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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.

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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.

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2022’s Xbox and Bethesda Showcase is vital for Microsoft
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On June 12, Microsoft will hold its second annual Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase. Following a series of delays and reports about development issues at Xbox studios, it is shaping up to be one of the most pivotal shows for Xbox ever.
Xbox had a strong showing in 2021 with critically acclaimed games like Forza Horizon 5, Age of Empires IV, and Halo Infinite, but has lost that positive momentum in the first half of this year. As debates rage over just how compelling Xbox’s 2022 lineup is now that Bethesda’s heavy hitters Starfield and Redfall have been delayed until 2023, Microsoft needs to prove why gamers should care about its platforms and services this year, and the Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase is the right place to do that.
First-party woes
The back half of 2022 is looking pretty dire for Microsoft in terms of first-party games it's directly developing or publishing. Originally, it seemed like Microsoft was relying on Bethesda to provide it with two blockbuster titles, but that strategy went out the window when those games were delayed. While Microsoft has announced plenty of games since the Xbox Series X's reveal in 2020, none of them are publicly dated to release this year. It's relying on third-party exclusives like Warhammer 40K: Darktide and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, the latter of which could have its release date impacted further by Russia's war on Ukraine.

This isn't a good situation for Xbox, so the Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase is the best place for the companies to reassure fans that first-party games are actually coming. So, what could possibly be in store? We know for sure that Redfall, Starfield, and Contraband won't release this year. State of Decay 3 and Perfect Dark also seems unlikely due to the reported development trouble both titles are facing. That said, other Microsoft titles could sneak in a 2022 release. To start, Grounded will likely leave early access this year. 
When you consider that Forza Horizon 5 wasn’t revealed until E3 2021 and managed to be one of the best games of the year, it seems likely, if unconfirmed, that Microsoft will put out the next mainline Forza Motorsport this year. The next entry in the series has been in development at Turn 10 for some time and is rumored to be beta testing.
As for its other first-party studios, it's possible that Senua's Sacrifice: Hellblade 2 or Avowed will actually manage to come out this year and fill the void left by Redfall and Starfield. Age of Empires IV and Deathloop could also strengthen the lineup if ported to Xbox consoles this year.
It's also possible that there are announced first-party games slated for this year, like the rumored non-combat RPG from Obsidian's Josh Sawyer, the leaked remaster of Goldeneye 007, or one of the many Xbox Game Studios Projects that were exposed via the Nvidia GeForce Now Leak last year. Xbox Game Studios Publishing could also help bolster the 2022 lineup if As Dusk Falls launches this year and they release some other unannounced games from second-party partners. If any of those guesses are true, this Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase is the place to confirm it. Microsoft can't afford to wait any longer to show us what's in store from them this year if it has anything at all.
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Other parties
If Microsoft is truly unable to provide that many compelling first-party exclusives this year -- which is a very real possibility -- then it will need to add some extremely noteworthy heavy-hitters to Xbox Game Pass on day one in the back half of 2022. In the 2021 conference, all but two games featured were to be included in Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft needs to repeat that this year, and it would certainly help if many of those games are launching in 2022. Managing to net some of this fall’s big titles like Saints Row, Sonic Frontiers, Gotham Knights, or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to be on the service day one would make the lack of exclusives and first-party games would sting less for Xbox fans.
The worst-case scenario for Microsoft here is having no compelling AAA games launch day one on Xbox Game Pass this fall, first-party or not. It might be able to fall back on Xbox Game Studios Publishing, which has partnered with developers outside of Xbox Game Studios to create Xbox-exclusive titles. If Microsoft is not able to provide anything compelling for this year across the board, 2022 could be one of the most disappointing first-party years for Microsoft since 2017.
Gotham Knights would be a very compelling Xbox Game Pass title in 2022.
Whether it’s with secret first- and second-party exclusives or some compelling Xbox Game Pass deals, this is a very important showcase for Xbox. It has spent years acquiring studios to bolster its exclusive lineup but still doesn’t have much in the way of palpable results to show for it. In a tweet after Redfall and Starfield's delay, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer tweeted "These decisions are hard on teams making the games & our fans. While I fully support giving teams time to release these great games when they are ready, we hear the feedback. Delivering quality & consistency is expected, we will continue to work to better meet those expectations." 
While Microsoft having that mindset in the future is appreciated, it could come at a real cost of there not being that many compelling games on the system this year. And if it’s bad, the Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase will leave us questioning if we can ever expect consistent results from Xbox. As such, Xbox Game Studios and Bethesda both need to come out strong during this showcase with lots of games. Not just ones for years to come, but for 2022 as well. 

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