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Place Your Bets: The smart money says Xbox 720 will debut in April

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Sony pulled a bait and switch routine on the broader gaming industry at the beginning of 2013. On Wednesday night the company debuted the technology—though not the actual console—that is the PlayStation 4, almost exactly one month after the company said it would do no such thing. The plan as of January was to wait for Microsoft to make the first move. “Why go first, when your competitors can look at your specifications and come up with something better?” said Sony CEO Kaz Hirai. But Sony did go first, and now the industry is wondering when Microsoft will respond and show off its successor to the Xbox 360. If new rumors are correct, the Xbox 720, or whatever it ends up officially being called, will peak out in April.

Computer and Video Games is reporting that Microsoft will debut the next Xbox sometime in April, echoing the sentiments of industry analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan. “We think Microsoft is unlikely to formally announce its next-generation console until April or later,” said Pachter in a note to investors, suggesting that the company may wait until the E3 trade convention in June.

A source inside Sony told CVG that the PS4 announcement “ruffled some feathers” and “caught Microsoft off-guard.”

An April announcement for the Xbox 720 makes sense from both historical and business perspectives. March is crowded with major game releases associated with the Xbox 360. Microsoft is publishing Gears of War: Judgment while 2K Games is releasing BioShock Infinite. The original BioShock, being an Xbox 360 exclusive, has tied that brand to Microsoft’s current console. Those games have the potential to move at least a few Xbox 360s at retail, so Microsoft will want to give them a berth in the press before announcing the Xbox 360.

It will also want to avoid the clutter of E3 2013. Sony will be properly unveiling the PlayStation 4 at that event while third-party publishers announce projects for both machines. By announcing the new Xbox 720 in April, Microsoft will enjoy nearly two months of uninterrupted press and fan dialogue with few big game releases to jockey for attention, and it will allow developers at E3 to unveil games for the new system without having to explain the technology too much. A new Xbox announcement at the end of April could even impact Sony’s spring, taking away from the May release of The Last of Us.

Microsoft would also be repeating history. The Xbox 360 was announced in April 2005 at an MTV special detailing the console, and then showed off early looks at games in May. Footage of games like Madden NFL 2006 turned out to not be representative of the actual games, though.