Speaking yesterday to our sister site Eurogamer.net, Microsoft Europe has issued a surprise statement that categorically denies the rumoured unveiling of Xbox 2 at the Games Developers Conference next week.
A senior Microsoft Europe executive responded to increasing speculation that it will launch its successor to Xbox at the San Jose show by saying: "Itâs fair to say we won't be announcing a hardware platform at GDC".
This news will come as a blow to those expecting that the show would mirror the role played by the event four years ago, when MS chief Bill Gates emerged on stage decked out in an Xbox baseball jacket to herald the company's arrival in the console market.
But despite all evidence and logic to the contrary, the company's appearance at the show is set to be limited to talking about games, with J Allard and Robbie Bach presenting two keynote speeches at the event. "It's fair to say that we are going to be discussing the role of software in games development," the source confirmed.
Indeed, the programme of events at GDC lists Bach and Allard's 'Getting To The Game' keynote on March 24th as being essentially no more illuminating than telling development attendees "how we can help you finally turn innovation into impact," and discusses a "faster path to Game of the Year accolades and to the hearts of the mass market".
Interesting stuff, but many had expected them to also add tantalising new information regarding Microsoft's future plans in the console market - with many commentators claiming that the GDC show would be the "coming-out party" for Xbox 2 and anticipating a full unveiling.
However, several senior sources have cast doubt on whether Microsoft is issuing denials so as to avoid spoiling the impact of its announcements at next week's show in San JosÃ®, and despite this denial, it would still be surprising if the next-generation console was not discussed in some form at the showcase event.
One interesting possibility is that Microsoft will make the official announcement on Xbox 2 outside of GDC at its own separate press event nearby - thus eliminating the chance of information leaking out ahead of the show, as tends to happen at such big events.
Whatever the truth of the situation, Microsoft hasn't at any point shied away from the fact that it is working on a successor to Xbox, and with the possibility of a late 2005 US launch mooted, for the timeline to follow that of its original console an announcement now is essential.
Industry watchers expect - at the very least - software demos to be shown off to give an idea of the machine's potential capabilities. Essentially, that's all Microsoft did at GDC 2000, with some rough specs to allow developers the time to work on producing a quality launch line up.
Much the same was expected this time around, and for the console to be completely off the agenda would be a major surprise given the importance of the event - after all, launching developer specific information at E3 would be a strange tactic. It's possible that Microsoft's denial of a GDC showing for the console is simply designed to quell the more unlikely reports of a full unveiling, which has never been on the agenda for the show.
Indeed, the Microsoft Europe statement follows comments made recently by Microsoft Japan's Asako Miyata, who confirmed that while Robbie Bach would discuss the new console, Xbox 2 won't actually be unveiled at the event and the specs may not even be revealed, in a move apparently designed to ensure that the machine outperforms the PS3.