Reality Check: There's a Strong Chance We'll Have a PS4 and Xbox 720 A Year From Now

We talk to people. It's part of our job. And lately we're not hearing any big bombshells about the next generation of game consoles, but we're hearing the same buzz we've been hearing all year: the next generation of Xbox and PlayStation are right around the corner.

Microsoft and Sony have been privately talking up their new consoles, the ones that will succeed the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, throughout the year.

Game publishers and developers inside and outside of Microsoft and Sony are working on next-gen games for these machines. Some major game creators have what could be called development kits, though its unclear if that means proper dev kits or simply PCs running at the specs these new consoles are expected to run at.

This is all very vague, of course. It's not like us telling you the measurement of the Wii U touchscreen to the tenth of an inch a year and a half before the system was released. But it's more than you'll hear from Sony, Microsoft or any major game companies, none of whom will publicly admit that the next generation of two major game consoles is coming upon us at long last.

We think you might want to know, so you can budget accordingly.

The first-parties (MS and Sony) won't talk. The game creators won't dare get out in front of the first-parties, which may explain why a game like Metal Gear Solid V gets announced in such a weird way: no platforms announced, not even an official title... just the absence of the official title, a space sculpted so that the astute gamer can fill in the blanks. Go ahead, fill them in. (See also: the oddly-no-consoles-announced-but-this-can't-run-on-a-360-without-the-help-of-sorcery Star Wars 1313)

Earlier this year, we broke news of the codenames of both machines: Durango for the next Xbox; Orbis for the next PlayStation. We also reported that the next Xbox will run Blu-Rays, pack in Kinect 2 and may include some protection against used games. One persistent theory we hear is that one or both consoles might require an always-online connection, but put that a notch below our other reports; that's conjecture, not official word that's reaching my ears.

The vibe I get when I hear about Durango is that Microsoft is on the mark. Sony appears to inspire less confidence.

If you talk to people about the next-gen games at, oh, I don't know, a major gaming trade show or a major gaming awards show, the persistent impression given is that these new systems will be powerful. The old comparison I heard—and saw backed up by a solid report on IGN—was that the new Xbox would be eight times more powerful than the 360. That's old reporting, from earlier in the year. We've also heard that Durango is roughly as graphically capable as the second-most powerful PC on the market today, which, yes, is quite the indirect statement. The chatter we hear is that Durango and Orbis are close in power to each other or at least both in the same league past the current gen. Much may have changed since then and, as any Wii U owner can tell you, it's damn hard to assess how powerful a system is even when playing the first batch of games a developer made for it. (Or don't ask a Wii U user... ask an Xbox 360 user to compare 2005 360 launch games Kameo: Elements of Power or Perfect Dark Zero to 2012's Halo 4).

The vibe I get when I hear about Durango is that Microsoft is on the mark. Sony appears to inspire less confidence, though I've had a hard time nailing down why and discerning how much lost confidence is due to the on-and-off troubles of the PlayStation 3 and the struggles of the Vita vs. how much lost confidence is due to any problems looming for PS4. What I do know is that confidence is high that the next Xbox will be out in time for next Christmas. Confidence is less high that Sony will pull off the same feat, though they want to.

One more measure of how close we are to the next gen of PlayStation and Xbox is how much silence there is right now. From the first-parties, it's the same as it was before Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. But look somewhere else: the covers of Game Informer. That magazine traditionally announces the big games of the following year with exclusive cover reveal after exclusive cover reveal.

In 2011, the magazine revealed games that would almost all be released by early 2013, the majority by the end of 2012:

Reality Check: There's a Strong Chance We'll Have a PS4 and Xbox 720 A Year From Now

As of the end of 2012, the games promised on GI's 2012 covers will pretty much all be out by mid-2013. In other words, they're not giving us as far a look into gaming's future as they usually do. Any guesses why?

Reality Check: There's a Strong Chance We'll Have a PS4 and Xbox 720 A Year From Now

What does that suggest? Some will say it merely hides the fall's big 360/PS3 releases. After all, we didn't know about the massive fall 2012 releases of Black Ops II and Assassin's Creed III until a few months into 2012. The same could be happening here. After all, we don't know much about fall 2013's Call of Duty (Modern Warfare 4!) and Assassin's Creed yet.

The other theory is that there are fewer games for Game Informer to announce because there are fewer major games for next fall that can be announced in front of the consoles that will play them. A sound theory?

Consider a few more things as we move from reporting to speculation to some armchair analysis:

  • What does it look like if PS4 and Xbox 720 come out next holiday season? Sony and Microsoft have never launched consoles in the same year before. The one that went first did better than the one that came out next: PS2 in 2000; Xbox 360 in 2005. But is there room for both against a year-old Wii U, potential Valve-backed hardware and the generally-resurgent PC and the presumed iPad 5 and other tablets of Christmas 2013?
  • What happens if Sony slips to 2014?
  • Through all of this, what if the impressive console-market-leading momentum that the 360 has had for two years continues... and people don't feel the need for new consoles? What if game-makers feel the need to keep making games for the 360/PS3/WiiU standard not just through 2013 but into 2014 and 2015, too?

Save your money. Look for clues. Enjoy the games you have on the systems you have, of course. We'll keep you posted and hope that those who are in the know decide to stop clamming up. We'll keep you as well-informed about the future of gaming as we can.