Analysis: When will next-gen consoles be announced?
15th Jan 2013 | 12:37
It's often said that a first impression is the most important one to make, and considering that Sony and Microsoft have spent hundreds of millions of dollars building their next generation systems, you can forgive both for taking extra time to ensure their reveals are handled as flawlessly as possible.
The waiting is nearly over. Industry chatter has near-unanimously turned to what happens across the next five months - there is a collective understanding that the next PlayStation and the next Xbox will be revealed in June at the very latest.
But it will very likely be much sooner. CVG has been told by development sources connected to both the PlayStation and Xbox businesses that, in fact, both systems will be announced before E3.
'When' and 'how' are now the most important questions. CVG has examined the historical trends in console announcements and, with input from industry insiders, offers a forecast on what to expect in the next five months.
How to announce a games console
And what previous techniques tell us about the next six months
1) The E3 teaser
Practiced by • Sony (PlayStation 3, 2005) • Nintendo (Wii, 2004 and 2005)
It may come as something of a surprise to learn that very few modern games consoles have been officially announced first at E3. The ear-thumping industry event tends to be the place to expand on console plans - usually in a two-hour presentation - as opposed to briefly disclosing them.
One exception would be the Wii, which was first hinted at during E3 2004, then revealed for the first time at E3 2005 and fully demonstrated at the same event in 2006. The other exception is PS3, which was announced as a silver console with a boomerang controller at E3 2005, then fully demonstrated twelve months later.
Both Microsoft and Sony, however, no longer have the luxury of spreading announcements across two E3 events. These systems are competing to be released before Christmas, and certainly before E3 2014, so expect an official announcement prior to this year's event.
2) The media leak / sudden press release
Practiced by • Sony (PS Vita, 2010) • Nintendo (Wii U, 2011) (3DS, 2010) (3DS XL, 2012)
In the pecking order of console reveals, the media leak is a platform holder's most feared and emotionally deflating. However, in the right hands it can generate an interest that some would say is even more effective than official media channels.
But not in Nintendo's case. Sony may have a garlanded reputation within media circles for its information leaks, but the house of Mario has in recent times performed even worse. The Wii U was leaked by a publishing executive to several media outlets in the same week (CVG being the first to reveal its touch-screen capabilities). In response, Nintendo published a letter to investors confirming that the rumours were true.
Such media handling has not always been Nintendo's forte. Last year, a insider tipped off Japan news site Nikkei about the 3DS XL. The paper revealed to the world that Nintendo was working on a new extra-large 3DS system, yet Nintendo suddenly implied the Nikkei story was not true, only to officially announce the system days later.
Most puzzling of all was the original 3DS announcement - an entirely new generation of console revealed via a brief press release. Though from the outside it seemed perplexingly low-key, rushed and mishandled, there appears to have been a logical explanation behind it. CVG understands that Sony was at the time developing prototype 3D technology for its PS Vita handheld, and when Nintendo discovered this, it decided to sacrifice flair and preparation to ensure it announced its own technology first.
With regards to the Next Xbox, further media leaks seem highly unlikely. As one insider revealed to us:
"When Microsoft wants to run a secret project, they divide it into tents, which are cross-discipline teams. The first you know of this is you're asked for a one-to-one webcam chat, where it's explained to you that it's pretty much Fight Club, and that you're not allowed to tell anyone that you've been talked to about "joining the tent".
"You sign a load of paperwork, and then afterwards they give you some indication of what the hell you'll be working on. The bit I find crazy is that you have to find time to work on the tent project yourself; your line manager isn't allowed to know what you're working on.
"Microsoft sends out a list of stock answers that you're allowed to give if your manager asks you where all your time is going, and a phone number to call if they don't believe you. If they call that, they'll get confirmation you're working on a project, but absolutely nothing more."
Meanwhile, Sony may consider itself lucky that there's such a great wash of unsubstantiated PS4 guesswork, because it means that credible information leaking out is being lost among the speculation.
PlayStation Orbis (it won't be called PS4) will be a PC-based console built upon a 'cloud-centric' service that cross-pollinates with PlayStation Mobile and PS Vita. It will not be backwards compatible and it might - but CVG isn't certain - block out used games. Whether other key details will be revealed prematurely is a matter for debate - CVG expects rumours to spiral out of control over the next few weeks, but the system will certainly be announced before production begins. Don't expect hardware mugshots to leak out from factories this time round.
Next page > GDC and mass media events
3) Special industry press event / GDC
Practiced by • Sony (PS2, 1999) (PS Vita, 2011) • Microsoft (Xbox, 2000)
Independent industry events have many advantages over E3 reveals, the most crucial is that they draw in the market's undivided attention. At E3 only a single company can be regarded as the 'winner', but at a one-off standalone event it's pretty hard to lose.
In January 2011, Sony held a special PlayStation Meeting event in Japan to officially announce its "next-generation portable" system, before revealing fuller details at E3 several months later. The event appeared to show that - when it comes to announcing new systems - even a press conference specifically catered for Japan has significant global reach.
Meanwhile, the Game Developers Conference has traditionally proven to be an useful location for a new console 'primer' announcement.
In March 2000, Bill Gates revealed the tech behind the first Xbox (essentially a soft console announcement) during a GDC keynote. A year earlier, Phil Harrison discussed new hardware tech (again, a soft PS2 announcement) during a keynote called The Future of Interactive Entertainment (watch it here)
Both companies issued press releases alongside the event to expand the announcement's reach.
Michael French, the editor-in-chief for industry publications Develop and MCV, says that Microsoft and Sony will both be openly discussing future technologies at GDC 2013 (March 25-29).
"It's likely because both Microsoft and Sony have to get developers on-side," he said.
"In 2005 Microsoft didn't announce the Xbox 360 at GDC, but they did discuss the 'HD era' in great depth. I remember they even gave out HD TVs to developers who attended the speaker session.
French said a similar forward-looking GDC keynote was made by Nintendo at GDC 2005, with the company discussing the Wii's processor tech.
"The reason why this is so important is it plants the seed in the wider development community about what tech the machines will use and how to get the most out of them.
"It wouldn't be a surprised if Microsoft or Sony completely focused their GDC talks on one aspect of the systems, like cloud technology. The consumer press materials will likely be saved for E3, but I expect some early information to be revealed at GDC."
The organisers of the Games Developers Conference often clarify that their event is about sharing information with developers, not promoting product, so full console reveals aren't even appropriate, let alone likely. However, product-focused events sometimes crop up alongside GDC and - while not directly affiliated with the event - there is a general expectation that more will occur in the years ahead.
4) Mass media blitz
Practiced by • Microsoft (Xbox 360, 2005)
It wasn't exactly gripping TV, but Microsoft nevertheless got hundreds of thousands of people to switch onto MTV on May 12th, 2005, so they could be the first to see its new console.
With a bizarre mix of meticulously edited taped footage, live audiences, Elijah Wood and bands of the moment, the Xbox 360 reveal on MTV was a clear attempt by Microsoft to attack the trendy PlayStation demographic. One week later, the Xbox 360 was on the cover of Time magazine along with Bill Gates, just a few days before the Microsoft E3 press conference where the full details of the business were explained.
Seven years hence, both TV and print media are less a prominent platform for building buzz and targeting younger demographics. However, as Nintendo recently demonstrated, interest from TV networks is hard to achieve, so partnerships such as MTV's with Xbox may not be so easily turned down.
Next page > Conclusion: CVG predicts next-gen reveal dates
When and how will next gen be announced?
Mixing both historical data with industry rumours, CVG predicts the reveal dates
It's most likely that Sony will announce the next PlayStation at a special one-off industry event that takes place in March during GDC week.
CVG understands that the new system will not be formally discussed at the Destination PlayStation event at the end of February, so it is likely that the reveal will take place some time afterwards. We understand that the first announcement will not be at E3 either, so we expect that - at the very least - PlayStation will showcase some of the new system's technologies (specifically cloud tech) during GDC.
CVG prediction: Special one-off industry event, March
There will be so few leaks over the next few weeks regarding the next Xbox, though we expect Microsoft will once again rely on a mass media blitz leading up to a full E3 conference with new key executive Phil Harrison spearheading the show.
Expect the console to be revealed on national television alongside an online live-stream with, undoubtedly, adverts peppered across social media. Because of the product-led nature of these announcements, expect the Xbox to be revealed for the first time late in May or early June.
It is also highly likely that some key aspect of its technology to be discussed at GDC in March.
CVG prediction: Select mass media events, late May, leading into E3, and tech discussions in March