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 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab)). “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.