Microsoft finally chimes in on rumors of a new Xbox

Xbox 360 green light ring

Has a new Xbox gotten the green light? Microsoft's "no" for 2012 could mean "maybe" for 2013.

In anticipation of what this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) may unveil, lots of speculation has been chucked about on the possibility of new home video game consoles from Microsoft and Sony. The Japan-based electronics behemoth stomped out the flickering PlayStation 3 (PS3)-successor chatter earlier in the year, maintaining that it is sticking to its 10-year life span for the PS3. That would put any “PS4” plans into 2016. The crew in Redmond, Washington, however, seemed content to let the blogosphere-dubbed “Xbox 720” (360 + 360) fervor flare further.

The Xbox 720 scuttlebutt wasn’t just eager console gamers hoping to regain graphical parity with PCs, but industry sites boasting evidence of insider info. UK-based Develop reported that key players were already prepping for the next Xbox, while reports of production for the console’s System-on-Chip seemed to convince IGN Entertainment that a 2013 launch was “all but assured.”

Microsoft had been responding to such whispers with the reticent “no comment,” until last week when its VP of corporate communications, Frank Shaw, gave the Wall Street Journal’s AllThingsD tech blog a definitive answer:

While we appreciate all the interest in our long-range plans for the future, we can confirm that there will be no talk of new Xbox hardware at E3 or anytime soon. For us, 2012 is all about Xbox 360.

So have all the insiders just been on a wild goose chase? Not necessarily. As columnist Don Reisinger notes for CBS Interactive‘s CNET, the demand sweet spot for games consoles typically lasts about five-years; the Xbox 360 is into its seventh year. But Microsoft has about as good an incentive to keep its horse in the game as one could ask: sales.

Nintendo’s Wii had been handing Microsoft and Sony their hats since its launch, but in the last few months, Microsoft has come knocking, bettering Nintendo in number of units sold. The software sultan shifted 426,000 units in February, demolishing the Wii’s 228,000 sold. Sony was silent on that metric for the period, but Gamasutra writer Matt Matthews shows Microsoft has been the pack leader so far this year. His chart shows everybody is down from last year.

Hit the snooze button on your alarms, though, because remember, we’re technically past the “mature” stages of these consoles, and even Nintendo is readying its next console for this year’s holiday season. Another issue for Microsoft: the gaming industry in general still being slapped around by the fitful global economy.

Some insider reports also noted the possibility that it could be 2014 before all Microsoft’s ducks are in a row. And Microsoft is feeling relatively positive about current Xbox 360’s results, understandably. But that could all change. Mario maker Nintendo’s next-gen Wii U could well turn the tables, so Microsoft would much rather have a bullet in the chamber when things get sticky than have to fumble through its bandolier.

Note too, that Microsoft’s Shaw gave a distinctly different kind of answer than Sony with respect to a new console, committing the company just to this year. (Sony CEO-elect Hirai insists it’s staying on that 10-year train.) There’s no reason that, as the year winds down — perhaps even to make some consumers wonder if they should hold off on that Wii U purchase — Microsoft couldn’t hint at a 2013 E3 announcement for its next console. The only specific rumor Shaw really quashed was an announcement about it at this year’s E3 and the safely subjective “anytime soon.”

Sony might remain obstinate, but come Christmas time, don’t be surprised if talk starts to resurface of a machine that can produce graphics approaching the level of Twentieth Century Fox’s record-breaking spectacle Avatar.

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Picture by Jay Springett, used under a CC-Share Alike license.
Chris Huston

Though he relishes a dashed good book or a bit of sport (and British idioms), Chris Huston now spends much of his free time on his video game consoles, playing anything from Rock Band to Red Dead Redemption, or Need For Speed to Netflix. He finances these not-completely-innocuous vices by writing about video game companies and the technology industry for Hoover's.

Read more articles by Chris Huston.

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