Microsoft is telling its publisher partners that they should offer free upgrades on Xbox One games that will be playable on Xbox Series X via backward compatibility, according to Video Games Chronicle (VGC).
To that end, Xbox will reportedly not allow companies to sell upgraded next-gen versions of their games as downloadable content. Instead, Xbox will encourage developers to take advantage of free upgrade programs, most notably its own optional Smart Delivery initiative, through which companies can provide consumers with an Xbox One copy of a game with a free upgrade to Xbox Series X, featuring various next-gen enhancements.
All first-party Xbox titles will support Smart Delivery, including Halo Infinite and Gears 5, while third-party support so far includes Cyberpunk 2077, Destiny 2 and the Montreal-developed Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Alternatively, companies can offer their own free next-gen upgrade programs, like EA’s ‘Dual Entitlement.’
That said, Xbox will also allow publishers to offer discounts to those who own a current-gen game and are buying a second copy on next-gen, reports VGC. The outlet notes that publishers, in theory, should also be able to do some sort of paid physical upgrade option through retailers.
Further, VGC says that companies who opt not to support Smart Delivery will still have the option of selling two-game disc or digital bundles which include both the Xbox One and Xbox Series X versions of a given title.`
This is what 2K is doing with NBA 2K21; the $119.99 CAD ‘Mamba Forever’ edition will include a current- and next-gen copy of the basketball game. So far, 2K is the only publisher that’s conducting this business practice, though it’s likely only a matter of time before other companies follow suit.
In a statement to VGC, a Microsoft spokesperson reiterated that Smart Delivery was optional, noting that “developers and publishers ultimately decide how they deliver their games, and we work with them to provide the best possible experience based on their needs.”
It’s important to note that Smart Delivery is separate from backward compatibility. Smart Delivery makes full use of the Series X’s beefier hardware to offer the “best version” of select games, which Xbox will brand as ‘Optimized for Series X.’ Backward compatibility, meanwhile, will offer some enhancements, but not the full suite that are included with Optimized titles.
In either case, you’ll be able to use your current-gen copy to play on next-gen at no additional cost, it’s just that the technical improvements may vary somewhat.
This distinction is especially important when looking at Sony’s approach to next-gen backward compatibility. Currently, the PlayStation does not have a Smart Delivery equivalent with the PlayStation 5, although the company expects that the “overwhelming majority” of PS4 games will run on its next-gen console. Presumably, these won’t be ‘optimized’ in the same way that the Series X titles are, although Sony has yet to fully detail how backward compatibility will work on PS5.
So far, we know of a few backward compatible games on PS5, such as the Montreal co-developed Marvel’s Avengers and Cyberpunk 2077, which will receive free next-gen upgrades. A free standalone version of Grand Theft Auto Online will also come to PS5 sometime in 2021.
For now, though, we’ll learn more about Microsoft’s next-gen plans on July 23rd, where it will show off gameplay from various Series X titles, including Halo Infinite. The company is also expected to have a hardware-focused event in August where it will unveil its long-rumoured, lower-cost ‘Series X’ next-gen console.