We knew it was in development, we even got to see it during our visit to the Microsoft campus back in March – but today, Xbox Series S launches and it’s a fascinating product. Targeting an aggressive $299 (£249 in the UK) price-point, the junior next-generation Xbox allows users access to a much cheaper console that still plays the same games as the premium/performance Series X that’s $200/£200 more expensive. The story behind the machine is remarkable and illuminates the challenges the platform holders will have in reducing costs over time, as well as suggesting a difficult time ahead in delivering a generational leap in console performance beyond Series X and PS5. I spoke to Xbox system architect Andrew Goossen about Series S in person back in March and in a follow-up call several months later after the system was revealed.
The bulk of this Xbox Series S discussion actually began after wrapping up an interview mostly centred on Series X. We’d seen Series S in the flesh the day before, but it wasn’t clear how much Microsoft wanted to talk about its entry-level machine – we hadn’t even got to see it in action. “If you don’t mind, there’s another thing that I did want to mention as well,” began Andrew Goossen, and that’s the beginning of what turned out to be a truly remarkable discussion, giving a hitherto untold story about the challenges in delivering new console hardware.
“Series S has been very impactful for us. As we design our new consoles for the new generation, we’re very much looking forward through the generation to be thinking ahead – like, how does this work? – and that’s why we got to two consoles at the same time,” Goossen continued. “We are facing a big change in how consoles are designed. I believe when we first started building the original Xbox 360 – the smallest one without the HDD – that cost us about $460. By the end of the generation it cost us around $120 – and that cost reduction path was driven principally by silicon cost reduction.”