As far as surprises go, Microsoft Windows Live General Manager Brian Hall’s frank admittance that there will be a successor to the Xbox 360 fell somewhere between Michael Phelps’ recent dominance of a multitude of swimming events at the London Games and NASA successfully concluding the 352-mile journey of its 2,000-pound rover Curiosity on Mars last night. To narrow that down a bit, that Microsoft is working on the follow-up to the nearly seven-year-old home of XBLA is about as (un)surprising to most gamers as that guy who swims really well swimming really well.
Despite the best wishes of the Big Three first parties of gaming that cyclically dump enormous sums of money into developing, launching and marketing home video game platforms, the life-cycles of their systems are always finite. The trio has managed to stretch the elastic holding this console generation together further than most industry vets and gamers would have thought possible only a few years ago, yet they have been unable to magic up the secret to console immortality. And so there was Hall letting the X out of the Box last week just over a minute into The Verge’s podcast. What’s more, the general manager mentioned Windows 8 — the software developer’s next operating system, coming to retail October 26 — in the same sentence as the next-gen Xbox.
“We’ve had Hotmail and operated Hotmail for about sixteen years. We obviously have Exchange, and Outlook, that people use at work,” he told The Verge before continuing on to mention Windows 8 and the 360’s eventual replacement. “We just decided it was time to do something new and bring the best from each of those and put them together and release it right in time for the new wave of products that we could have coming out with Windows 8 with the new version of Office with the New Windows phone and the new Xbox.”
Some media outlets have suggested that Hall’s words mean the next Xbox is likely to run Windows 8. There is little questioning the sensibility of such a move by Microsoft. The firm would love to get both its upcoming OS and its next Xbox console into as many homes as possible. Eight also uses the UI aesthetic formerly known as Metro, as does the Xbox 360 does. The Redmond, Washington corporation has long talked of owning the living room and tying all of its users’ screens to Xbox (SmartGlass), another bit of info implying that Windows 8 and the console rumored to be code-named Durango are engaged to be wed.
Hall’s quote does indeed seem to imply that the two young lovers are going to tie the knot when it’s read quickly. So this thing’s a done deal then, right? Not so fast. Take a second glance, however, and his seemingly off-the-cuff remark appears to betray only that the next Xbox, Windows 8, the next version of Office and the next iteration of Windows Phone are products that are on the horizon — not necessarily ones that are all getting hitched. A
white green wedding could certainly be in Xbox and Windows’ future, but XBLA Fans is not convinced that Hall has actually issued a “Save the Date” announcement with his words.
A single verbally issued statement randomly pulled from a larger interview can be difficult to properly extrapolate facts from, so it’s difficult to say with certainty whether or not Hall meant Windows 8 will be featured on the next Xbox. What’s clear is that someone within Microsoft has confirmed Durango’s existence, something that the company’s employees have been previously careful to avoid talking about in the face of rumors about its internals and features and production having potentially gotten underway.
Microsoft even took things a step further in the build-up to June’s Electronic Entertainment Expo: it deftly avoided admitting that console exists in some form or another, be it conceptual or physical, by saying that it would not talk about the next Xbox. The console holder only stated “that there [would] be no talk of new Xbox hardware at E3 or anytime soon.”
There is no confirmation in those words, nor is there a denial. Realistically, it’s almost impossible that Durango doesn’t exist in some form or another, and Hall’s statement looks to have been an accidental slip of the tongue that confirms as much. Most console generations last five, maybe six years. The first Xbox was on the market a brief four years before Microsoft had to bring out its successor to end the bleeding of money escaping in buckets from its Entertainment and Devices Division. All of that money and then some has been pumped back into the system this generation, with it having maintained a stranglehold on domestic console sales for 18 months running.
Nevertheless, sales have been steadily declining for just about the entire home console biz for some time now. Mobile and social platforms have emerged and gobbled up an enormous slice of the casual market while also grabbing some attention and disposable income from more serious players. Furthermore, Nintendo is going to beat Microsoft and Sony to market by launching a new console with its rumored to be light-on-power Wii U this fall. Some third party developers are screaming for the next generation to get here, while others have come out and said they are far less concerned with its arrival. Others still have wondered out loud if there is going to actually be a new round of consoles in the traditional mold.
As for Windows 8, the buzz from game developers has been more uniform: several PC devs, at least, have agreed that it’s not sounding like their cup of tea. Valve’s Gabe Newell fired the first salvo, explaining that he thinks “Windows 8 is kind of a catastrophe for everybody in the PC space.” Blizzard’s Rob Pardo and Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson echoed his concerns. The devs fear that it will be a closed system, one that is good for Microsoft and bad for third party developers. Most likely owing in part to Windows 8’s inclusion in Durango being anything but certain, console devs have yet to voice such concerns.
Exactly when and in what form Microsoft will go about pushing into another console cycle is anyone’s guess. Unlike Phelps, though, they will be diving into the pool to compete on the biggest stage at least one more time.