Xbox is putting its foot down with publishers charging for next-gen upgrades… sort of
Sources inside the industry have said that Xbox is telling developers and publishers that they cannot charge players for DLC that will upgrade cross-gen games from their current-gen versions to next-gen versions.
VGC reports that Xbox is encouraging publishers to either utilize its Smart Delivery program, which makes applicable games playable on both current- and next-gen hardware, or to offer their own Smart Delivery-style programs, similar to what EA is doing with its Dual Entitlement program for games like Madden NFL 21.
However, that doesn’t mean that Xbox is going to blacklist publishers who sell separate current- and next-gen versions of their games.
While Xbox putting its foot down on paid DLC that will upgrade games might seem altruistic, it seems more practical than that. The Smart Delivery program works by having both the Xbox One and Xbox Series X versions of a game share the same SKU. Disallowing publishers from charging players to upgrade cross-gen titles with paid DLC is probably the best way to avoid confusion as to what’s a true Smart Delivery title and protects the program’s branding.
This also means that games that want to support Smart Delivery must launch with those capabilities, as opposed to deciding to support Smart Delivery post-launch. That doesn’t that publishers can’t offer free upgrades through their own programs, however.
Xbox has stated that all first-party cross-gen titles will launch with Smart Delivery. Several third-party games have already signed on for Smart Delivery as well, including Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Cyberpunk 2077, and Destiny 2.
Cross-gen compatibility will likely be a strong selling point early in the next-gen consoles’ life cycle, and Smart Delivery is a major part of Xbox’s strategy. PlayStation hasn’t announced its plans for any first-party cross-gen compatibility, notably with games like The Last of Us Part II and Ghosts of Tsushima, which are launching late in the PlayStation 4’s life cycle, nor with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which is launching with the PlayStation 5.
However, certain third-party publishers have already announced that they are supporting cross-gen upgrades between Sony’s consoles, such as EA with FIFA 21 and Square Enix with Marvel’s Avengers. Other publishers are opting for a more profit-driven approach, such as 2K Games selling a $99.99 bundle that will include both versions of NBA 2K21. Remedy Entertainment has also stated that Control is coming to next-gen consoles, though it’s unclear if the publisher for those versions will offer them as free upgrades for players who already own the current-gen versions.