Xbox Series X game upgrades won't cost extra — but there's a catch

(Image credit: Microsoft)

By now, you’ve probably read about the Xbox Series X’s Smart Delivery system, which entitles you to a game on the Xbox Series X if you buy a copy on Xbox One, or vice versa. While Microsoft won’t require developers to use this system, it seems that the Xbox manufacturer may be putting constraints on how developers can and can’t charge for next-gen upgrades. If a developer opts out of Smart Delivery, offering a full-price game or a discounted bundle is OK — offering upgrade DLC, however, is not.

Information comes from Video Games Chronicle, which claims to have spoken with sources within the publishing industry. Microsoft has “encouraged [developers] to offer both current and next-gen versions at no additional cost, either via Smart Delivery or their own schemes such as EA’s Dual Entitlement.” However, publishers who don’t offer upgrades for free may still sell discrete games. Offering DLC upgrades at any price seems to be strictly off the table.

So far, it seems that most developers have been listening to Microsoft’s “free upgrade” advice. First-party games such as Halo Infinite and Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II will offer Smart Delivery functionality, as will a number of third-party games, such as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Cyberpunk 2077 and Dirt 5. Even publishers that have opted out of Smart Delivery, such as EA, are offering a similar “Dual Entitlement” program for games such as Madden 21 and FIFA 21.

Some publishers that don’t want to give away next-gen upgrades have bundled their current- and next-gen versions at discounted prices instead. 2K has offered players a $100 package that includes both versions of NBA 2K21. Thanks to a next-gen price bump, buying both games separately would usually cost $130 instead.

In fact, it’s not clear whether any developers will buck the trend and offer completely separate game purchases yet. Not every Xbox Series X game will work with Smart Delivery, but as we’ve seen, publishers have many other options available to offer free or discounted upgrades. If EA, 2K and Activision — companies that are notoriously eager to earn additional money — are all offering some kind of price break, it’s hard to imagine that other big publishers won’t follow suit.

If publishers can’t charge for upgrade DLC, it incentivizes giving away next-gen game versions. However, it may also incentivize just selling a next-gen version at full price. If a publisher has to either give away or sell a full version of a game, selling it is the more profitable option — and selling it at full price is still more profitable than selling it at a discount.

However, no publisher has taken this path yet, so we’ll have to wait and see how widespread free and discounted next-gen upgrades become. For the moment, we can say that if you buy an Xbox One game, the odds are better than average that you’ll get a free Xbox Series X version.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.