Next Xbox No-Show: Why Microsoft's Keeping Durango Under Wraps

Veteran journalist Chris Morris explains what a no-show for the next Xbox at E3 means

With Microsoft's announcement that it has no plans to even mention its next generation console system at this year's E3, the annual video game trade show has gotten a bit less interesting.

It is, in some ways, a confusing decision. While no one expected the next Xbox to come out this year, publishers traditionally begin beating the drum for new systems about 18 months out - and there's no indication Microsoft has pushed the system to 2014. Also, with the company talking to developers now, the specs for the device have leaked out faster than water through a colander.

But there is some logic in keeping the new system close to the vest. And the decision could have a ripple effect on the rest of the industry.

Here are a few reasons Microsoft likely decided to keep Durango under wraps at E3 this year - and what that decision might mean for other players.

Why scuttle Xbox Next talk?

The games aren't ready - While everyone knew the next Xbox was in the works, Microsoft didn't start its road show for the new system until early this year. That's when developers got their first look at what was underneath the hood of Durango and what it could do.

While work may have been underway preliminarily at that point on launch titles for the next generation, teams haven't had much time to prepare them for the final (or near final) specs. And given how much competition has increased in the gaming space in the last few years, the new consoles are going to have to wow people right out of the gate. To ensure that happens, Microsoft knows it's better to wait until the games are closer to being done.

Why shoot yourself in the foot? - The Xbox 360 is still a powerful force at retail. While the Wii was already starting to flounder when Nintendo announced the Wii U, Microsoft doesn't face the same sort of pressure to please investors.

With this year's strong software lineup, announcing the looming arrival of a new Xbox could be confusing to shoppers during the holiday season and cost the company tens of millions of dollars.

No fear of Wii U - This generation showed game publishers and console makers that it's never smart to discount the threat Nintendo can present. However, neither Microsoft nor Sony seems to be quaking in their boots about the Wii U.

"By pushing Durango's unveiling back a year, Microsoft could find itself going head to head with Sony in a battle of features, even if the machines don't hit shelves at the same time"

Chris Morris

The system looked good, but not great, at last year's E3. And from a logistical standpoint, both the Xbox 360 and PS3 can compete visually with it on third-party games. And there's no defending against first party Nintendo games.

As a result, Microsoft likely isn't too worried that the Wii U will steal away the potential audience for its next system.

The media's doing all the work for it - The rush to be the first to report some insignificant technical detail about Durango or the latest far-fetched rumor is doing a terrific job of exciting the core about the next generation. So good, in fact, that Microsoft doesn't have to flex its marketing muscle.

Between leaks (both planned and not) and feeding true and false rumors to the community, Microsoft can still come out with a bang next year. And while gamers obsess over the whispers, the mainstream buying world (which the company is counting on for hardware cashflow at this point) will be blissfully ignorant of the chatter.

What implications will the decision have?

Wii U could surprise - Remember a few paragraphs ago how I mentioned that it's foolish to discount Nintendo? That's still true.

The company learned a lot with the fumbled launch of the 3DS, including how to recover from it. If Nintendo launches the Wii U at a discounted price point (as it did with the Wii) and a robust game line-up (including several exclusive first-party games), it could get a big head start on Microsoft and Sony. That lead may not last for five years this time, but it could put the company in an enviable position.

Sony could preempt - Microsoft scored points this generation by getting the jump on Sony. It got people talking about the Xbox 360 first - and the hardware was in people's hands a year before the PS3. Sony appears to be on track for a 2014 launch of the PS4, but that's hardly set in stone.

By pushing Durango's unveiling back a year, Microsoft could find itself going head to head with Sony in a battle of features, even if the machines don't hit shelves at the same time. Sony has squashed existing systems before - and you never want to give competitors the opportunity to outshine you in consumers' eyes.

Apple could sneak in - While many in the gaming world have limited their thinking to what these announcements mean for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, Apple's threat to living room dominance is growing daily.

By the end of the year, the company is expected to unveil a television, which will almost certainly tie in with iTunes and the App Store. We've already seen Apple steal audience from handheld systems. Once it's in the living room, the Xbox, PlayStation and Wii U could all be in the laser sights.

Set up for a huge 2013 - Whenever the initial reveal happens to be, a 2013 launch for Durango is going to be an event. The initial rush to embrace a next generation system by core gamers is always something to behold.

At the same time, the Wii U will be hitting its stride and seeing its installed base expand - and the PS3 will likely be going out with a bang. Add 'em all up and it could mean a very good year for both console makers and game publishers.

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Latest comments (13)

Private Industry 7 years ago
I rather see a proper unveil compared to what Nintendo did last year with the Wii U. You can say what you want about what you think about the system, but the presentation was bad. At first I was thinking the tablet is the console because there was no indication of the box at all and all footage shown was just trailers from 360 and PS3 versions of games.

I have one more option, MS PR is not telling the truth. If they show the next Xbox obviously they are not going to say now "yes of course we show it at E3", even if they plan on showing it they will say no. :)
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 7 years ago
There is little point in launching an Xbox 3 if it is just more of the same. Xbox 2 made the jump to HD and has many years life left in it yet.
To justify launching a new console requires a whole new usp. Whether this is cloud gaming, an app store business model or something else will eventually be revealed. So MS must be doing something very different this generation. Which means they are taking their time to ensure that every element of the launch is honed to the highest pitch.
I don't think that they are worried about the Wii U because it will have completely different usps to the Xbox 3, this probably holds to their attitude to Sony as well.
Perhaps the biggest potential problem is Apple who have enough money to buy countries, have a messianic following, love disruptive technology and who are on something of a roll.

The lesson of history is that nobody expected Nintendo to so comprehensively trounce Microsoft and Sony over the current generation, the stakes are immense, technology is changing rapidly and user habits are changing even more rapidly. So we are headed for interesting times.
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Rodney Smith Developer 7 years ago
My childish protest plan is if Sony or MS don't release this year I'm going to buy a wii u and stop buying Xbox or ps3 games as they will be ported to the wii u anyway.

Take that MS and Sony!!!!!
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Show all comments (13)
Private Industry 7 years ago
I love consoles and dont play offten on PC, but neither MS or Sony have many years left in their devices. Games look dated by now compared to PC. Graphics arent everything, but they are still a big factor when it comes to buying the big games. I have no problem with indie games if they dont look amazing but are fun to play and I love Yakuza games and they have outdated graphics. But its time to make the next jump in graphics, AI, physics and scale of levels and that needs new hardware.

I wouldnt be worried that MS or Sony only update the GPU and CPU and sell it to you as a new console, they are not Apple. And they know very well that whatever they build has to be relevant for the next 5-7 years and push gaming to new ways.

They have an app store business model already on consoles wthj XBL and PSN where indies made a lot of great games that you can buy for far less money then retail games. PSN even has minis that you can for a buck or two and that work on PS3, PSP and Vita. Thats an area that could be expanded and improved to make it easier for indies to develop for, but I hope they dont go the app store route and make it that everybody can do stuff for it. Because thats how you end up flooded with a lot of junk.

I hope they stay away from OnLive like cloud gaming for the moment because the infrastructure isnt here yet and thats anyway something you can add on the software side later.
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Stephen Richards Game Deisgner 7 years ago
Microsoft should not be in any rush to release the next xbox. Competition with Sony and potentially Apple is their only real incentive.

The future third party titles running on Wii U should run reasonably well on xbox 360/ps3 as well, so the supply of AAA games for current-gen consoles is unlikely to dry up any time soon. I don't think consumers will rush to the next generation either - we're reaching a point of diminishing returns from increased hardware performance, to the extent that a lot of (casual) consumers won't even notice a visual improvement.

There's also the fact that many mid size developers won't have the budget to make next-gen titles, so it'll be in their interest to continue making games for xbox 360/ps3 for a few years anyway. If sony or microsoft release their consoles at a high price-point next year, they'll get a similarly underwhelming reaction as received by the 3DS/Vita. If they wait till 2014/15, they can release them more cheaply, with better launch games and more developer support.
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Nick Parker Consultant 7 years ago
Any business should be just that, business. Microsoft is running a business so it's not up to us in the industry to divine when is the best time to launch except that we all know that the name of the game is the games so there has to be a reason for buying a bloody console in the first place. Which console comes first is really a moot point; we have seen second to market consoles killing off the pioneers in the last 20 years so we shouldn't obsess about that. The next gen devices will be more about maintaining and improving services than achieving photo-realistic or real life-like gaming rewards. The last two years has proved that, in a declining traditional packaged goods market, the HD consoles can still grow or at worse remain flat in terms of year on year performance so the cycle for them is turning obviously but not to the extent that pundits think. So I say, they will come when they come.
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Kevin Patterson musician 7 years ago
I can wait on a new console from MS or Sony, but when they finally announce it, It better be a powerhouse. If they skimp on ram, GPU, and all around performance thinking they can pull a Nintendo style minor upgrade, it will be a major disappointment. With Nvidia releasing a card this year that can play Epic's samaritan demo on one card vs three 580's, releasing a console next year with 2GB and a old GPU would just be a travesty.

My opinion is that MS might not have the hardware solidified yet, that they have shown developers what the performance will at least be at, while contemplating upgrades for the future, and want to see how well the Wii-u really performs before any announcement. Any announcement too early would allow Sony to release something much more powerful later, and I doubt MS wants that.
The rumored 2GB ram with a 6670 GPU is hopefully false,
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Private Industry 7 years ago
2GB doesnt look like much compared to PC's and same goes for the 6670 chip but consoles work different the 360 manages to render realy nice graphics with the old chip and 512MB ram and the PS3 can even push better graphics with the problematic 2x256MB ram. A console can get the samaratin demo running with a lot lower hardware than what you would need on a PC. Unless Sony is several years away from releasing the next console they could not react to hardware. Its not as simple as just changing a chip like what you do in your own PC. They work on those consoles for years and even if they use a chip thats based on PC chip they are heavely modified and thats not a matter of a couple of month to do and get a new one. If you get a new chip made and throw in you might need more power, maybe your fans are not strong enough anymore or you need to make a new motherboard because the chip can`t be where it is no for whatever reason i.e. more heat output that has a negative effect on surrounding chips.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Private on 23rd March 2012 9:33pm

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Rodney Smith Developer 7 years ago
Werner, I think you are suffering from last generation delusion. PS3 and Xbox graphics are well past it. Try watching the samaritan demo again and remind yourself that it isn't a pre-rendered cut scene but realtime and compare that against the 'nice graphics' that the PS 3/ Xbox 360 put out.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rodney Smith on 24th March 2012 8:28am

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Private Industry 7 years ago
If you look at a game like Uncharted 3 or Killzone 3 they still look nice I didn`t say they look better than what you have on PC or that they can match the PC. I know very well that they can`t match the PC in resolution, graphic effects and so on, but that doesn`t mean that they don`t look nice.

Samaritan is still a tech demo and nothing more to promote an engine until someone makes a game using the engine aand can prove that the game can match the graphics. I love tech demos they always look interessting, but they are indicative of what is possible in the best possible case. That they run in real time doesn`t change the fact that they are optimized to look stunning and lack every game component. The level is a lot small than a real game level, no AI or physics, small amount of characters on screen and so on. Yes it looks awesome but as with every tech demo you are years away from having a game on PC that will match those graphics in every aspect.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Private on 24th March 2012 11:08am

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Next-gen is *all* about the software: until that is truly ready, its completely pointless to show anything - as the games will look like PS3/360 games.

The one BIG advantage Nintendo has, is WiiU games will visually blow Wii games away. The same cannot be said for 720/PS4 - its going to be lot harder to make any significant visual leap, in such a way that anyone but hard-core notices any difference.

(I'm completely happy with the visuals from my 360 for example..)

And Werner is 100% right about the Samaritan demo: we had similar tech demos early in the cycle here (I can remember the Rebirth Wii demo) - making a game is very different.
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Rodney Smith Developer 7 years ago
The Samaritan demo runs on real hardware its not a console manufacturer's wet dream 'fanatasy hardware' demo that the delivered console can never run. 6 months ago it took three top of the range graphics cards to run it, today it takes one, a year from now it will run on a midrange card and a mid range cpu.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rodney Smith on 26th March 2012 7:11am

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Scott Davis Games Analyst, Lift London, Microsoft7 years ago
MS or Sony's biggest mistake would be to consider Apple as a direct competitor. In my opinion I feel MS and Sony made a minor mistake in really considering the Wii as a competitor. Its obvious to everyone that the Wii was a major competitor, BUT MS and Sony really strayed away from their main demographic just that bit too far to pull in the 'Nintendo' casual gamer.

If Ms or Sony do this again, stray too far from their trusting demographic in an effort to pull in the regular iPad/Pod/Phone crowd, the whole thing could blow in their face.
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