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Stop the silly: Of course Xbox 720 won't release in 2012

Talk of a next-generation Xbox console has the hardware down for a launch next year. Brenna Hillier reckons someone's got the maths wrong.

What we're given to go on at that point will be the barest of bare bones. Maybe the new hardware will, indeed, end up smaller and cheaper than past consoles, and have an emphasis on TV content; very likely it will indeed come bundled with an improved Kinect. But it won't release in 2012.

Since gaming crawled back out of the Atari-driven crisis of the early eighties and re-established itself as a profitable business, hardware has seen a turnover cycle of up to five years, regular as clockwork. That third generation of consoles - the 8-bit NES and Master System - was the first in a series of easily-classified waves of increased horsepower and feature sets which eventually resulted in what's usually called the seventh generation - the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which launched in 2006 and 2005 respectively.

Eventually, Microsoft will build a new console and launch it as the successor to the Xbox 360. The sort of world where this did not occur is not one any of us can contemplate in comfort, because it suggests a future in which the games industry has collapsed. (Or we've been taken over by brain-eating zombie dog overlords. Either scenario puts us out of a job and the chance to play Killing Things VI.)

By the generational measure, we're overdue new machines, but still your beating hearts - it's not going to happen any time soon.

Las Vegas, January, 2012

French site Xboxygen has claimed an anonymous source for a report that we'll see the fabled Xbox 720 - whatever they're calling it - mentioned in some form at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this January.

If you draw a little timeline of console releases - ignoring the half-generational blip of the Wii - you'll see we're bang on the mark not just for a new console announce, but for its release (something Nintendo is no doubt hoping will discourage anyone from noticing that their latest effort with the Wii U isn't any more grunty than the current batch of machines).

Speculation exploded in the week following this purported leak, and it was helped along by a handful of correlating reports suggesting a new Xbox hardware launch in 2012. If your chest does little flutters when you hear these rumours, you should probably take a handful of these cynicism pills. Whispers and "insider" predictions of new hardware generation have been cropping up since early 2008 - not even three years from launch. Over 2011, it's happened with almost comical regularity, with at least one new rumour every month for the space of six months.

One report claimed that Crytek had hold of development kit and was expecting to show Timesplitters 4 at E3 2012; this was at least the second occasion on which the developer was implicated in the mythical console's 2012 launch.

Another went so far as to name a couple of launch titles - the new Alan Wake, since revealed as an Xbox Live release, and Saints Row 4.

Reports that the new console has been in development for five years certainly added weight; if it's not true, why is there such a definite number? A compelling pub argument.

You can add two and two together here and get a nice square four, but for maths to work you've got to solve all the clauses of the equation, not just the ones you like. What the excitement fails to account for is that the games industry of the seventh generation is a very different place to that of the third, fourth, fifth and even sixth. Major games now cost so much to develop, and new hardware is so difficult to come to grips with, that a new console venture is an undertaking on an entirely different scale. Microsoft and Sony built their current consoles with this in mind, leaving room to expand their lifespans with peripherals and home entertainment features like streaming services. For every developer who wants the excitement of new hardware, just as many dread it.

Asked about the rumours, EA strongly denied either Crytek or a second development team's receipt of a new Xbox dev kit. Blizzard added its voice to the naysayers, and even Michael Pachter pooh-poohed the talk.

This very quick sample yields as much evidence for as against, and there's plenty more indication that any future Microsoft console is still at least three years away.

Avalanche has dropped heavy hints that at least one new console is due in 2014. This date was backed up by a number of anonymous sources, apparently close to first-parties. Massive retailer Gamestop, whose leap into the digital realm shows it knows which way the wind is blowing, is in agreement.

On top of that, in a detailed assessment of Microsoft's manufacturing capabilities, Digital Foundry concluded that the company simply doesn't have the resources to have produced a new console to launch in 2012.

Still confident?

Calling it

A key point from Xboxygen's report which has been greviously overlooked is that the site never claimed a working console would debut - it reported only that Microsoft would give "some information on the new console, and some of its capabilities".

If reports of the company recruiting for a hardware engineer to work on new console are true, of which there's no guarantee - Microsoft needs engineers for new Xbox 360 models and ongoing Kinect development - then work had really only just begun sometime around March. That's perfect timing for an upcoming tech announcement and, yes, a 2014 debut.

According to yet another unverified report, Microsoft called a round table of developers after E3 2011 to gauge what kind of feeling developers had for upcoming hardware - what features they might like, how much power is needed.

This one does add up, and slots in neatly with the 2014 timeframe being bandied about. What we're expecting to see at CES is an announcement of a partnership with one tech company or another - very likely AMD, since the company has already flapped its lip - as to what might form the basic architecture of the upcoming Xbox.

What we're given to go on at that point will be the barest of bare bones. Maybe the new hardware will, indeed, end up smaller and cheaper than past consoles, and have an emphasis on TV content; very likely it will indeed come bundled with an improved Kinect.

But it won't release in 2012.


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