I’m worried the Xbox Series S is holding back true next-gen gaming

Xbox Series S
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Microsoft’s Xbox Series S has been a remarkable success, offering gamers a next-gen console for an affordable price at a time when finding an Xbox Series X restock was a nightmare. But now the compact console could be holding back Xbox gaming. 

As pointed out by VGC, there’s been a whole discourse on Twitter that has argued that Microsoft's requirement for game developers to ensure their titles are optimized for the Series S and not just for the Xbox Series X, hobble the potential performance of those games. So much so that VFX artist Ian Maclure tweeted (now behind a locked account) that the requirement to develop for the Series S is “an albatross around the neck of production.” 

This was backed up by Rocksteady senior character technical artist Lee Devonald, who in response to news that Gotham Knights will run at 30 frames per second and not have a performance mode for faster frame rates, tweeted (and seemingly then deleted the tweets) about the situation. 

“I wish gamers understood what 60fps means, in terms of all of the things they *lose* to make the game run that fast.” Devonald said (hat tip to Gamerant). “Especially taking into account that we have a current-gen console that’s not much better than a last gen one.”

That last comment is particularly noteworthy as the Series S isn't as powerful as the older Xbox One X in terms of raw performance; the former offers four teraflops of graphical power compared to the latter’s six teraflops. But the Xbox Series S uses more advanced chip architecture so it can make up some of the gap. But it tends to target 1440p resolution gaming, while the One X chases 4K enhancements. 

Devonald said that the need to optimize for the Series S’ less powerful graphics processors, compared to that of the Series X with its 20 teraflops performance, means an “entire generation of games, hamstrung by that potato.” 

Now there’s an argument that all new Xbox games need to come to the PC, so developers should have no problem optimizing games for different hardware. But there are a few things to consider here. 

The minimum specs requirements for a PC game can be higher than those of the Series S. And generally speaking, gaming on even a lower end or older PC is going to see players have more power to bring to bear. 

Furthermore, one of the joys/challenges of PC gaming is optimizing a game to suit your hardware, meaning there’s a bit more of an onus on the players if they want to compromise on frame rates for higher graphical fidelity or vice versa. 

And when it comes to PC gaming, there’s a lot more power to throw at the problem. A $1,000 PC is more than likely going to have more compute and graphics power than a Series X, it’s just not likely to be as optimized. 

As such, I can understand why developers building for the Series S, rather than focusing solely on the Series X would see it as a pain and something that holds back true next-gen gaming. 

I’ve already started to feel that in a range of games I play on the latest consoles. What was the promise of 4K 60 fps gaming now seems more of a choice between dynamic resolution and lower graphics fidelity for higher frame rates or more soupy gaming at 30 fps with a resolution that hits or at least gets closer to 4K. 

I don’t want to have to choose between performance modes when console gaming, as that starts to feel more like a PC thing. I just want to flop onto my sofa and play a game as the developer intended it. And while this choice of performance versus graphics also hits the PS5, I’m concerned that as the current-gen Xbox consoles mature, the Series S may indeed hold back the Series X. 

As much as I think having an affordable console to help gamers embrace the current generation was a good move by Microsoft, maybe it’s now time to see it as a stop gap that we can move away from as it’s now easier to buy a Series X. And perhaps my esteemed colleague Rory Mellon was, and is, right in saying you shouldn't buy the Xbox Series S

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face. 

  • d0x360
    Series s isn't the issue here and Gotham knights was crossgen not so long ago... Plus there's no excuse for it looking worse than Batman Arkham Knight (base xb1 version) so it seems like they need a scapegoat because developers have been scaling games to fit on the massive range of PC's out there, most people (based on the steam hardware survey) own systems that on a technical level are less capable than series s.

    Yeah the series s could use more memory but so could ever console ever. I don't see how it matters though since technically PC GPU's with 8gigs of vram isn't enough anymore either and the vast majority are at 8 or less. I played a game last night that required 14 gigs even at 1080p! Thankfully I have 12 and the game supported resizable bar otherwise I wouldn't have been able to crank it up and still be above 60.

    I mean I get it... Devs want people to upgrade. So do I! I've been stupidly buying an EVGA xx80ti FTW3 Ultra Gaming every generation since the 1080ti. Don't get me wrong... I've enjoyed my chase of 4k at good quality and frame rates but it's been pricey. Thankfully I got the 3080ti FTW3 Ultra at the height of the shortages for the same price I paid for the 2080ti variant (both MSRP) but this gen with EVGA gone and knowing some things about RDNA3 & especially 4... I might make the switch.

    I don't expect the same RT performance but FSR3 should match DLSS2 or exceed it due to the open source nature of it. I'm sure if they really wanted they could copy DLSS3 and nVidia could enable 3 on older RTX cards even if gains were as big... Hell 10-20 free fps is always a welcome addition. Sure it's not 100 free fps like on the 4090 but still... I only need to hit 4k120 because I play on an LG OLED.

    Anyways as far as AMD goes RDNA3 won't see it's flagship released until probably summer because of pcie5 gen 5 but it will be more than competitive at resolutions most people play at and price points most people pay every few years.

    I have a 7900x system ready to be built but I'm waiting on derbauer's delidding tool because id rather run at 60 degrees than 95 plus have way more overhead to overclock. I'm kinda excited to setup 5 m.2 drives in a raid array... Gonna be really fast, especially when games start using direct storage 1.1 and GPU asset decompression...

    Anyways I'm way off track but the point stands... Most people aren't running dx12 tier 2 compliant GPU's so until they are those of us who have them have to wait for our hardware to be taken full advantage of which is a shame really.

    Oh and of UE5 has the frame pacing issues that UE4 did.. I'm gonna retire from gaming because I can't take another 5+ years of stutter for no good reason.
  • Slaw99
    I'm worried that the PS4 is also holding back next gen games, I also worry low end gaming computers are also holding back next gen games as well with you know computer games also having the options to adjust the setting it's like devs put that into mind when making their games also I fear the switch is also holding next gen games i think we should tell Sony, and Nintendo to stop supporting the switch and PS4 for how they are holding next gen games back
  • MrPancetta
    I'm worried that people who don't properly understand the hardware will keep writing articles like this, creating an issue where none exist. Firstly only the slimmest percentage of PC players actually enjoy fiddling with settings, it's a chore not a bonus. We'd rather games just work.

    That out the way, two things about the most current popular complaints on this issue. The Dev behind I am Fish complaining is laughable considering their games targeted last gen as well. Then the criticisms of the S regarding Gotham Knights is pure scapegoating. The game is severely cpu limited, a spec that the Series S is the most cost to its big brother X on, and is actually just a hair better than its cousin PS5 on. All signs seem to show the power of GPU you throw at it doesn't seem to matter when cpu is the problem. And on that cpu limitation it's underutilising them. That's one major area its problems stem from.

    Relooking at the specs of the S vs the X Microsoft really did seem to position it well as a machine that would achieve similar performance as the X by lowering graphical fidelity. When we see games actually using multithreading well, we see incredible performance such as Doom Eternal.

    The only devs who would conceivably be inconvenienced in the highest degree are indie devs who are specifically only targeting current gen only with no pc port (because optimisation needed there would do some of the work). And particularly if they're using UE4.