With Nintendo about to disclose details on Wii's successor at E3, the gauntlet has been thrown and we're looking at endless months of anonymous sources murmuring about what Sony and Microsoft are planning. Speculation's fun 'n all, but everyone and their anonymous mom seems to hear differently.
That said, Develop is a reliable publication and when it claims a source has informed them Electronic Arts possess an early next-generation Xbox development kit (I'm not about to call it Xbox 720, guys), there's reason to believe there's some truth there. That's just about all Develop has filed here, however.
“Quite often when new consoles come around they’re packaged into a PC shell, but actually what’s inside is an entirely new console,” said Develop's source, described as "senior, trusted, well-placed."
Microsoft has said very little about its plans for Xbox 360's successor, pointing to continued strong sales and the successful launch of Kinect as proof there's no reason for Microsoft to move on yet. Nintendo's decision to leave Wii behind, however, may have started putting pressure on everyone else.
== TEASER == Job listings from March (via Engadget) described a team at Microsoft working on "defining and delivering next generation console architectures," which is absolutely not surprising. Of course Microsoft is actively working on a machine to come after Xbox. Eventually, the six-year-old Xbox 360 will be retired.
"Our view is we will be selling Xbox 360 for a long time," said Microsoft president of entertainment & devices Robbie Bach in 2008, when asked about Microsoft's future plans. "We are always working on new technologies. We have people working on those. People ask me how many people I have working on the next generation. On the one hand, it’s everybody. On the other, it’s nobody. People are continuously working on new technology. We started thinking about the next generation before we shipped the Xbox 360. It doesn’t start with a date. It starts way upstream with silicon development. From that comes a series of data points. You start making early technology choices. It’s an evolving thing. Stuff doesn’t become concrete until you get inside a window of when you have to ship, more than 18 months or so out.”
If Microsoft's looking to ship in fall 2012, we'd be within that window. Nintendo has said its next console would arrive sometime in 2012 but has not specified a window--we may not even get that at E3, knowing Nintendo. Previous statements from Microsoft pointed towards an Xbox 360 successor at earliest in 2013.
"I think it's important to say that the Xbox 360 is the console of the long future for us. There is no need to launch a new console, because we're able to give this console new life either with software upgrades or hardware upgrades like Project Natal," said senior director of Xbox product management David Hufford to The Guardian in January 2010, before Microsoft had ultimately billed Natal as Kinect. "The Xbox 360 was designed for a long life, and I don't even know if we're at the midpoint yet."
Sony's known for making similar "long life" proclamations about its hardware, declaring both PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 would be around for a decade. In a sense, Sony was correct about PS2. Even though much of the world had moved on to newer hardware, Sony continued to sell PS2 hardware at a decent clip, even releasing supportive software. WWE All-Stars was released on PS2 earlier this year and Electronic Arts will have a PS3 version of Madden NFL 12 when it releases in August.
"This generation is here for a long, long time," said Xbox UK boss Stephen McGill to Xbox 360 Achievements last fall. "I think there's still a lot of legs left with the Xbox 360, so we're years away from contemplating what comes next."
When McGill made that statement, however, Kinect was unproven and Nintendo hadn't announced a new console. Kinect was very much designed to extend the current machine's lifecycle by a few years.
The next moves from Sony and Microsoft may hinge more on the response to Nintendo's machine than anything else. If the market expects another phenomenon, how long can each company wait? It would not be a surprise to see Microsoft fleetingly reference a new console at E3, if only to get folks buzzing.