Xbox Series X game upgrades should be free and not paid DLC, Microsoft tells developers

Microsoft have reportedly encouraged developers to get on board with their vision for making next-gen game upgrades free from Xbox One to Xbox Series X, hopefully embracing their Smart Delivery Scheme. While there are still ways to charge, this has included the company ruling out the idea of offering a Series X upgrade as a form of paid DLC.

There are still plenty of options available to developers looking to bridge the divide between generations. They can do so via Smart Delivery, as games like Cyberpunk 2077, Dirt 5 and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla are doing, or create their own schemes, such as with EA’s Dual Entitlement, which imposes and end date on the ability to upgrade.

However, Microsoft are narrowing the options for those wanting to charge for the upgrade. Having ruled out paid DLC as an upgrade mechanism, developers and publishers are still able to offer cross-gen bundles, as seen with NBA 2K21, where the next-gen version is sold as part of a premium $99.99/£84.99. Alternatively, companies will be able to offer the full Xbox Series X game at a discounted price to owners of the Xbox One version via the Microsoft Store, or set up their own trade in schemes at retail.

In a statement sent to Video Games Chronicle, a Microsoft spokesperson said 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.”

Ruling out paid DLC upgrades but allowing for discounted games on the store is a seemingly minor distinction to make, but a good way to keep clarity for end users looking to jump console generations. When developers would surely offer the Series X enhanced versions of the game for sale separately, having a paid DLC system just muddies the waters surrounding next-gen games and backward compatibility.

Interestingly, VGC also reported on some quirks of the Smart Delivery system. For one, third parties cannot opt into the scheme after a game’s launch, with Smart Delivery games being treated differently within the Xbox infrastructure. Outside of Smart Delivery, games like NBA 2K21 and FIFA 21 will not be able to share some kinds of save data back and forth between generations, though they will be able to share Xbox Live elements like multiplayer.

Smart Delivery games will have a single SKU, share Xbox Live saves, achievements and more, and are set up to launch the version optimised for the specific console.

It will be interesting to see how Sony continue to handle the issue of next-gen game upgrades for PlayStation 5. Compared to Microsoft, they’ve taken a much more hands off approach, choosing not to revive their Cross-buy branding but still allowing developers to offer free upgrades or paid upgrades as they see fit. We’ll have to wait and see if paid DLC upgrades to PlayStation 5 become a thing.

Source: VGC

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12 Comments

  1. Nice for consumers, but a new concept for developers. Presumably it takes more resources to develop for next gen so seems unfair to demand a free upgrade. Personally I would be happy paying a smaller amount to upgrade instead of buying a whole new game.

    • That depends on the game, really. The SDK is shared across generations, so it’s easier to recompile and then optimise for Series X, and that can be as simplistic as setting new resolution and frame rate targets. Big budget games already have the headroom from the PC versions of games to increase fidelity in a number of ways as well.

      In general though, seeing a clear upgrade path helps encourage punters to buy now at full price, instead of waiting for when they upgrade. With Cyberpunk right at the edge of the next gen, I’m sure there would be plenty thinking they’ll wait until they can upgrade their console to get the next-gen version, but now there’s no need to worry about that.

  2. So first we have everyone calling it “Smart Delivery” instead of “same thing the XBone has but with a new marketing bollocks name”, and now this?

    For MS, it looks good. They can claim they’re being all consumer-friendly.

    For publishers, it’s good too. If they were planning on charging an extra £10 for next-gen games, they’d have to charge around the same for upgrade DLC. Now they can just offer a discount on the next-gen version. Chances of that discounted price being more than £10?

    And for anyone buying the games? More expensive, and you’ve got to buy a new version (with a discount) and start all over again, instead of just paying a bit for the upgrade and carrying on?

    Clearly MS want developers going for the “Smart Delivery” option. Which would be good for consumers, obviously. But I suspect the end result will be some do, and most just go for whatever gets them the most money. Or just don’t bother and just do a small update that takes some advantage of the extra power.

    How many people would be happy with a small cost for some upgrade DLC? Say £10, and you get to keep your progress from the base version? Maybe chuck in a couple of extra bits to make it more attractive?

    • Smart Delivery and some kind of branding helps because it is actually the start of a new generation. One X was within a generation, so any and all enhancements HAD to be free. There’s more leeway here from both MS and Sony, so branding helps.

      And there’s nothing to say that a discounted price can’t be £10, just like there’s nothing to say that a DLC upgrade couldn’t be £20. That will depend on market pressure.

      • I’m sure someone found a loophole to the mid-gen upgrade thing by bundling it with some other DLC.

        And sure, there’s no reason the discounted price can’t be £10, or a DLC upgrade couldn’t be £20. Except if the next-gen versions cost £10 more, that’s about the most they could get away with charging for a DLC upgrade.

        I guess it solves the problem of people buying a cheap second hand copy and getting a DLC upgrade instead of paying more for the next-gen version.

      • Unless you have some actual examples and aren’t just casting aspersions, then as far as I’m aware all mid-gen updates were free. That was the policy of both MS and Sony.

      • I know it was the policy, but I’m sure there was someone that found a loophole. May have just been the PS4 version including the Pro upgrade in paid DLC. Some sort of driving game?

        Clearly I’m getting old and forgetful, because I can’t remember which game. Or maybe that’s just normal for 2020? Barely aware of what month we’re in right now.

  3. We had this same situation when the new xbox & PS Pro were coming out, and it turned out to be a big fuss over nothing that some people just try to take a negative view on. I’ve no doubt it’s the same again.

    • At least the OneX and Pro upgrades didn’t involve a whole new version of the game with incompatible save games.

      I guess that’s MS trying to make the point that the Series X is a whole new console and not just an upgrade. A huge upgrade, but still just an upgrade. Same with the PS5.

      I think Sony might be about to do another “here’s how you trade games with someone else” video. A quick demonstration of how you move your game progress from the PS4 version to the PS5 version while MS are saying “Nope, you can’t do that, apart from the online stuff”

      • Well whatever happens the amount of people going back & forth between consoles is going to be miniscule. If there is demand for it Microsoft will likely add it, especially since all xbox saves are automatically uploaded to their servers.

      • It’s not the going back and forth that’s the problem. As you rightly point out, not many people will be doing that.

        It’s more of an issue if you start a game on the XBone, then buy a Series X and a discounted version of the game and find out all your progress has gone. Odd that they’d do that when Sony have had cross-platform saves between PS3/PS4/Vita for years. Unless it’s a cunning scheme to nudge developers towards that Smart Devilry thing.

      • I just had the very same idea when I read this. It all sounds very confusing to me, and Sony might indeed do a video of two smiling execs again…

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