The original Xbox launched in November 2001, with the Xbox 360 following just four years later, the shortest console cycle ever. The four-year anniversary of the 360 is five months away, but yesterday Microsoft proclaimed that "the future of home entertainment has a new name: Xbox 360." Huh.
It became remarkably clear today that Microsoft sees more than months left in the Xbox 360—more like years. Microsoft's big ballyhoo, its motion control Project Natal, won't even arrive until 2010. And likely deep into 2010—think next summer. The Zune Video Marketplace will deliver 1080p instant streams; you'll be able to download full retail games come August, cutting out the Gamestop middleman; Netflix integration is even deeper; and Facebook and Twitter are now wrapped in. Why would Microsoft do all this for a console progressing into obsolescence in the next year or two? It's not simply pumping out new games or features—they're growing and entrenching the current platform.
Sure, there's a incentive to extend this console cycle simply because of the high costs of development—the time and money that goes into producing a major game for the Xbox and PS3 easily approaches that of a (small) Hollywood film because of their enormous complexity. There's still returns to be made on this generation. So perhaps Sony wasn't so foolish for declaring that the PS3 is a ten-year console. The Wii is markedly cheaper, simpler and less powerful, so part of me suspects you will see a new console from Nintendo more quickly than from Microsoft and Sony.
But it's more than that, especially when you consider how Microsoft and Sony are extending the life of their machines—they're turning them into platforms beyond gaming consoles. Xbox Live's Marc Whitten remarked at the Xbox party tonight that a big part of the reason behind the New Xbox Experience was to build the framework for these features. It's interesting to think about the NXE as not simply the UI overhaul and stuff we reviewed a few months ago—it's everything after that. We are squarely in Xbox 360 2.0.
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