hot new titles, it felt less valuable than in 2021. And all of this happened while Microsoft fended off regulators and governments in its continued effort to consume Activision Blizzard. It’s definitely been a strange year for Xbox and Game Pass.

A quiet year for big exclusive offers

General, 2022 had fewer major, AAA blockbusters than previous years. This is likely for a number of different reasons, including how difficult these games are to make, how risky they are to invest in, and the ongoing pandemic and its ongoing effects on the world. But despite all this, we got some exclusive games from Sony and Nintendo God of War Ragnarok, Kirby and the Forgotten LandHorizon: Forbidden Westand two different pokemon titles.

Meanwhile, Microsoft seemed unable to ship their own equally great exclusives in 2022. Star field and redfall were pushed back to 2023, so it was really just Obsidian’s penance, Ghostwire Tokyo through Bethesda, owned by Microsoft, and a few third-party games published through Xbox Games Studios. One of those games—Ghostwire Tokyo—is a PS5 console exclusive that is not on Game Pass or Xbox. And call penance a “big exclusive” is being generous, even if it’s a really cool game.

Image for article titled The State of Xbox and Game Pass in 2022

Screenshot: Xbox / Obsidian Entertainment

Some console warriors will argue that Xbox doesn’t need big games, but Microsoft seems to disagree with that assessment. It has bought up countless large and small studios around the world in recent years, so that now Microsoft and Xbox own over 20 different game developers. And let’s not forget that Xbox is also trying to buy up Activision Blizzard. They don’t buy all these companies for their fancy bathrooms. It’s clear that Microsoft and Phil Spencer want (and need) more games for the ever-hungry Game Pass machine.

And this year, that service, which lets users pay a monthly fee to access a ton of games, felt a little less valuable without some big Xbox-only tentpole releases like a new Gears or Forza title. That’s not to say Game Pass was bad in 2022, it just felt a little less valuable compared to 2021 and its plethora of major Xbox exclusives and first-party releases. I mean, High in life is currently one of the most popular games on the service. This is nice for developer Squanch Games, but a sign that Microsoft and its studios were largely absent in 2022. Hopefully, all these different game studios under the Xbox umbrella can start releasing more games in 2023 and beyond.

But Game Pass still had a good year

Even without its own big games, Game Pass had a solid 2022. And it’s proof that Xbox’s Netflix-like service can continue to thrive even if Microsoft is unable to power Game Pass itself. In 2022, a bunch of games launched on day one, including Sniper Elite 5, the Anacrusis, TunicTotal War: Warhammer 3, Loot River, TMNT: Shredder’s RevengeNo one saves the world Power Wash SimulatorSlime Rancher 2, High in life, Two-point campus and MLB The Show 22. And that’s just part of the list.

In addition, Game Pass continued add catalog titles from Bethesda and other publishers to its vast library. There were whole periods of 2022 true, outside of mobile games Marvel Snap, all I was playing was Game Pass stuff on my PC or Xbox. That’s impressive and really shows how much the service has expanded and improved over the years.

It’s clearer than ever this year that Xbox’s future is built on Game Pass and its success. This is a service that people love and Microsoft is committed to making sure it has content. The new redesign of the Xbox dashboard seems to be heavily committed to Game Pass, and Microsoft continues to make it easier to play Game Pass over the cloud on non-Xbox devices, such as TVs and phones. But if you still want an Xbox, Microsoft has a product for you…

The Xbox Series S is Microsoft’s secret weapon

Of all the next-gen consoles, the Xbox Series S is the weakest in terms of raw power. It can’t produce 4K/120hz images and struggles with ray tracing effects. But it is cheaper than a Series X and usually much easier to find. Just a few months ago I walked into a target and bought one without planning weeks ahead. And if inflation remains a thingthe $300 Series S will only look more appealing to those gaming on a budget or parents looking to buy their kids a new console this holiday season without breaking the bank.

An Xbox Series S console stands on a green background.

Image: Xbox / Kotaku

Unsurprisingly, the Series S has sold very, very well since its launch. Last year it outsold the PS5, Switch and Xbox Series X. And with its flow temporary holiday price drop to $250, it will likely top the charts again. If you combine the Series S with a Game Pass subscription, you get one of the best deals in gaming right now.

But the Series S could also be a problem for developers, as it adds another console to worry about and optimize for. As the smaller, weaker Xbox continues to grow in popularity, it may become more difficult for some studios to make next-gen games that also play well on it. Still, for now it’s a wonderful little machine that comes at the perfect time.

The Activision Blizzard Deal

2022 started with a bang, it was announced in January Microsoft planned to buy Activision Blizzard King for nearly $70 billion. This, of course, followed a very bad, terrible year for Activision after it became public how much of a toxic hell it was and how people, mostly women, were treated like shit and harassed while at the company. Looks like Microsoft has dived in and took advantage of all this bad press and began the process of buying up the beleaguered company behind it Call of DutyCandy Crush, and World of Warcraft.

But it hasn’t been a smooth ride since the deal was announced. Instead, multiple countries, regulatory authorities, governmentsand others have opposed the deal with lawsuits, investigations and reports. Microsoft says this deal will lead to more competition and will expand the gaming industry. Sony and others seem to disagree. Personally, I can’t imagine one company owning more and more of the video game industry being a good thing as it gives one company more power and dominance over the market.

Regardless of how you feel about the buyout, it’s yet another example of Microsoft looking to both bolster its back catalog and secure the rights to future major games in an effort to continue growing Game Pass. I wouldn’t be surprised if King’s lucrative mobile games also start getting great Game Pass deals like Microsoft is pushing into that part of the industry.

The future of Xbox and Game Pass

The Game Pass logo floats in front of green Xbox logos.

Image: Kotaku/Xbox

As we approach 2023, Xbox is in a good but weird place. Game Pass continues to be a big win for the company, the Xbox Series S is selling like hot cakes, and it has a lineup of 2023-2024 games that (if they actually ship on time and aren’t delayed) could lead to some bangers in the future of Xbox.

But Microsoft is also battling the FTC, Sony and others as it tries to consume more of the industry. And the work to create an easily accessible Netflix of games has led to a future where people just skip buying an Xbox and play the next one instead. Halo or Forza on their TV or phone via streaming. This ultimately brings the company money, of course, but also means that its namesake – the Xbox – will become less and less relevant in the future.

Will we someday see a future where you ask a kid what an Xbox is and they say, “That service that lets you play all the games on your TV for $20 a month?” Could be. And while that may be a weird future, it won’t be bad for Xbox or Microsoft if it succeeds, regulators and game preservation be damned.

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