It starts here: Next Xbox talk begins

Though we won’t know anything concrete for a long, long time to come, the very first roll of the dice on what will eventually become the next generation of console hardware seems to have been made.

reports that three Microsoft job listings on LinkedIn point to the very early stages of new hardware development.

The advertised roles Graphics Hardware Architect, Senior Architect and Performance Engineer for the Xbox Console Architecture Group and Senior Hardware Design Verification Engineer.

Here are some snippets from the ads:

"[The applicant must be] responsible for defining and delivering next-generation console architectures from conception through implementation."

"The responsibilities include architecture analysis, key technology selection, architecture specification, communication and collaboration with extended Microsoft teams and partner companies."

"The ideal candidate will have been the lead architect and/or implementation lead of a 3D graphics core. The candidate must have taken designs from investigation to end-customer shipment during their career."

"Our group is involved in product definition from early evaluation all the way through high volume manufacturing."

"We are looking for someone who is flexible, and wants to be involved with various stages of the product life cycle. During different stages of the product life cycle responsibilities will vary."

Going by historical patterns in the video games industry we would normally expect a new generation of machines to be arriving this year. However, gaming is a very different beast now – post global recession – than in was in the last decade.

Consumers’ hunger for expensive hardware upgrades is more uncertain than it once was, and with development costs for triple-A games already through the roof there’s a genuine logistical question of whether an increase in raw computing power can be utilised by studios in a cost effective manner.

Indeed, the arrival of peripherals like Kinect and Move was touted by platform holders as the beginning of a new console lifecycle. Some observers, however, are less convinced.

Indeed, the very viability of a new cycle altogether has been questioned by leading execs from both platform holders and publishers. Others have asserted, though, that the release of new dedicated gaming hardware is inevitable.

The question is, with new channels such as digital distribution rising to the fore, and new bite-size low-cost gaming formats like iOS vying for market share, is the console business still sustainable? Perhaps Microsoft will be the first to find out.

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