Series X launch is ‘largest in Xbox history’ as Microsoft tries to meet demand

Microsoft this week had its largest Xbox launch ever. After debuting on Tuesday, the Series X (XSX) and all-digital counterpart Series S are sold out at most major retailers, with Microsoft execs both promising a “resupply” soon. Here’s a tweet from Xbox chief Phil Spencer:

a close up of a speaker: (Microsoft Photo)

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(Microsoft Photo)

The XSX does have the advantage of initially launching in 37 countries, which is almost three times as many as the Xbox One launch in 2013. Even so, in order to have beaten the previous sales record set by the Xbox One, the XSX must have shipped well in excess of a million units on launch day.


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Microsoft did not release official numbers about the launch. Since 2015, the company has stopped divulging information about individual sales, as part of what Spencer identifies as a general strategy to focus on player numbers rather than units shipped.

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“I know it seems manipulative and I’ll apologize for that,” he told the Guardian on Wednesday. “The primary outcome of all the work that we do is how many players we see, and how often they play. That is what drives Xbox… We publicly disclose player numbers. That’s the thing I want us to be driven by, not how many individual pieces of plastic did we sell.”

“I think the people who want to pit us against Sony based on who sold the most consoles lose the context of what gaming is about today,” Spencer continued. “There are 3 billion people who play games on the planet today, but maybe [only] 200 million households that have a video game console. In a way, the console space is becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the overall gaming pie.”

It’s an interesting strategy overall. Spencer’s gamble seems to be that by developing with subscription services like the Xbox Game Pass in mind, rather than the notoriously cutthroat (and rapidly shrinking) retail market, the XSX can succeed without relying on traditional strategies like big-ticket exclusive software. Instead, it’ll be relatively easy and inexpensive to play games on the Xbox, compared to a gaming PC or a competitor’s device.

Microsoft said in September that Game Pass subscribers jumped 50% from April to 15 million. As part of its most recent earnings report, the company said gaming revenue increased to $3 billion, up 22% year-over-year, while Xbox hardware revenue declined 27% ahead of the November launch.

The XSX does seem to be entering the newest stage of the “console wars” at a minor disadvantage, with marketing surveys indicating that Sony’s PlayStation 5, which launched today, has a slight lead among interested consumers. This is to be expected, as Sony still has a big head of steam built up from the overwhelming success of the PlayStation 4, as well as a handful of popular exclusives like Spider-Man: Miles Morales as PS5 launch titles.

At the same time, however, overall consumer interest in gaming consoles has rarely if ever been higher, with some surveys indicating that a full 10% of the U.S. market is interested in buying an Xbox Series X/S at some point in the future. With Christmas still over a month away, that number is likely to increase, particularly with “killer apps” like Halo Infinite waiting on the horizon.

The XSX’s launch also comes alongside the usual chaos of a major console’s first few days. Some fans have reported issues with their new Xbox hardware, such as particularly loud or wholly non-functional disc drives. One viral post on social media, featuring a Series X tower that seemed to be venting smoke, turned out to be the result of a user deliberately blowing vape smoke into the unit. That led to this what-a-time-to-be-alive tweet from Xbox:

What you can arguably take away from this is that many people in the Xbox community are still a little sore about the infamous “Red Ring of Death” phenomenon that bricked many Xbox 360s back in the 2010s. It seems unbelievable that a brand new Xbox in 2020 would actually catch fire on startup, but the emotional fallout from the old RROD gives it just enough credence that the tweet went viral.

Consumers with issues who have not been hotboxing their new console are encouraged to reach out to Microsoft, via the official Xbox Support site or Twitter.

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