Microsoft has made it official: the next Xbox will be unveiled at a May 21 event in Redmond, Wash., just weeks before E3 opens its doors. This looks like the inevitable Xbox-PlayStation next-gen console war we've all been expecting.
What will it take for Microsoft to keep its strong foothold in the gaming industry? Here's what I'm looking for.
Be the ultimate TV-streaming (and movie-playing) box
The Xbox 360 has already carved a great role for itself as a streaming-media hub, and rumors point to the next Xbox possibly being a true rival to a future Apple TV. The market for next-gen entertainment boxes hasn't been decided yet, which means Microsoft could win the war for the future of connected TV. If Microsoft can build new partnerships and make the Xbox the definitive way to experience video and TV content, via HDMI-in or a suite of apps, it'll help secure its place versus the competition, and erode some of the PlayStation's foothold as an excellent piece of AV hardware.
Make Xbox Live even better
The current Xbox 360's biggest advantage over the PlayStation 3 is its unsurpassed set of social features and online connectivity across games. Xbox Live, even though it costs a yearly fee, was good enough to win the current console wars. The next Xbox needs to up the ante and provide reasons to make the switch from what's still a very capable 7-year-old console.
Stock up on cool, innovative, exclusive games
This might sound like a throwback idea in a world where most of the best games are multiplatform by default, but Microsoft needs to lead the way in offering jaw-dropping new software for the next console. If Microsoft relies too much on third parties, there's a good chance we'll feel some deja vu from the PlayStation 4 event this winter. And by exclusive games, I don't mean just Gears of War, Fable, or Forza: new ideas would help. Sony and Nintendo have no problem with this. Microsoft, please curate more games like Alan Wake.
Outperform the PlayStation 4
Video game specs and hardware can sometimes be deceiving. After all, the PS3's Cell processor was supposed to make it trounce the Xbox 360, and yet it never seemed more powerful. Sony's PlayStation 4 event touted how the console will be a PC under the hood; this is Microsoft's home turf. I'd like to think that the new Xbox would at least be capable of more graphics horsepower, but that depends on whether that's Microsoft's true priority.
Don't be annoying
Could the next Xbox be an always-online console? I certainly hope not. Between that concern and rumors of more draconian DRM, there's the looming possibility that the next console will be more locked-down than ever before. Annoying a loyal fan base is the last thing the next Xbox needs to do. There's always hope: Valve's Steam locks games to an account and generally requires online connectivity, but doesn't seem to annoy many people at all.
Prove we need new game consoles
Both the Wii U launch and the PlayStation 4's first press event didn't go too swimmingly. The importance of the home gaming console seems to have waned. In the face of tablets and evolving, ever-cheaper PCs, the next Xbox should make everyone fall in love with the future of home video games again. If Microsoft can bring a hint of the magic that Nintendo and Sony still haven't captured for next-gen, and keep the price reasonable, it'll have success.