Microsoft’s Game Showcase made one thing abundantly clear: Xbox Series X is going to be the console for mature gamers.
While Sony is kicking off the next generation of consoles with a balanced repertoire of titles like Gran Turismo, Ratchet & Clank, Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Horizon Forbidden West, Microsoft is busting down the door with edgier, more mature games. And, to be honest, I’m all about it.
The release road map for Xbox Series X includes Halo Infinite, Hellblade 2, State of Decay 3, Avowed (a new RPG from Obsidian Entertainment), Tell Me Why and The Medium, a psychological horror game that has some real Silent Hill vibes going on. It’s a slate of games that seemingly targets the over-18 crowd and it feels very different from what Sony and Nintendo are doing.
It’s a strategy we saw Microsoft pursue nearly 20 years ago with the launch of original Xbox – but can it work again for the Xbox Series X?
The latest Xbox Series X news:
The case for a more mature console
So far, the biggest case Microsoft has made for the Xbox Series X is that it will be the most powerful console on the market. It will support native 4K resolution / 60 frames-per-second gameplay and an ultra-fast SSD to load games in seconds.
On a technical level, it all sounds good. But there’s two big problems with this approach. First off, technical specs alone don’t sell consoles, otherwise Xbox One X should’ve been outselling Nintendo Switch four to one. It’s not.
The second problem is that, because it has similar specs to the PS5, specs alone aren’t enough – there needs to be something unique about it, like a niche that no other console can fill. And for Microsoft, that niche used to be mature games for teens and adults.
Back in the early Aughts, you couldn’t enter a college dorm without seeing an ethernet cable connecting two Xbox consoles running splitscreen Halo – something that you would’ve never seen happen with a PS2 or GameCube in that era.
In fact, since its inception, Xbox’s biggest franchises have always catered to a Mature audience (Mature in the ESRB’s eyes, at least). The original Halo was rated Mature. Gears of War on Xbox 360 was rated Mature. Heck, even Fable was rated Mature.
That niche of maturity might be incredibly valuable for Microsoft right now. Nintendo Switch is sweeping up in terms of consoles sold, partly because it mines our childhoods for nostalgia while introducing younger generations into the fold. It’s a strategy that works well for Nintendo but, despite giving that a go last generation with age-friendly games like Super Lucky Tale, ReCore and Sea of Thieves, Microsoft just can’t copy it. Sorry, Microsoft, being family friendly just isn’t working.
How Microsoft can win over adults
Instead, it really feels like Microsoft should be leaning into its role as the mature console this time around – and this showcase was a good start.
More than half the games we’ve seen on Series X look like they’ll be rated either Teen or Mature and we’re already seeing some flagship first-party titles that look like they’ll cater to a slightly older audience than, say, Ratchet & Clank would on the PS5.
I mentioned a few of them above, but Halo Infinite, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 and The Medium certainly apply here. They’re all different in terms of genre, and create a nice diversity of gameplay, but still fall under the umbrella of mature games – perfect examples of what a more mature Xbox console library could look like.
Obviously Microsoft won’t be able to fill the shelves by itself and that’s why it’s nice to see the publisher working to highlight other third-party games that cater to a similar audience. There’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 and Warhammer 40,000: Darktide, which PC Gamer Editor-in-Chief Evan Lahti heralded as “40K Left 4 Dead baby” on Twitter.
Will PS5 get these games eventually? Yeah, absolutely. But Microsoft highlighting them during a streaming event sends a message that its console has games that more mature gamers will care about – and could sway those older gamers still on the fence between the PS5 and the Xbox Series X.
Can (or should) consoles cater to everybody?
I can already see you writing that email, so before you hit send let me say that I believe that consoles can cater to every type of gamer out there. Pretty much every console ever released has had a mix of games that cater to every age demographic.
Sony will make sure that’s the case for the PS5 and I’m positive that Microsoft will, too. Consoles should have something for everyone to play, full stop.
What I’m advocating for – and have noticed about Microsoft in my many years covering its consoles starting back on Official Xbox Magazine – is that Microsoft consoles used to be a bit edgier. They’d have games that would push the envelope more and typically have higher ESRB ratings as a result: DOOM 3 comes to mind, as does Ninja Gaiden, Jade Empire and Chronicles of Riddick.
We don’t need to go back to the days of BMX XXX or Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball that were gratuitous without substance, but having a console that tackles more mature themes with more mature settings and more mature characters sounds pretty great. That’s a console I’d really want to own.
In an upcoming tug-of-war between two similarly specc’d pieces of hardware, a mature game library could just be the thing that sets the Xbox Series X apart.