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I’ll start with the most obvious first, and that is sales, neither the Xbox360 nor PS3 are in trouble right now. Quite the opposite in fact; the Xbox360 has been the top selling console (worldwide) for the past two years running and the PS3 is closing the gap with every passing month. Now, think of what this means when looking ahead to new consoles and ask yourself this question: Why would Microsoft or Sony launch a new system when their current ones are selling extremely well? Short answer is, they wouldn’t and the long answer requires a little more information.
Both MS and Sony started this generation selling their consoles at a huge financial loss. It’s extremely hard (impossible actually) to find exact numbers but you can make a fairly accurate estimate that it was costing Sony over $800 to manufacture the launch model PS3s which meant a loss on every sale of at least $200. For Microsoft it wasn’t as bad with estimates for the production cost of their launch systems at around $700, meaning a loss of at least $100 per sale and the red ring epidemic cost them over $1 billion in addition to those losses. Sony’s gaming division reported an operating loss of over $1.9 billion in March of 2007. Both Microsoft and Sony haven suffered immense financial losses to get their consoles to the state they’re in now and it has taken them several years into the life cycle of those systems to get them to that point. It’s in their interest to keep selling more PS3’s and 360’s, not release an entirely new platform. Both companies have felt the sting from launching their current consoles too early, and it’s not a mistake either are going to risk making twice.
I want to move away from hardware and sales talk now and go over some other reasons why it just doesn’t make sense for new consoles to come out in 2012. The most important one being the online integration and (more importantly) online capabilities of the PS3 and 360, I must emphasize that I’m not just talking about playing games online here, which is of course a large part of the justification for those services. There are currently over 35 million XboxLive users and over 60 Million PlaystationNetwork accounts (which does include free accounts and spans all systems), in both cases that means that over 50% of the current console install base for both platforms uses one aspect of that service. I think it’s fairly safe to assume that if someone is only using one aspect of the service, said aspect is playing games with other people over the internet but you cannot simply ignore the presence that downloadable games have on each system. Now it’s also very important that you remember that the original XboxLive service did not transfer to the 360 when it launched, you could transfer and use your old profile, but it essentially deleted it from the old system and until April of last year there were two separate services in place for each system.
People will want to continue to shoot dudes online, you can always count on that.
This simply cannot happen when the new consoles launch, I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to ensure that XboxLive and PSN span two systems supporting both the old and new users simultaneously. After all, it can’t be that easy to do otherwise the Xbox360 wouldn’t have had this issue. Now you might be thinking why does this matter, why not just have two systems run at the same time? Well it’s very simple for a couple of reasons in particular. First, running two systems would cost a lot more money than just maintaining one and split the focus of each. Second, I doubt there are many people out there that will start using their old 360s or PS3s as door stops the minute they purchase their Xbox ”insert number here” or Playstation 4 and online play will be a huge factor in this. Not everyone who plays on XboxLive or PSN is going to pick up a new system straight away, but they will want to continue playing their Call of Duty online with their friends who also didn’t rush out to buy the new console.
More importantly though, this is just as true for the people that purchase the Playstation 4 and new Xbox. However, they will also want to play online with those systems too, but with games that obviously aren’t on the PS3 nor the 360 and this is why XboxLive and PSN must span both systems seamlessly when they launch. It’s already a hassle for some people handling both an XBL and PSN account, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to handle two accounts for each system at the same time. Achievements and Trophies also must be considered here and be seamless across both systems, a large part of the appeal for these services is about your online identification and having a large history of your gaming achievements is crucial to that for a lot of people.
I don’t expect you to just take my word for this though, some very prolific developers have been pretty upfront regarding their contentment with what the 360 and PS3 currently offer in terms of hardware capability. In February of 2011 Ken Levine was very concise when he spoke on the matter stating "At this point I have no desire as a developer and zero desire as a gamer to see the next generation come out where I'm sitting right now," which is something that probably rings true for a lot of other people as well. From a gameplay standpoint, there certainly are people who are ready for new consoles; John Carmack made some very interesting points at last year’s QuakeCon regarding PC performance in contrast to consoles and why Rage was altered significantly due to the console hardware.
When Danny Bilson of THQ was asked about the prospect of new consoles being released within the next three years he simply said "It would be horrible," and went on further to say "It still costs us a fortune to make games on this platform. If they're going to up the scale, up the art, up the content, I don't know how to make that and sell it to anybody for under $100 a game”. I think I can safely assume nobody out there wants to start paying $100 for a game and it’s not like the limitations of consoles is a recent discovery. You can go back as far as Devil May Cry 4 on the PC to see the gameplay limitations of the Xbox360 and PS3, which leads me to my next point. Yes, there are plenty of people out there with PC’s that make the current consoles look extremely inferior in comparison but they’re not the majority. The majority of people out there are very content with what the PS3 and Xbox360 offer them and that is one of the most important factors that will need to change in order for new consoles to be in demand.