Microsoft has unveiled their upcoming Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, and will be the first home console to eschew physical media. It comes bearing a $249.99 suggested retail price, and to me, the problems with this are obvious and numerous. You’ll never own an Xbox One game and you can’t take advantage of backward compatibility. You can’t play 4K Blu-Ray discs or lend a game to a friend. Buying this is throwing away many perks of an Xbox One S, in exchange for nothing you can’t already do on an Xbox One S. It’s crazy. I implore you, do not buy this new Xbox.
GET LESS FOR YOUR MONEY
The current Xbox One S offerings available at many stores are single game bundles with a 1TB console that still has a 4K disc drive. These bundles cost the same or less than the digital only version. The new Xbox shares the same internal components. You don’t get a faster CPU or more RAM. It’s the exact same thing for the exact same price, only you’re willfully giving up the disc drive. With sales, Xbox One S has frequently dropped to $199.99. That’s the price I paid in 2017.
From the get-go, the digital edition Xbox saves you, the consumer, zero dollars. Microsoft, on the other hand, will almost certainly profit more from people who buy the digital only console compared to the standard one.
PAY MORE FOR GAMES
No disc drive of course means you cannot walk into a store and walk out with a physical copy to use. Beyond that, you can’t borrow a game from a friend or the library. You can’t try something out from Redbox. This locks you into purchasing everything directly on the Xbox store. You’ll never own something you can both hold in your hand and then sell later to recoup some of the money. You’re throwing away your right of first sale.
If you’re a gamer who plays everything the day it comes out, it won’t make much of a difference where you buy it. But if you’re willing to wait even a little bit, you can save money using physical media.
Xbox has another offering that may entice you, Xbox Games Pass. For one price, this gives subscribers access to a catalog of hundreds of games to play, including recently all new exclusives on release date. While this can be a good deal for many gamers, it’s also available to the consoles that can play discs, so it’s no special benefit of the digital edition. Besides purchasing games digitally, your only other options are to subscribe to this, Xbox Live Gold for their Games With Gold program, or EA Access. Each comes with it’s own monthly bill and can add up quickly. Buying this Xbox is like buying a new TV that has no input ports and only lets you buy videos through Vudu or subscribe to Netflix and Amazon. Also that TV costs the same as another one made by the same company that has all the same specs but includes inputs.
One major benefit of buying a physical copy of a game is that you now own it. It is no longer uncommon to see games removed from digital stores. If you don’t already own it by that point, normally you could seek out a physical version. But that won’t do you any good when you’ve purchased a device without a disc drive.
Rarer still, some digitally delisted games have actually been removed from owners’ libraries. Examples include Project Spark, console versions of Risk: Factions, and P.T. on PS4. In this case, even if you paid for the game you can no longer access it. If you had a copy on disc, however, you can always play the game provided you have functional hardware. The digital edition Xbox leaves you at the full mercy of the Xbox digital store. When they remove something you have no way to purchase it. If they go one step further and remove something you already “own,” you have no recourse.
MOVIE NIGHTS COST MORE
The Xbox One S disc drive plays 4K Blu-Ray movies, which provide superior picture and audio quality in comparison to streaming movies. A good standalone 4K player still runs about $150+ on its own. Even if you don’t think you’ll use it, it won’t hurt to have the disc drive sitting there waiting. You probably already have a collection of older DVDs and Blu-Rays, and you might appreciate being able to play all of those on one system.
Just like with games, this also means no rentals from Family Video and no cheap Black Friday Blu-Ray deals. Even your movie nights will cost more.
FORGET THE PAST
One of the few major victories Xbox has had over PlayStation this generation has been in backward compatibility. Many Xbox 360 games are playable on Xbox One. The instructions on how to play a backward compatible game, taken directly from Xbox’s support website, are simple: “Just pop your game disc into your Xbox One.” Whoops. If you’re one of the many Xbox 360 owners who jumped ship to PlayStation 4 and had hopes of playing your 360 games again, that’s bad news.
The timing of this release is also suspect. We’re at the tail end of this gaming generation. Both Microsoft and Sony have openly spoken about work being done on their next consoles. Buying a feature stripped console with, at most, a year or two left in it’s life doesn’t make a lot of sense. I think the price needed to be a lot closer to $149.99 to even consider giving up the disc drive.
This new console should be priced $100 less than the standard Xbox One S, no matter the sales running at any given time. It should be at least 25% physically smaller. Losing the disc drive but having a box that is the same size is just another missed opportunity here. Microsoft should develop a system that allows the conversion of physical Xbox 360 games to backward compatible digital versions without the need for a disc drive. Maybe scanning the box barcode in the Xbox app would work.
Purchasing an all-digital Xbox should come with some sort of savings on the usual subscription services. I’m thinking at least a 25% off annual subscription to Xbox Games Pass Ultimate, which includes Live Gold. Buying this limits the consumers options for accessing games, so Microsoft could bend a little knowing that they’re going to easily recoup that money in short time.
As it stands, the benefits of going all-digital are few. You can save some shelf space by not having to store games. You don’t have to get out of a chair to play a different game. In fairness, the new offering will include digital copies of Minecraft, Sea of Thieves, and Forza Horizon 3. But if you get this you’re probably going to pay for Games Pass in perpetuity, which already includes Minecraft, Sea of Thieves, and the newer Forza Horizon 4.
If you have a compelling reason to buy the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition instead of a standard Xbox One S, I would love to hear it. Reach out to us on Twitter @TSOGTweets.