New video-game consoles? Already?
Yes and no.
It looks as if we’ve got until at least 2020 before the successor to the Xbox One arrives, according to the latest rumours. That lines up nicely with many of the details shared publicly by Microsoft’s head of Xbox, Phil Spencer.
Between several reports from Brad Sams at Thurrott and Spencer’s statements, in addition to some new reporting from Windows Central, we have a surprisingly clear picture of Microsoft’s plans for the next Xbox consoles.
Here’s what we know so far:
1. Microsoft officially announced the next Xbox in June 2018, at its annual E3 briefing in Los Angeles.
In a surprise move, Spencer outright announced Microsoft’s work on the successor to the Xbox One.
“The same team that delivered unprecedented performance with Xbox One X is deep into architecting the next Xbox consoles,” he said on stage in Los Angeles on June 10, “where we will once again deliver on our commitment to set the benchmark for console gaming.”
Spencer offered more information during an interview with Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann the same week.
“Everybody knows what’s happening,” Spencer said, referring to Sony and Microsoft making new consoles. “It’s this kind of unsaid thing of like, ‘Well, they shipped Xbox One X. They didn’t lay off their whole hardware team. What do you think they’re doing?'”
He said the announcement was a means of easing potential concerns of longtime console buyers.
“It’s not tomorrow, but I didn’t want people to think that we’re walking away from that part of the brand and the business, because it’s really important to us,” Spencer said.
In terms of what that console (or consoles) will be, Spencer isn’t offering any major details just yet.
2. Microsoft has (at least) two Xbox consoles in the works.
Of note, Spencer said “consoles” on stage – as in, Microsoft is apparently working on more than one future Xbox One successor.
Rumours point to Microsoft creating two new consoles that coexist within the same generation: a smaller, less expensive Xbox potentially focused on streaming video games, and a larger, more traditional, more expensive Xbox that could power games locally (or stream them).
A Windows Central report says these consoles are codenamed “Lockhart” and “Anaconda,” respectively.
Notably, Microsoft doesn’t offer a streaming service for video games – but one is in the works.
“Our cloud engineers are building a game-streaming network to unlock console-quality gaming on any device,” Spencer said on stage in June. “Not only that, we are dedicated to perfecting your experience everywhere you want to play – on your Xbox, your PC, or your phone.”
He was echoing previous sentiments, but it’s the most definitive testament to Microsoft’s plans for the future of gaming.
“There are 2 billion people who play video games on the planet today. We’re not going to sell 2 billion consoles,” Spencer told me in an interview following his presentation.
“Many of those people don’t own a television. Many have never owned a PC. For many people on the planet, the phone is their compute device,” he said. “It’s really about reaching a customer wherever they are, on the devices that they have.”
That said, logic dictates that the ability to stream “console-quality gaming on any device” depends on some pretty major upgrades to internet speeds around the world. It also faces hurdles like the uncertain future of net-neutrality laws and consumer internet data caps.
Microsoft’s answer to those potential problems is the Azure cloud platform, an infrastructure that few other companies have.
“Fifty data centres in different parts of the planet? Billions of dollars of investment in building that out? It allows us to accelerate our growth in this space,” Spencer told me.
In October, Microsoft officially unveiled its ambitious streaming service– it’s currently known as “Project xCloud,” and it’s unclear when the service will light up.
3. The new Xbox consoles are rumoured to launch in 2020.
It looks as if the two new Xbox consoles will arrive in 2020 – just in time for the return of the XFL!
That’s according to Sams, who reported in July that the low-powered, streaming-focused box was “further along in the development cycle than the traditional console that will also be released in 2020.”
Microsoft has not provided an official release window for its next console, but 2020 is a reasonable assumption based on the past. Home video-game consoles tend to exist on a five- to 10-year life cycle, and 2020 is seven years out from the Xbox One’s announcement and launch in 2013.
4. The working codename is reportedly “Scarlett.”
When the Xbox One was in development, it was codenamed “Durango” (and, occasionally “Kryptos”).
In the case of the new Xbox consoles, according to Sams, the codename is “Scarlett.”
What that means is anyone’s guess.
But “Scarlett” is allegedly the name of the overall project: “Lockhart” and “Anaconda” are said to be the codenames for the two versions of the next Xbox consoles. The more powerful of the two is said to be codenamed “Anaconda,” of course.
5. A bunch of new games are in the works from new studios Microsoft bought.
If there’s one thing Microsoft is lacking, it’s major first-party game franchises. Even if such franchises existed, Microsoft owns only so many studios capable of producing blockbuster games.
“Halo” and “Forza” and “Gears of War” are all important franchises – to say nothing of “Minecraft,” still one of the biggest games on the planet. Except for “Minecraft,” many of these are suffering from franchise fatigue.
Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Nintendo’s Switch, meanwhile, are getting huge first-party games – games that can be played only on their respective consoles – like “God of War” and “Super Mario Odyssey” that reinvented staid franchises.
And that’s why Microsoft bought five game studios.
“We know that we want to create new franchises,” Spencer told me in June. “We really thought we needed five or six new teams and products that we really believed in.”
Spencer announced the quintet of studio purchases on stage in June as part of the company’s presentation outlining the future of Xbox.
“We are committed to building an industry-leading first-party studios organisation,” Spencer said on stage. “And we are making one of our greatest single-year investments in teams by adding five new creative studios.”
Why not buy one big publisher, like EA or Activision, with a bunch of major game franchises? It’s complicated, but here’s Spencer’s answer: “I couldn’t find a collection out there in one entity to do it.”
Later in 2018, Microsoft announced the acquisition of two more studios: Obisidian Entertainment and Inxile Entertainment. That brings the grand total up to seven new studios under Microsoft’s gaming umbrella.