The next Xbox and the next PlayStation won't be released until 2014, if Microsoft and Sony have their way, industry sources tell Kotaku.
Both companies are hoping to wait out the current generation, and extending an already elongated console life-cycle despite clear signs that Nintendo will launch its next machine by the end of 2012.
"Both MS and Sony are telegraphing to each other that they're delaying, to milk the current [generation]and fill in previous craters better," one insider who has worked with the first-party companies like Sony and Microsoft told us.
Other sources with access to first-party companies, speaking to Kotaku anonymously because they aren't authorised to be talking about Microsoft and Sony's plans, said that they too are hearing that 2014 is the target date, though some believe 2013 could happen if either company feels pushed.
Our insider believes that any new Xbox in 2013 would only be a Kinect-upgraded 360, not the next-gen console that would come in 2014. That source says that Microsoft doesn't even know what parts will be in the next Xbox. They say the company's board "is wrestling with whether to be profitable on day one", as Nintendo's Wii was presumed to be, or to once again launch a new console at a loss, which is what Sony and Microsoft usually do.
A wait for a new Xbox or PlayStation until 2014 would make the Xbox 360 the lead Microsoft gaming console for nine years and the PlayStation 3 Sony's chief console for eight. That would be an unusually long time for successful game consoles to retain their importance.
Microsoft launched the original Xbox in 2001 but quickly replaced the machine, which was expensive for the company to make, with the Xbox 360 in 2005. A more traditional console life-cycle would have positioned the Xbox 360 as Microsoft's newest machine for five years, the length of time between the first two PlayStations, or six years, the gap between the Super Nintendo and the Nintendo 64.
"I think we'll see a game of chicken between Sony and Microsoft," industry analyst Billy Pidgeon of the firm M2 Research told Kotaku. "Sony definitely isn't launching a successor before 2014 and could stand to benefit by having Microsoft launch first as PS3 builds in to North America and builds a strong position in Europe. Microsoft claims there's a lot more room in Xbox 360 for developers to max out, but here PS3 could have a strong advantage."
"Both MS and Sony are telegraphing to each other that they're delaying."
Pigeon believes Sony, in particular, has every reason to keep this generation going, to capitalise on the slow-launching PS3 and to maximise the "headroom" still available to developers on the powerful system.
Saying his company is "laser-focused' on its current machines and next handheld, Sony PlayStation spokesperson Patrick Seybold declined to "comment on rumours or speculation" about the company's future platforms.
Microsoft did not comment for this story by press time.
The continued prominence of the current Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 through 2013 squares with plans from publisher THQ to launch the game Devil's Third as well as a title made in collaboration with movie director Guillermo Del Toro for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2013. It would also make likely that expected but unannounced games from other publishers, the next Grand Theft Auto, for example,
Former Xbox executive Shane Kim told the press in 2009 that Microsoft would support the Xbox 360 through 2015, and the launch late last year of the Kinect sensor compelled Microsoft officials to say that the new peripheral will help expand the 360's relevance for years to come.
Nintendo can show its Wii successor machine to external game developers, as it is doing now, without worrying that it'll be trumped by other new consoles when it launches in 2012.
The slow recovery of the North American economy will also continue to discourage Microsoft and Sony from releasing new machines. "I don't think either Sony or Microsoft are interested in a new console till they can advance the technology, and they certainly don't want to launch at a $US600 price point," analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities told Kotaku. "It may take till 2014 to get 2TB hard drives, uber fast CPUs and state-of-the art graphics and sell at $US400."
The upshot of this is that it allows Nintendo to show its Wii successor to external game developers, as it is doing now, and to press, as it plans to do this June, according to industry sources familiar with the project, without worrying that it'll be trumped by other consoles when it launches in 2012.
While the Wii has lagged behind the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in terms of graphical horsepower, its next machine should bring it at least up to the level of technical muscle as its competitors. Should be a hit, then, according to Pidgeon, all this dawdling could end. "If Nintendo does very well with the next console," he said, "Microsoft and Sony will quickly get a lot more serious about next generation."