OPINION: Xbox absence tells us nothing about next-gen

If you’re from this part of the industry – and pretty much almost everyone at GDC last week was or had been at some point in their life – the most asked and unanswered question of the show was around next-gen consoles.

While Sony was there and shared somemore detail about PS4, the biggest questions were around Microsoft.

WindowsandWindows Phonehad a presence at the show, but let’s be honest – no one in games really cares that much about them in comparison to the next Xbox.

And the next Xbox, still presumed to be out by the end of the year, is still to be unveiled. By missing the last big developer event before launch, a frustrated contingent say the firm is losing ‘share’ in the face of Sony’s activity.

Or rather: a frustrated media, it seems.

I asked a number senior people running well-known studios point blank about the next Xbox and I alluded to it in conversation with pretty much everyone else. On the record, no one is saying anything. You might get a polite smile. The message is clear: the NDAs have been signed at the highest level. This next-gen discussion doesn’t start until Microsoft’s lawyers say so.

As for what the media thinks? The truth is that impatient journalists (like myself) will cover it when Microsoft is ready to talk.

I think the suspicion that there’s some internal disarray at Xbox might be right. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that the firm may have not wanted to spend on a costly trade show presence and reveal before the close of its current quarter on March 31st. It could even be hastily changing or beefing up plans as a reaction to sudden changes in the market around which ever villain you want to pick, F2P, pre-owned, DRM, etc.

"The message is clear: the NDAs have
been signed at the highest level. This
next-gen discussion doesn’t start until
Microsoft’s lawyers say so."

The real question is – if Microsoft really has briefed people, has it spoken to the right people? Sony and Nintendo have gone after the indie dollar. My discussions with F2P and online firms suggested they knew less about the Xbox, if anything. The console developers know the most, but arguable that group matters the least these days.

So Microsoft’s mistake may be the very thing everyone criticising it for missing GDC said it needed to be doing: preaching to the converted.

In that sense it is true that Xbox needs to be investing in the progressive future of the games industry that walked the halls and held the stages of the Moscone Center, not just talking to its best friends that often dispatch just a handful of staff to GDC each year.

Last week’s show was more inclusive than ever, busier than ever, and the most diverse yet. New formats and technologies are popping up overnight – some of them won’t be in business come GDC 14.

For next-gen consoles, momentum appears to be suggesting that unless a more progressive platform-holder emerges after these months of silence and turmoil, they might awaken too late to find the industry changed around them. And by then it’ll be too late.

First published as part of a GDC 2013 Roundup on sister-site Develop

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