Citing "industry sources," video game blog Kotaku reported yesterday that Microsoft and Sony aren't planning to release follow-ups to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 until 2014. One of the blog's sources said that Microsoft hasn't even decided which components its next console will offer when it eventually launches.
If both Microsoft and Sony wait until 2014 to release new machines, it would mark a dramatic shift in the way console makers have structured launch schedules.
Historically, most console companies release new devices an average of every five years. Microsoft, for example, launched the original Xbox in 2001 and followed that up with the Xbox 360 in 2005. Sony's PlayStation 2 launched in 2000 and its follow-up console hit store shelves in 2006. A 2014 launch would leave the Xbox 360 on store shelves for nine years, and the PlayStation 3 for eight years, without a successor in place.
Cashing in on a console until the bitter end is something that Sony has never taken issue with. The company has said on numerous occasions that it follows a "10-year life cycle" for consoles. In fact, the company is still selling thousands of PlayStation 2s every month, even though the PlayStation 3 is available. But this time around, things could be different, since there wouldn't be a newer console in place to help boost sales over the long haul.
Speaking to CNET last year for a story outlining the death of the five-year console lifecycle, Patrick Seybold, senior director of corporate communications for Sony Computer Entertainment, seemed nonplussed by the shift. He made it clear that Sony has always believed that its consoles can hold up over a 10-year period.
"We at PlayStation have never subscribed to the concept that a console should last only five years," he said. "Both the original PlayStation and PlayStation 2 had life cycles of more than 10 years, and PlayStation 3 will as well. The 10-year life cycle is a commitment we've made with every PlayStation consumer to date, and it's part of our philosophy that we provide hardware that will stand the test of time providing that fun experience you get from day one for the next decade."
Microsoft's senior director of Xbox product management, David Hufford, indicated last year at the Consumer Electronics Show that his company is on the same page as Sony. And with the release of Microsoft's motion-gaming peripheral Kinect in November, the company was potentially able to extend the life of its console.
"I think it's important to say that the Xbox 360 is the console of the long future for us," Hufford said before an audience at CES. "There is no need to launch a new console because we're able to give this console new life either with software upgrades or hardware upgrades like Project Natal. The Xbox 360 was designed for a long life, and I don't even know if we're at the midpoint yet."
Such a statement seemingly makes perfect sense to game maker Electronic Arts. Last year, EA CFO Eric Brown said there isn't much room for improvement in the console market and there simply isn't a compelling reason for either Sony or Microsoft to release a new hardware platform in the near future.
"Today we have two of the three consoles that operate in full high-definition and are running games at 60 frames per second," Brown said. "If you step back and say if it's a multibillion capital dollar investment for the next generation, the question I would ask is 'if you were to produce that then what would you display it on?' There's really nothing in terms of broadly available consumer viewing technology other than 1080p flat panel televisions. And so you could upgrade in theory, but you wouldn't get the obvious graphical benefit that we saw really drove the sharp transitions in the prior cycle."
Even so, Microsoft is seemingly looking toward the future. Last month, a job notice was posted on the company's Web site, seeking a hardware engineer for its Interactive Entertainment Business division. The job would require the person to be "responsible for defining and delivering next-generation console architectures from conception through implementation." The notice led some to suspect that this future employee will be working on the next version of the Xbox.
What about the Wii?
Although Kotaku's sources didn't mention the Wii, many industry watchers believe that Nintendo will be launching a successor to its motion console later this year. Nintendo hasn't said a word about what its next console will offer or even when it might hit store shelves.
Not everyone is convinced that a new Wii would even sell all that well if it did hit store shelves in 2011. In an interview with IndustryGamers earlier this year, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said that the chances of the Wii 2 succeeding after a late 2011 launch would be slim. One of the key additions would be HD suppport, which the Xbox 360 and PS3 have had since launch. Pachter sees Nintendo as jumping aboard that train much, much too late.
"I just think Nintendo's blown it; I think by the time they launch [their next console] if it's Christmas 2011, it's two years too late, and for sure one year too late," Pachter said in the interview. "So it's over--I don't think they can ever recover. Wii sales will continue to decline and I think Wii 2 will not sell well."
Sony and Nintendo declined CNET's request for comment. Microsoft did not immediately respond.
Update at 7:48 a.m. to add Nintendo's response.