Peer into our X-etched, green tinted crystal ball
Microsoft is one sly devil. Though Nintendo and Sony have shown their next-gen hands, details on the newest Xbox console are reserved for only the most privileged in the industry. We continue to scour the Internet in search of hard facts to form our Xbox Infinity article. (And yeah, our money is on "Infinity" being the official name.) But what if you don't have an eye for nitty-gritty details, rumors, or wild speculation? That's where this Top 7 comes in.
We won't know anything for sure until Microsoft's official reveal on May 21st, unforeseen info leaks notwithstanding. Until then, these are the seven facets of the next Xbox that still remain the most pressing mysteries. If you don't constantly have your finger on the pulse of next-gen console hype--a draining endeavor, to be sure--this rundown should bring you up to speed, in preparation for next week's incoming tidal wave of official details. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to place your bets...
7. What's it called?
It's tricky to discuss something when nobody knows what to call the damn thing. "Xbox 720" was the go-to title for a while, because hey, 360 x 2 = 720. The console's codename is said to be "Durango," a moniker that certainly won't stick for the official release. In an apparent attempt to avoid calling it the "next Xbox" over and over again, rumors of various one-word suffixes spread like flame during a brushfire. Loop, Kryptos, Fusion, Fusible, Infinity, plain ol' Xbox--there are enough unsubstantiated names out there to make the casual gamer's head spin.
Our best guess? We've put our chips on the Xbox Infinity side of the table. Why? Beyond an official, unqualified trademark application, no good reason, really. Still, it's something. If recent, unofficial, totally fake mockups are any indication, it seems like the masses have--until the 21st, at least--made up their collective minds on what to call the next Xbox.
6. What happens to our Achievements?
As with the mystifying Pogs craze in the '90s, we've deluded ourselves into attributing great importance to throwaway tokens that have little to no discernible value. And yet, that's the genius of the Achievement system--they compel us to play our game library in new ways or with more dedication, with the promise, no matter how trivial, of an eventual affirmation for our efforts. Some of the 360's most zealous loyalists have devoted all their game time to the pursuit of Achievements, despite the fact that the only reward for their efforts--besides pride--is a somewhat trivial 2% rebate on Xbox Live purchases. But what if the unthinkable were to happen? What if the next Xbox renders all of that hard work useless, by wiping the Achievement slate clean?
Our best guess? Microsoft wouldn't burn its most ardent fans just for the sake of a fresh start--we hope, anyway. The company has nothing to gain by instating separate Xbox Live accounts for the new console, and everything to lose at the hands of enraged gamers whose life work will seem even more objectively pointless. If Microsoft is smart, your Achievements will transfer over in one way or another.
5. What does the controller look like?
With the upcoming console generation, in-controller touchscreens are all the rage. The Wii U, PS4, and Ouya are doing it--so why shouldn't the next Xbox? Well, practicality, for starters. The Wii U GamePad commands a hefty price; getting a new one will cost you upwards of $150. The Ouya touchscreen is awfully finicky, as you're never quite sure where the input pad begins and ends. And the performance of the DualShock 4's sensor has yet to be determined. Additionally, conventional wisdom states that Xbox SmartGlass has failed to make an impression on gamers, given the fact that it's supported by a measly eight games. So where can Microsoft go from here? Well...
Our best guess? Call us grey-and-green nosers, but the current Xbox 360 controller is darn near close to peripheral perfection. The contour to your grip, the just-right joystick placement, and a lack of extraneous buttons can't really be improved on all that much. Jamming a touchscreen and/or Kinect sensor into such an immaculate creation threatens to throw the entire thing off balance. If Microsoft does take a stab at a touchscreen interface, they should go the DualShock 4 route by making the surface as tiny and unobtrusive as possible. Or maybe they could just give it a better D-pad and be done with it.
4. How will it facilitate the free-to-play model?
Free-to-play games are likely the biggest they've ever been right now--and currently, the PC has the microtransaction money pie almost entirely to itself. Games like League of Legends, Lord of the Rings Online, and World of Tanks have proven that, by offering a quality multiplayer game with optional paid bonuses in place of an entrance fee, you can make gobs of money hand over fist in the long-term. And yet, consoles are getting left out on the fun--that is, unless, Sony and Microsoft are indeed "going to be fully embracing the free-to-play and [in-app purchase] business models," according to Epic Games' Mark Rein.
Our best guess? Now that the PC market has proven the success of this model, it's safe to assume that the next Xbox will cater to F2P possibilities. How? The first step would be to streamline the process of acquiring Microsoft points, so that cash can flow more freely from your thinning wallet. Microsoft will also need to bet on the right horse--that is, make a big monetary push behind a game which wholly avoids any "pay-to-win" scheme, opting for purely convenience or vanity-based purchases instead.
3. How much will it cost?
Console pricing presents a real Goldilocks situation. Charge too much, and consumers will be scared off by the colossal price tag, as with the PS3's $500 launch. Ask for too little, and you'll be slowly bleeding profits when production costs outweigh your sales. The only concrete comparison we can make for this console generation would be the Wii U, which launched at a reasonable $350/$300 tiered SKU. Predictions for the cost of the next Xbox have been all over the place, ranging anywhere between $300 and $500. So just how much should you start saving up?
Our best guess? The rumors of dual price points for the next Xbox are starting to sound pretty...sound. If these predictions come true, then $500 will net you the new console hassle-free. The $300 option would come with a stipend, by way of additional payments like a pledged Xbox Live Gold membership or smaller fees spread out over the course of years. It's the classic Trojan Horse strategy, where the appealing cheaper console eventually equates to the same (or greater) expenditure of moolah. We wouldn't put it past Microsoft, anyway.
2. When will it be available?
In the previous console generation, Microsoft got the jump on its competitors by rolling out the Xbox 360 a full year before the Wii and PS3. They can't reclaim "first" status this time around on account of the Wii U, and they definitely don't want to come in last. That's why all signs point to the next Xbox getting an end-of-the-year 2013 release, just in time for the holiday season and a head-to-head battle with the PS4. But hey, there's always the chance that Microsoft will pull a real shocker, revealing on May 21st that their latest console is ON STORE SHELVES RIGHT NOW! Yeah right--we all know how that turned out for the Sega Saturn.
Our best guess? November 2013, or December at the latest. Setting up shop in time for the holiday rush is crucial, because you better believe that the latest Xbox will be at the top of many a gamer's wishlist. Launching your new console after this gift-giving frenzy is just throwing away profits.
1. Will it be always-online?
When it comes to speculation, this one's a doozy. In theory, an always-online console serves both the hardware and software developer; Microsoft ensures that people can't tinker with their system to play illegitimate copies of games, and game developers have a foolproof way to avoid the profit loss inherent to piracy and the used games market. In practice, well--as recent PC titles like SimCity and Diablo III have proven, always-online services alienate gamers to no end. It's disconcerting to think that a steady Internet connection might be all that separates your gaming device from a plastic-and-silicon brick.
Our best guess? If Microsoft likes money, the next Xbox will not be always-online. The sensible way to approach this would be to copy Steam, Valve's PC gaming client that set the standard for how these transactions should work. The gist is that you'll need an Internet connection to initially validate your copy of the game and play multiplayer, but once you've registered a legit disc, you can play offline single-player content to your heart's content. It's an ideal compromise between gamers and developers, and most attempts to do otherwise have been met with devastating backlash.
Only time will tell
So, though the story on the next Xbox could change at a moment's notice, those are the seven questions that we want definitive answers to. Do your predictions align with ours? Or will you be slamming us with an "I told you so" come May 21st? Let us know in the comments what visions you have for Microsoft's next-gen console--that way, if and when your guesses come true, you can show off time-stamped evidence of your clairvoyance to your friends.
And if you're looking for more next-gen Xbox info, check out Xbox Infinity - News, rumors, and everything else we know and Xbox Infinity games - Every single one that's (probably) coming out.