by Peter Chapman, Kris Lipscombe & Tuffcub
The big day is finally here, and we’re about to learn what’s next for Microsoft’s Xbox. While Sony have been doing their best to disrupt Microsoft’s reveal with titbits of information and a tease of what the PS4 is going to look like, there’s surely nothing they can do to stop their competitor grabbing some major headlines tonight.
The question, of course, is just what those headlines will be? Well, there are a few common themes that have been picked up in the media time and time again. Those seem like the most likely candidates for what we’ll actually be shown this evening, so let’s take a brief look at them.
While it was initially expected that games wouldn’t be the focus for the event, and they may still not be, Microsoft has certainly got some big hitters lined up for their big reveal. It seems that EA are heavily backing the Redmond company, with confirmation that a FIFA title will be revealed at the event, as well as something Need for Speed flavoured. Battlefield 4 is looking pretty likely as well, although it’s a little less clear exactly what that will be.
Of course it’s not going to be the EA show, as Call of Duty: Ghosts, the next entry in Activision’s blockbuster franchise, will be getting a full reveal tonight. That’s two of the world’s biggest selling franchises on stage at the same show and it’s EA and Activision – the two largest third party publishers – in the same room. It looks like Microsoft is going in hot with third party titles for tonight.
Rumours about the presence of first party titles seem to remarkably quiet, aside from claims that Microsoft’s in-house studios are currently six months behind schedule. However, it would be crazy to suggest that internally developed exclusives will be missing in their entirety, so you can probably expect to see something on show. We’d be surprised if, for example, they missed teasing next generation Halo and Forza titles.
There are a number of more nebulous rumours in the air too. For example, word of a Project Gotham Racing reboot project that don’t seem to be slowing down might mean that Forza isn’t shown. We might also get a closer look at Ryse, the Crytek-developed medieval first person slasher.
Microsoft has also confirmed that they’ll be heavily focussing on games at their E3 event, with Xbox executive Aaron Greenberg promising “tons of exclusives” and “world premieres”. With that conference just twenty days away, Microsoft may hold back a little tonight, or tease fuller events when the world is watching again in June.
IllumiRoom and the Next Kinect
While IllumiRoom may well be purely a research project at this stage, it wouldn’t be a shock to see it make an appearance in some form at tonight’s reveal. The question is how practical and universal they can make the projection hardware. Realistically, that’s going to be the limiting factor for their novel immersion technology.
If Kinect had been universal it likely would have seen better support from developers, rather than too often being tacked on as an afterthought or shoe-horned into existing designs that don’t quite work. If IllumiRoom isn’t something that everyone can get their hands on easily then Microsoft may well see similar issues with the system. It’s already going to be a tough sales pitch to “core” gamers who have been burned on novelty peripherals before, it needs something compelling during any demonstration it might recieve.
That problem of universality may well prompt Microsoft to include the next generation of Kinect with every console, possibly being built into the physical console itself. However, concerns of practicality abound over a camera moulded into the unit, so a separate pack-in with every machine seems a far more likely solution.
We can probably expect that camera to have on-board processing capabilities, something that was dropped from the original Kinect due to the cost implications. Unfortunately that really hurt what was possible with this generation’s Kinect, and it would seem odd if Microsoft didn’t address that problem.
In general, we can expect to see a general upgrade to the Kinect’s capabilities, with more points of articulation, better tools for developers and improvements made to the optics. With rumours swirling that the gesture detecting camera will be key to the next Xbox, possibly with a requirement for it to be constantly connected to the console, then an upgrade to Kinect seems necessary to stop a huge consumer backlash against the system.
As facial recognition and gesture/voice control has now trickled down into more mainstream consumer tech, like televisions, it will be more widely accepted. The down side to that encouraging mindshare for Microsoft is that they will require something really special from “Kinect 2” to wow onlookers at its reveal this evening. If it’s not at least as impressive as the Leap Motion, it’ll be a slight let-down.
The Console and Controller
At least one Microsoft employee was a bit snarky about Sony not showing the plastic box their new hardware will come in when they announced the PS4 back in February. While it would be pretty funny if Major Nelson’s paymasters showed him up a bit by pulling the same trick, it’s not very likely, especially with Sony presumably working very hard to fix the focus on their video camera. So we’ll see the box.
Don’t expect too much, though, it’ll probably be a black plastic box with a disc tray and some ventilation holes. It might have a fancy green light on it. Other than that, it’s likely to only be of pressing concern to industrial design geeks and console fetishists with shelf space and friends to show off to.
What’s more important is the bit we interact the most with – the controller. Sony, of course, showed this off quite extensively at their reveal event and in a video released since then. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 controller is widely regarded as the industry standard at the moment, used not only by the console but as a default for PC developers to work to as well. Changing that ergonomic design is a risk bit we’ve heard some rumours that there are some alterations underway. Specifically, the new controller is said to be a bit flatter and potentially feature some touch controls, much the same as the DualShock 4’s touch surface.
Price and Release Date
It might be asking too much for a firm price at this stage. Microsoft and Sony will both be watching each other closely to see who blinks first on this issue. With a supposed Sony leak on price yesterday, we’re expecting both consoles to come in at the $400 point, for one SKU (Stock Keeping Unit), at least.
That brings us neatly to how Microsoft might be selling the new console. We’ve long been predicting a kind of subsidised subscription model in place, creating the opportunity for a more affordable initial cost. Something like a monthly recurring fee for Xbox Live subscription that’s tied to a two-year contract and gets you a cheaper console to begin with.
As for release date, they probably won’t be precise here. Just as Sony did back in February, expect a “holiday 2013” announcement. That’s most likely to mean November, a date which would tie in nicely to a couple of game releases that we’re expecting to cross the generational divide for consoles while being a couple of months away from GTA V’s retail-dominating influence.
There have been a number of names associated with the console, from those early “Durango” leaks, right up to more abstract suggestions like simply calling it “Xbox” again. We’ve seen repeated rumours of the number 8 appearing, potentially linked to rumours of “Xbox Infinity” (the symbol for infinity is quite similar to the number 8, laid horizontally). We don’t expect “Xbox 720” and Durango was a working name during development but it would be surprising if that went with it to retail. Infinity doesn’t seem too far fetched but “Xbox 8” would be bizarre. Whatever it is, we’ll be very glad to be able to stop saying “Xbox 720”.
Media Partnerships and Streaming
It’s taken for granted that the next generation consoles will all heavily feature media streaming and downloads. Microsoft has made some effort to pull music and movies under its Xbox branding and it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll continue to push the importance of their own, non-interactive, media services.
We might see a page of partner logos for streaming services but if they spend more than a few minutes on this stuff, it’d be a waste of time. It would be big news at this point if the next generation Xbox didn’t include streaming options for Netflix, Amazon Instant (in the US, probably LoveFilm in the UK) YouTube, et al.
More interesting is the potential response to the sharing and streaming stuff that Sony showed for the PlayStation 4. Sony’s partnership with Ustream seems to leave a potential opening with Twitch. That service, owned by CBSi – who also own several games media outlets – would potentially be a very influential partner for Microsoft. Twitch seems to be the game streaming service with the bigger buzz around it at the moment and that might be a perfect fit for Microsoft.
A trickier proposition for the US console maker is how they might compete with Sony’s ability to stream games using their acquired Gaikai services. Microsoft doesn’t appear to have a natural place for that kind of content delivery but it’s certainly not beyond them to build it – or acquire it. OnLive still exists, and they would probably be quite cheap, if Microsoft wanted to snap up a ready-made game streaming option.
Whatever their solution, video sharing is massive these days, don’t expect them to ignore it.
Correction: We’ve been contacted by Twitch and asked to clarify that they are not owned by CBSi, they partner with the company in ad sales.