Microsoft wants to make something clear: There will be no successor to the Xbox 360 in 2012. There will be no big reveal at the E3 conference in June, no embarrassing MTV event in May complete with ridiculous fake CG trailers for Madden NFL. “There will be no talk of new Xbox hardware at E3 or anytime soon. For us, 2012 is all about Xbox 360,” said Microsoft spokesman David Dennis in a Mar. 15 statement. Translation: Get over it. Of course, that doesn’t mean Microsoft isn’t happy to give you yet another version of that old box. The Xbox Next may not be at E3, but the Xbox Lite might make an auspicious debut.
Infamous Microsoft rumor-smith MS Nerd let loose details of what he called the Xbox Lite during a question and answer session on social news website Reddit. The smaller device will be similar to Apple TV, a compact device without an optical media drive whose primary use is streaming video, downloadable games, and social networking apps. The device will also work with the newer, PC-compatible version of Kinect Microsoft introduced in January.
What of the Xbox 720, Durango, or Xbox Next as it’s sometimes called? “At some point after [Xbox Lite], we’ll see a Xbox Next, a true successor to the 360. Details about it are very hazy, except that, like the 360, it will do games for core-audiences and the same media apps as the other device, also with Kinect,” says MS Nerd.
The set top box route certainly jives with Microsoft’s ambitions in television. Mixing streaming television services into the Xbox brand has been a priority since Microsoft became one of Netflix’s first partners back in 2008. Since then Microsoft has started up Xbox Live Gold-only channels with ESPN, partnerships with Comcast Xfinity and Verizon FiOS cable services, and most recently HBO Go. Steve Ballmer, Micorosoft’s CEO, was even showing off an early version of an Xbox-exclusive television service during a financial analyst meeting in September, demonstrating how you could search for shows through Kinect. “Xbox, Bing ‘The Office’,” and then Xbox TV brings up an episode of the office. This so-called Xbox Lite would be a flagship for all of these services as well as a perfect venue for acclimating families to buying more games through Xbox Live rather in stores.
For fans of Microsoft’s games core games though, these plans might be concerning. The company has published fewer and fewer marquee titles for its machine over the past few years. As of now, the only major release planned for 2012 is Halo 4. Waiting to release a new high-end gaming machine in favor of weaker device could drive the core audience that’s built the Xbox brand for Microsoft to other platforms, namely PCs.
Microsoft needs to keep in mind that browser-based games running in Google’s Chrome, iPad games, and titles on other platforms are quickly matching the level of content quality and visual fidelity as the Xbox 360. Why would the core audience buy the Xbox Next when they’re getting comparable games elsewhere? It’s a question the company will have to answer at E3.