The long silence: why Microsoft needs to reveal its next Xbox, and quickly

Patrick Bach, executive producer, DICE
Can you talk about the two next-gen consoles?
“No.”

Amid a torrent of damaging rumour and speculation around its next console, someone, somewhere at Microsoft is calm. They insist that they won’t be rushed into revealing their plans for 360’s successor; that it’s all under control. We’ll show it off when we’re ready, they say. Having their hand forced by Sony’s PS4 event would be a sign of weakness. It’s good to keep people waiting. It builds anticipation.

They’re wrong. The messaging that Microsoft usually seeks to control so tightly has taken on a life of its own in the last few months. Instead, our next Xbox story and a multitude of leaks and sources reported across the games media have filled that void – and the picture being built of the next Xbox in the minds of the games-playing public is a poisonous one.

Jade Raymond, managing director, Ubisoft Toronto
Do you think Microsoft need to get a move on and confirm their next console?
“Are they working on a new console?” [laughs]
This silence… is it frustrating?
“It’s funny because you know the last generation we were working on Assassin’s Creed 1 and I remember we were talking about it like three years before we got the consoles and everything. So I guess it’s a different approach this time, but in some ways it’s good because in games we’re always excited by the next tech. There’s still a lot of innovation happening on the current consoles and there’s a lot of innovation happening on different platforms, so it’s nice we’ve had a bit more time to focus on stuff that’s still coming out on the platforms that we currently have.”

What is the next Xbox? It’s a restrictive, always-on console bloated with DRM and flooded with ads. It doesn’t want you to play second-hand games on it. It’ll break the moment your internet connection has the slightest wobble. It’ll be a trojan horse – designed to seduce the games playing public into buying one before taking over their living rooms, pushing videogames into the background in favour of gaudy mainstream entertainment.

The truth? 360’s successor will be Microsoft’s own connected entertainment hub – in and of itself, that’s no bad thing. Microsoft will never completely abandon the core games-playing audience it has built its Xbox business upon; the next console will be powerful, and play host to excellent, big-budget blockbuster releases. Its online services will mark a more aggressive push into the broader entertainment market. The next Xbox will be a formidable piece of hardware, and a worthy competitor to Sony’s PS4.

Suda 51, CEO, Grasshopper Manufacture
Will your next game be on next-gen consoles?
“We’re considering both. Naturally we are interested in developing games for the next-gen platforms. We are investigating the specs and all that right now.”
How much do you know about next-gen? We all know that these consoles are coming, but no-one seems able to talk about them.
“I’m not really sure how much I can talk about that. I do know certain information about it but I am under NDA so I can’t say exactly what it is.”

The comments threads underneath each and every rumour story about the next Xbox suggest that vocal, influential core games players don’t have any intention of buying it. The Xbox brand has, to date, mostly escaped being tainted by the idea that Microsoft is a heartless bureaucratic monolith, but that is changing. Microsoft is becoming the bad guy, prompting angry YouTube clowns to film themselves smashing their 360s in a rage over Xbox’s ‘always on’ future. The longer this silence is maintained, the more poisonous these perceptions become. Rumours somehow become facts, opinions become ingrained and increasingly difficult to overturn. Nobody at Microsoft can step up to correct people and defuse the situation, because any comment about its next console will act as confirmation that it exists.

We’re getting ever closer to something tangible, though. Last week, Microsoft creative director Adam Orth questioned all the fuss over always-on consoles on Twitter. He quickly regretted it. Xbox Live mouthpiece Major Nelson later issued an apology written in the vaguest possible terms – this was, remember, an apology for an opinion on a feature of a console which doesn’t exist, according to Microsoft. Today, Microsoft has dedicated all of its TV resources to Xbox – and has spoken openly about the future of entertainment, not just videogames, through Xbox. What it said fits perfectly into the picture we all have of the new console – except that console hasn’t been officially confirmed yet.

Hugues Ricour, managing director, Ubisoft Singapore
Is it frustrating as a developer to be working on a title for the next Xbox, but unable to talk about it?
“I’m not sure we’re working on anything of that sort. So right now the only official game that has been announced is on a Sony platform.”

Meanwhile, Sony is building a narrative around PS4 which suggests it is everything the next Xbox isn’t. It is games-first, easy to develop for, indie-friendly and connected – but in a good way. It is increasingly significant when high profile indies like Jonathan Blow side with Sony, taking a swipe at Microsoft’s business practices in doing so. Independent games development is a vital part of the future – if not the future – of this industry. In chasing its broader entertainment dream, will Microsoft scale back its support of indie games development? The indie presence on XBLA right now suggests it could.

Marcin Iwinski, co-founder and joint CEO, CD Projekt
The Witcher 3 has been confirmed for PS4 and PC, but we’ve got a situation where no-one’s allowed to talk about what Microsoft’s doing next…
“Do we? Is there something coming? [laughs]”
I assume you’ve signed NDAs and so on – is it frustrating that you can’t talk openly about this?
“We’ve signed NDAs so we can’t talk about the NDAs! [laughs].”
We ran a story in February saying the next Xbox was always on, always connected and might not play secondhand games. Does that affect development of The Witcher 3 at all?
“Obviously we haven’t shared anything we know, and I have no knowledge of anything like that… we’ll wait and see and as it is with every platform it’ll be [revealed] step by step, bit by bit. Definitely what is happening – and again we don’t have any confirmed information on it – but it all goes this way: it’s the digital revolution. More downloads and streaming.”

One has to wonder how long Microsoft is going to allow this to continue. The latest of many rumours suggests it’ll be at least another month; another month of escalating negativity, another month of leaks, another month of awkward interviews with game developers skilfully dodging questions under NDA.

Another month in which editorials like this will be written by increasingly frustrated journalists who just want this ludicrous shadow-chasing to stop. The next Xbox exists, and it’s not the disaster the internet thinks it is – Microsoft just needs to show it to us to make all this go away.

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