Rumour Mill

Taking perspective on hardware launch stories - why do we think 2012 is a console announcement year?

Here's a cheerful thought, as you make your way through January - you're going to spend the next five months or so listening to a cavalcade of theories, rumours, revelations from trusted yet anonymous sources, and (perhaps most of all) theories and rumours disguised as revelations from trusted yet anonymous sources, all regarding the content of Microsoft and Sony's E3 briefings in June.

It's a fairly inevitable thing, although that doesn't make it even remotely a more palatable prospect. After all, Nintendo leapt out of the blocks at last year's E3 with the Wii U unveiling, and thus, conventional wisdom is that PS3 and Xbox 360 replacements must be on the cards this time around.

The UK's MCV magazine reckons it has a source that's confirmed that both Sony and Microsoft will unveil consoles. Kaz Hirai has outright denied that Sony will reveal anything at E3, prompting Internet wags to declare themselves terribly clever by pointing out that Sony's conference is always held before E3, rather than during the show itself. Then Gaikai's Nanea Reeves pronounced that one or the other of Sony or Microsoft wasn't going to do another generation at all, effectively bowing out of the market.

In this market, the idea of nice, neat, concurrent console generations is a meaningless one.

All this, and we're not even halfway through January. How ludicrously contradictory and intolerable are the next five months going to be? (Actually, it's more like six months, but I'm assuming that one or both of the platform holders will stick to tradition and manage to leak the main contents of their E3 conference a week or two before the show, at which point perhaps everyone will shut up.)

Yet with press and soundbite-generating execs tripping over themselves to demonstrate the most acute cases of premature speculation, something that's desperately needed is a quiet moment in which we can sit down and ask why, exactly, anyone thinks that 2012 is a console announcement year.

The answers are incredibly simple, and therein lies the problem. People assume that PS4 and Xbox Whatever are going to appear at E3 because Wii U appeared last year, and because it's been six years since the start of this generation of hardware, so it's "time". Additionally, their belief that E3 is a console announcement show this time around is reinforced because, in its usual manner, the media has spiralled the story from "hmm maybe" to "YES DEFINITELY" in the space of a few short months, without anything approaching an injection of new facts or information along the way. Everyone's talking about it, so it must be true.

Let's approach those rationales one at a time. Firstly, the question of Wii U. The assumption is that Sony and Microsoft will not allow Nintendo to have a new console on the market "unopposed" for a long period of time. It's an assumption grounded in the notion of the console war being defined in strict generations - each company launches hardware of broadly similar specification within a time window of two years or so, they duke it out, and the winner goes home to a Scrooge McDuck style swimming pool full of money.

That kind of conventional wisdom is rapidly becoming meaningless, though. Yes, the Wii launched at around the same time as 360 and PS3, but its hardware specifications were a several years behind those consoles, and its subsequent sales curve was wildly different from theirs. Wii sold on a sharp, aggressive curve, and cut its price deep along the way. It's now absolutely a console in the very late stages of its lifespan, much more so than 360, despite actually being a year younger than Microsoft's offering. Meanwhile, in the time that the present generation of consoles have been around, iOS and Android devices have appeared from nowhere and rapidly iterated through multiple generations, even proliferating new form factors like tablet computing. In this market, the idea of nice, neat, concurrent console generations is a meaningless one.

Are Sony and Microsoft happy that Wii U will beat them to market? No, probably not, but they're probably trying very hard not to see it as a case of being beaten to market at all. Bear in mind that Wii U won't be a more powerful console than the 360 or PS3 - rather, it'll be similar in specification, but sporting a unique tablet interface. 360 and PS3, meanwhile, sport Kinect and Move respectively as major recent feature upgrades, and it can't have escaped the notice of those companies that they both offer mobile phone and tablet devices to the market which could potentially replicate the functionality of Wii U. Of course, if they were being really clever, they'd replicate Wii U's functionality in an iPad application that links to your PS3 or 360. Either way, they're unlikely to feel that this is sufficient pressure to warrant speeding up the arrival of next-gen hardware.

How about the second factor, then - the simple fact that we're six years into the generation, so it's now "time" for new hardware?

For broadly the same reasons as outlined above, that's absolute nonsense - it's only time for new hardware when the tech, the market and the finances make sense, and both platform holders have been adamant from the outset that they didn't see this generation as a five or six year long pitch. They've invested heavily, and they need more time to get their money back - especially since competition has meant that the pie, although it's bigger this time around, has been sliced up more thinly, especially from Sony's perspective.

If Sony and Microsoft can get away with it, they'd both dearly love 2012 to be another year that's all about current platforms.

Take a look at the sales curves of the three consoles, if you really want to understand this situation. The Wii, as mentioned, had a fast and aggressive sales curve that generated a big installed base and has now slowed significantly. PS3 and Xbox, meanwhile, have tracked fairly similar curves, with PS3 running a year behind Xbox but very slowly making up the difference (largely thanks to sales outside the USA). Compared with the last generation's all-conquering PS2, both consoles are lagging behind, but not very significantly - it's only a matter of a few per cent. Decent price cuts in 2012 would push them further into mass market territory, but price cuts have come more slowly in this generation than in the last, which supports the idea of slower, more drawn out hardware generation.

Bearing all of this in mind, what should we really expect to see - and that's "expect", from the present market situation, rather than on the basis of rumour or industry scuttlebutt - at E3 this year? Honestly, nothing. I'd expect Sony to make a big deal out of Vita, push out a significant PS3 price cut (perhaps even a fresh redesign?) and perhaps start to make noise about tighter integration between PlayStation and Xperia. On Microsoft's side I'd expect more of a drive towards core adoption of Kinect and a very heavy presence for Windows Phone 7 devices and games at the conference. If either company was to start dropping hints about the next gen of hardware, I'd expect it to be Microsoft, but neither company actually needs, or wants, to commence buzz around next-gen systems just yet.

Have no doubt - the next gen of console hardware is coming, and both companies are making plans. You don't have to start digging very deep into an industry contact book to find that out. There are also contingency plans afoot, certainly - if one firm discovers that the other is going to do some kind of E3 unveil, they want to have something ready to respond with, after all. But I don't think anyone could place hand on heart and say that they're certain of seeing new hardware at E3 this year. If Sony and Microsoft can get away with it, they'd both dearly love 2012 to be another year that's all about current platforms, and not expensive, profit-busting dreams of the future.

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Latest comments (17)

robert troughton Managing Director, Coconut Lizard6 years ago
Just a thought, but... what if Microsoft and/or Sony, rather than revealing new hardware, "improve" their existing offerings again..?

OnLive and Gaikai could both offer something very interesting: instant-play demos. Imagine going into Xbox Live and, rather than having to wait 20+ minutes for a game demo to download, taking up valuable space on your HDD, you could just jump straight into the game..? And, from there, if you like the game, you can select to download the full game - while you continue playing..?

What if Microsoft and/or Sony offered a solution where you could view your Xbox360/PS3 from elsewhere in the house on a tablet/phone or through an additional small device that could hook up to a TV in a different room...? What if multiplayer gaming could be fed around the house in this way too..?

Things like this could extend the current generation of consoles for me... and I believe Xbox 360/PS3 could just about manage this...

Maybe this is why Gaikai are saying that one of Microsoft/Sony will bow out - not because they're "giving up"... but because they've signed Gaikai? If that's the case, it wasn't a speculative guess, it was just a slip of the tongue...
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Joe Barron Community Evangelist, Kwalee Ltd6 years ago
I don't think Sony or Microsoft will announce anything more than the names of their next systems, if they announce anything at all. They've allowed Nintendo to be the first to blink again and the PS3 and 360 are both still selling incredibly well. Why cannibalise those sales by announcing new hardware that some people might wait for instead of buying the current system?
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Andy Payne Chair/founder, AppyNation6 years ago
Rob, as usual wise words. The world has changed and we should not base our theories on historical experience in my view. We know it is going to be disruptive and very interesting. For me this is the most exciting time in the industry since the transition from 8 to 16 bit. Formats have become a key wor
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Show all comments (17)
Andy Payne Chair/founder, AppyNation6 years ago

Formats are a key word, but that definition and overall meaning is being challenged today in a way we
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Andy Payne Chair/founder, AppyNation6 years ago
What a caper. IPad not helping here! That could be a sign. Anyway formats are always developing, these are interesting times for sure
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Ben Furneaux Principal Designer 6 years ago
I generally agree, but you don't have to ask that many developers to find some pretty solid confirmations that MS are indeed approaching studios about new hardware. That's probably a safe assumption, but getting any kind of timeframe is another matter.

Correlating the above to an E3 appearance is guess work, that may or may not turn out to be true.
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 6 years ago
I feel myself agreeing with Robert on this one. From my perspective, there are companies in the mobile and cloud space of the gaming industry that are making services and experiences that are starting to make the current console concept seem outdated.

Sony seems to be doing very well in progressing their services with what Vita has to offer however I still feel that MS really understand the experience of being a user and trying to cultivate a holistic approach to that.

As far behind as Nintendo are in many respects, the prospect of what their new model in terms of online for the Wii U might mean is more pause for interesting thought. There is a possibility that Nintendo might have found the sweet spot in-between of a closed and an open platform, in which 3rd parties are more free to exeperiment, copy and compete with each other with fewer limitations. There is a possibility that the Wii U will have the ability to change dynamically in a way that the other platforms cannot, which would give it (in my view) a fantastic edge.
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John Bye Lead Designer, Future Games of London6 years ago
"What if Microsoft and/or Sony offered a solution where you could view your Xbox360/PS3 from elsewhere in the house on a tablet/phone or through an additional small device that could hook up to a TV in a different room...?"

Sony are already half way there with Remote Play on PSP and Vita. You can switch your PS3 on remotely, navigate the menu system, stream music and video files, and play PS1 games and a handful of native PS3 titles. Apparently it even works over the internet.

If they can make good on their promise to make all PS3 games playable remotely on Vita, that could be a really useful feature. No reason they couldn't do the same thing on a tablet, and there's already an unofficial app to let you use a PS3 controller on Android tablets.
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John Cook Senior Partner, Bad Management6 years ago
" How ludicrously contradictory and intolerable are the next five months going to be?"

Business as usual, then Rob? :-)
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Johnathon Swift6 years ago
Oh I'm certain the next Xbox is coming by the end of the next year, simply because of hardware advancement. I mean, it's absolutely certain that Microsoft is working on a new console and has been since last year. Gee, meetings with major publishers asking them what they'd like to see in a Kinect 2.0, official job postings, press releases of people being moved to positions only possibly needed for a new console, I wonder what that could mean?

The only question is WHEN Microsoft will be ready. "Sales curves" and etc. are all nice in hypothesis, but designing a new console takes a lot of effort and time. Microsoft may have pinned "2012" as the date in late 2010 and set off, how were they to know the 360 would still be doing well? Besides, they started making their money back several years ago, 2009 I believe? 2008 is also a strong candidate.

So, 2012 or 2013 for MS's green branded console. We also know it's a console as, well the positions and etc. advertised by MS directly have been for a console. We can also assume Sony is in fact working on a specific hardware console as well. They announced to their stockholders that it was in development months ago, but they seemed to go later than MS and have more money to make up for because of deep early losses and steeper investments. So... 2013-2014 for the PS4.

Why is it a console for certain? In movie lingo "the rumors of the consoles death have been greatly exaggerated." There were plenty of predictions of the handheld consoles death from smug smartphone pr types and game makers. A better launch year than the DS despite a miserable opening has them shutting up extremely quickly. There's an excellent chance the smug PR folks and Gaiki and OnLive will shut up just as quickly as soon as the new home consoles come out.
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Tony Johns6 years ago
Being first to the next generation market is not always a good thing.

Remember the SEGA Saturn and the SEGA Dreamcast?

But even with these two examples of poor market hardware mentioned, allot of the time being first to the market does have its advantages. The only real dissadvantage Nintendo has of being first is that SONY and Microsoft can pull another Kintect/Move on them a few years after the WiiU comes out and Nintendo's sales would slow down to almost a crawl after the 3rd year when all the buzz around their consoles dies down like what happened to the Wii after the Kinect/Move came out.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 6 years ago
I have to say, I find it very difficult to think of Nintendo as being "first" when the Wii U (outside of the controller, of course) is more or less at the same level of the PS3 or 360. It seems to me more like the Wii was a 6th generation console late to the game, and the Wii U a 7th generation console similarly late.

Not that there isn't room in the market for a cheaper thing that does what the other consoles already do, of course, but you hardly need a PS4 to compete with that when, with the simple addition of another controller, the PS3 will compete just fine.
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 6 years ago
I guess the question might be asked whether the Wii U has any impact at all on whether the Sony or MS release a new console.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.6 years ago
"Bear in mind that Wii U won't be a more powerful console than the 360 or PS3 - rather, it'll be similar in specification,"

Rob, I had hoped you were above this. Recent information from Nintendo indicates the system will be a full generational leap in terms of power and not simply an HD Wii with a tablet controller as much of the media has 'speculated'.
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Richard Gardner Artist, Crytek6 years ago
All that matters is sales, if sales are still high I can guarantee there will not be a new console announcement. The Wii sales fell of the cliff and three to four months later Nintendo announced there next platform.

I personally don't think there will be anything announced from Sony or Microsoft, at the most it will be a name.

I also think Nintendo are digging themselves into a hole while Microsoft are taking the lead, with Sony most likely copying Microsoft when they realise Nintendo's new consoles success will be short lived.

The thing Nintendo lack is connectivity and networking, unless they completely revolutionise the 3DS and Wii U into a universal platform I can't see it working.

The success of the next generation will not be simply down to the box itself, but the software and network surrounding it. This in my opinion is where Microsoft will blow away there competitors, assuming they have the proper software to drive it. Early interviews and presentations have already given hints as to what Microsoft are doing, slowly but surely they are putting a foot hold in the mobile market. But I don't see these as anything more than the building blocks to there true aims.

Xbox 720 = Windows 9
Mobile = Windows 9
Pc = Windows 9

With all three devises under a single networked platform they hope to hold all the cards when it comes to your day to day entertainment and communication. I think it will work, as long as Microsoft have the best software to do it, as Android, Nintendo and Sony are all there to get in the middle of it.

Also another thing pointing to the future PS4 is Sony buying Ericsson, I would assume it would be logical to launch your new system alongside a mobile platform with yet another connection network.

But yeah, I'm rambling. That's just going of lots of speculation, it will most likely be nothing like that.
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Diarmuid Murphy Developer Marketing, Microsoft6 years ago
good points Richard Gardner.
It is all about sales. why destroy your demand with an annoucement.

I would bet my house (or my landlord's to be more specific) that Sony and Microsoft are very far advanced in the development of the next gen but the longer you can delay launching the cheaper you can launch for and the less likely large scale system faults (see RROD) will occur.
We saw this generation Microsoft go a huge boost by launching first but I honestly don't think that either Microsoft or Sony see Nintendo are a serious threat. Microsoft's big fear is Sony and vica versa.

It takes a minimum of 18 months to generate a game so you know that launch titles are in development.

I would not say we won't get annoucements at E3 but I agree with Rob we don't have to see releases. I would love a new console but I am still really happy with my 360.

comments are my own not my employer's
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Tony Johns6 years ago
Anyone who thinks that Nintendo is backwards compared to the industry, needs to have a good lesson in Videogaming history.

Virtual Boy

All of these systems from Nintendo have had older technology in the hardware that has made it cheaper for Nintendo to develop, so therefore they would lose less money if the hardware failed in the market.

And most of these hardware (with the exception of the Virtual Boy) have gone on to become great successors.

Also Nintendo has done allot in trying to bring out new tricks with old technology, that is what makes them different compared to SONY and Microsoft who pour millions of dollars into hardware power and expect to start making profits at least 3 or 4 years after the hardware launched.

Plus SONY and Microsoft can afford to do that, Nintendo can't.

And Nintendo won't change, they still go on their own and that is what makes the videogame market interesting with Nintendo around.

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