With Nintendo getting set to launch the powerful new Wii U in 2012, gamers have been left wondering when Microsoft and Sony might be ready to show off their next game platforms.
As I pointed out in a series exploring the next generation of home console hardware earlier this year (which predicted that Nintendo would deliver its next console no later than holiday season 2012), Microsoft and Sony aren't in a huge hurry to move into the next generation. Both manufacturers are currently enjoying strong sales of profitable hardware, and their massive base of installed systems -- more than 100 million, combined -- is helping them reap valuable licensing revenues from third-party software.
That said, it's safe to say that they won't want to let Nintendo rule the top-spec hardware roost for long. In the same series mentioned above, I forecasted that Microsoft and Sony would likely launch their new consoles near the end of 2013, and it looks like that may be coming true, too.
A pair of online articles from Develop, a magazine focused on the game development industry, suggest that Sony and Microsoft both have preliminary versions of next-generation hardware, and that some studios may already be in the process of developing software for these systems.
The magazine recently reported that "Multiple sources across the industry, from processor chip manufacturers to middleware firms, have told Develop they expect the [next generation Xbox] to be fully unveiled at E3 2013, months before its release," adding that it will likely launch during the holiday season of that year.
This claim is backed up by a widely reported rumour that Electronic Arts was in possession of a working version of Microsoft's next game machine in May. It was quickly and vehemently denied by the publisher, but that means little, since EA would likely be under contractual obligation with Microsoft to keep any new hardware a secret.
More recently, several Microsoft employees apparently posted to -- and later removed from -- their LinkedIn profiles that they had experience working with Microsoft's next generation hardware.
Develop also suggested that Microsoft rival Sony is well along the path to PlayStation 4, and that the Japanese company's internal studios have already begun development work on next generation titles.
The articles states that "A trusted source connected to the matter has told Develop that various [PlayStation 4] game projects are at very early stages, though didn't reveal which of Sony's sixteen first-party studios had been delegated the work." It goes on to say that industry insiders suspect Sony's new machine wouldn't be ready to launch until 2014.
If Develop's sources are to be trusted, Sony's new console will be last to launch this generation, coming eight years after the release of PlayStation 3. While being the latecomer has its challenges, it can also prove advantageous, potentially providing manufacturers the chance to roll out higher powered hardware at a lower cost as well as tweak firmware features to be more competitive with systems already on the market.
While the next few years promise exciting times for living room gamers, we ought not forget that we've entered the golden age of the current consoles. All three platforms have vast libraries of cheap older games plus new titles made by developers who are intimately familiar with and capable of exploiting the potential of these systems.
I can hardly wait for the future of console gaming, but there's no denying that the present is pretty awesome.