Some very strange pronouncements from Microsoft

Ivory Tower

I have predicted in the past that eventually Microsoft’s Xbox/Live/Zune business would grow to become bigger than their PC business. If you look at the trends over the last two years this looks to be eventually inevitable, Microsoft have been amazingly successful with this generation of home game consoles. But there is a caveat, they are being extraordinarily unsuccessful with Zune and with Smartphones (which should be the same thing) which shows that they don’t get everything right.

Against this background Microsoft have made two pronouncements in recent days that are very strange indeed and which have got me a little worried.

Microsoft’s Xbox group product manager Aaron Greenberg was at CES, which was a 3Dfest, he said: “We’re unsure what level of interest there is from consumers to really want a 3D experience in the living room. Many, many years from now when it becomes a reality, we absolutely can support it.” and “there’s a lot of challenges about 3D in the living room. I don’t know about you, but when I play games or watch TV, I’ve got my phone, I’ve got all kinds of things going on. I get up, I get down, I’m looking outside at the weather and it’s…I’m not in a dark theater, wearing glasses, staring at a screen. I think it’s just a different environment.”

Compare and contrast that with Howard Stringer of Sony, who said: “We intend to take the lead in 3D. We are the only company fully immersed in every part of the 3D value chain”.

So who is right? Having experienced 3D gaming myself and looking at the way that all the world’s electronic companies are moving over to 3D I think I will side with Mr Stringer on this one.

The second worrying pronouncement comes from David Hufford, senior director of Xbox product management, who was also at CES. He told the Guardian: “There is no need to launch a new console, because we’re able to give this console new life either with software upgrades or hardware upgrades like Project Natal. The Xbox 360 was designed for a long life, and I don’t even know if we’re at the midpoint yet.

This is in total denial of the beating heart of game platform history, Moore’s Law. This says that the number of transistors that can be put on a chip doubles every two years. So, for a given price, a game console can double in power every two years. This is why we have generations of consoles, normally every 5 or 6 years. The Xbox 360 was launched at E3 2005, so already a successor would be over 4 times more powerful. And this is very easy to do, the architecture of the Xbox 360 is such that it can very easily be scaled up with more powerful CPU and GPU whilst remaining backwards compatible.

So what is happening here? Do Microsoft really think that Natal is a substitute for a shiny powerful new console? There are tens of millions of consumers out there who want the latest, best, most powerful toy. And they are prepared to pay for it. So whoever delivers will take their money.

What seem to be happening here is that Microsoft are looking at their competitors instead of looking at the market. Nintendo are still half a generation behind with their hardware and a full generation behind with their online offerings. Sony are battered and bruised by losses, especially from their Playstation division, and so are in no fit state to launch a new console just yet. So against these competitors Microsoft can relax. But if Apple were to announce their state of the art home console then Microsoft could find themselves suddenly on their back foot.

Personally I hope that both these statements were bluff. That Microsoft have both coherent 3D plans and a new game console on the drawing board. If not the chances are that at least one of these will catch them out.


  1. “So who is right?”

    Neither are “right”, nor are either of them wrong. The challenge lies in which of them can make the general population “think” they are right. Right now, anyone on the 3D bandwagon has an advantage as the marketing push is there.

  2. Microsoft is not a leader and it has had some successes at catching up to the leaders. Right now it sees the difficulty its competitors are having and it is not willing to risk losing money. Instead it will let the other companies figure out what works and then they’ll try and use their money to catch up.

  3. Sonys 3d tech is worse and have more limitations then Samsungs and other companies. Samsungs C9000 can convert any 360 game to 3D without glasses. Sony’s tech still needs a glass. So MS no need to worry. They will have 3d on 360 and next xbox.

    Next xbox is in a final design stage and it is a beast. AMD&Microsoft&parthers are cooking a surprise for Sony for allready about 4 years. Sony can go bankrupt to catch them. next xbox will be in 2011.

  4. And yes current xbox will surprise you soon with its power. there is no so many time left to see that. all 360 dev community has something to show. sony know that and spreads lie propaganda all over the net.

  5. I dunno, I get the impression that Sony and MS have conciously or sub-conciously come to a “gentlemens agreement (the same way the big three car manaufacturers have in Germany with regards to new specs on their cars)” with regards to releasing a new console until at least the end of 2012.

    If our houses were still worth a million pounds each etc. and the economy hadn’t gone tits-up, I believe MS would have already been out of the gate turning the hype machine toward the xbox 720 etc. rather than the Natal. I believe the recession has saved Sonys bacon frankly, and they now have an opportunity to make good on all those promises they have made with the PS3, although further delays on GT5 (which was supposed to be a release game remember – 5yrs in dev hell now?) are not good.

    The devs are all probably happy with the situation. After some massive restructuring and finally getting to grips with the machines (especially the PS3) they can string this gen out and make a bit more easy dough.

    With regards to the smart phones market, MS screwed up big time when they didnt take the iphone and itunes seriously when it first rose to power. The original Zune release was just ridiculous. I forsee MS doing what they usually do: Buy a fair to middling established competitor in the industry, then throw its reserves of cash and a marketing juggernaut behind it.

  6. Reminds me of the HD-DVD drive add on for the 360 compared with the already included Blu-ray drive for the PS3

    I think Microsoft should just jump on – nobody seems to give a **** that Microsoft’s achievements had been around for ages when Sony implemented trophies.. they just use them because its a good idea.

    “I don’t know about you, but when I play games..” So, this was his *personal* decision?

    I saw an advert on TV for Avatar a few days ago (well, im in Uruguay right now) and I realised how different it was from the 3d cinematic experience – and not necessarily in a bad way. I havent given much consideration to 3d technology and which I prefer, but I think that at the moment, games are one of the best – and most practical – candidates for being rendered in 3d.

    Anyway the point is, im disappointed with Microsoft and I think that they should learn from the blu-ray/hd-dvd thing. I think that they could have totally outdone Sony had they included an HD-DVD or Blu-ray drive on the 360 – as it is, I know of many people who have bought a PS3 because they were looking to get a blu-ray playr anyway.

    Microsoft still has exclusive rights to the Halo franchise which make 3d, motion capture, feedback and other technology largely irrelevant for me. Along the lines of brussel sprouts are good for you (supposedly) but I hate the taste, so nature’s goodness is wasted.

  7. I was at CES and I spoke with a lot of people about 3d gaming, every one had the same comment that there was no way they wanted to wear glasses while gaming or even watching tv. For the record Samsung had the best, Sony and Toshiba had the worst. The flicker was so bad that 5 minutes and everyone got a headache.

  8. This is a very good article. Just a few things I have to point out. I agree MS comments seem very strange. In fact I think the reason Mr Hufford says “he doesn’t think they are halfway” is because in reality they don’t have a clue when Sony plan to make another console.

    Natal itself will be just like Wii at the end of the day. The gimmicky controls will be forced as if the developers are just using them because they are there. And games will be made easier. The reason is motion controls simply aren’t developed enough to make truly hardcore games. This is because of how it reacts to the movement. The response is much too slow. If games were as hard as they are on 360 it would be an unfair challenge.

    There is however one benefit that MS can gain. If they release a redesigned 360 (sort of like a slim) then they could have a very good chance to fix what put me off 360 in the first place. The massive failure rates. Another factor they have is what other exclusive third party games could Sony take before Natal arrives. If dead or alive 5 is on both I’m afraid I have not one single reason left to own a 360.

  9. “But if Apple were to announce their state of the art home console ”

    I’m sorry Mr Bruce but Apple hates… sorry HATES videogames. History of Apple proves that.

  10. Wow I don’t even know if you deserve a reply Putin.

    You just spued more propoganda then I have ever seen out of Sony or maybe even Microsoft who are pretty much King of the Castle for that.

    Do you have any proof for even one word you said??

  11. @PocketAces11
    What fanboy rubbish.
    The proof for the quotes in the article are there if you click the links through to their original source.
    As for my analysis, well it is precisely that. You can’t prove analysis, just see if subsequent events prove you right or not.
    However if you go and read the 700+ articles on here you will see that they have mostly turned out to be on the money.
    What is your track record on writing analytical articles about this industry?

  12. Why would Microsoft want to take the lead in 3D? I think it’s far safer to let Sony crash and burn on this one. Microsoft doesn’t make HDTV’s so they have less interest in it becoming the way to view and play. They can easily update their consoles and add the function to the PC.

    As for the lifespan of course they are going to say it’s still got lots of life to it. Sony and Nintendo have said the same thing. What do you expect Microsoft to say, that the Xbox 360 is nearing its end so buy one quick?

    Besides, it’s not really up to Microsoft or Nintendo or Sony to say anyways. The software support can easily change thus forcing them to move on. Sony has had the luxury of the PS2 being so popular so they just assume the same thing is gonna happen with the PS3. Trouble is the competition is now right on their heels so it’s not so cut and dry as Sony makes it seem with their 10 year plan.

    I don’t think any of the three want to move on quickly anyways with the economy and the expense of making games. Do they really want publishers to start all over right now on new hardware?

    Anyways I’ll just continue to enjoy the ride. Games like Mario Galaxy 2 will prove we don’t need to move too quickly. Same with the new Zelda, Halo Reach, Alan Wake, God of War 3 and Gran Turismo 5. There’s plenty of great games coming.

    I think it’s a shame how we move on just when developers are getting comfortable with the hardware. Once they tapped out the power they can then focus more on creativity.

  13. What makes you think the life of this generation of consoles will be exactly the same as the last? No generation of consoles before this has had firmware updates (unless the original Xbox did?). Plus not very many developers can afford to develop next gen game as it is, let alone for a PS4 or Xbox720. Games don’t make themselves… the more polys a console can push the larger the development team it takes to make a game.

  14. @nate-dog7

    I don’t think that the relationship between the number of polys and team size is a simple as that. Middleware and graphics libraries can do a lot of the work.

  15. Wow Bruce you’re quite the pompons @..

    Next time maybe read my comments before you reply to me.

    I will say I should have put @ Mr Putin at the start of my coment but I did say putin at the end of my 1st sentence.

    So no my comments were not about the article I actually liked it don’t know if I’ll come back here though I’m not big on arrogance.

  16. Err, I think PocketAces11 was talking to Mr.Putin, not you, Bruce. :S

  17. Lets face facts & not bs our selves because both microsoft & nintendo both had opportunity after opportunity to capitalize on their own sucess but failed to capitalize on their own sucess allowing sony to catch up & capitalize on their mistakes in the first place.Right now sony’s in their comfort zone & has firm grip on the gaming industry currently.Am i the only one has seen a pattern at every conference with microsoft & nintendo’s attitude changing towards sony or it just me that noticed they went from cool,calm & collective to more serious,defensive & nervous.

  18. @ eldik
    There I identified like I should have in my original post.

    Yes you’re right eldik cause iPhone has no games and was never advertised to support them.

    They like what makes them profitable and I’m sure they would like nothing else but to see Microsoft fail and if they can help with that which I think they can in this case they will jump at the oportunity.

  19. “Samsungs C9000 can convert any 360 game to 3D without glasses”

    Wow! Please do explain Mr Putin. That’s quite the technological break through you’ve got there! I mean, no glasses what so ever? Do you even know how stereoscopic vision works at all?


  20. mr. putin what planet are you living on?Ms can’t launch another console unless everyone else is going to launch a new system the ps3 has alot of head room left especially since its cpu based which also means that its no where near its max.360 needs natal relaseing another console next year or the year after means they lost this gen, they dont want o give up that easy. backwards compatiablity isnt in MS plans. they need to push a new system and there name isnt a big as the playstation brand. so theere next system will be the end of the 360just like with xbox. so it sounds like agood idea. but there was no 10 yr plan with the 360 and now they are trying to change to that, you see the problems. technology has surpassed the 360 already. you could possibly see a 360 type wii from nintendo before you see MS abandon a sinking ship. sony will play there cards right to kill of MS next gen buy coming earlyand eating cost. Idont know how well you guys know business but sony isnt broke by anymeans or in trouble of going out of business. they just are super rich like MS. sony is a more spread out company electronically. oh yeah Mr. putin report from ces are that the 360 games that you up convert arent really 3d and will have you puking. its not a upconvert to 3d it just runs the game at 480 htz which gives you motion sickness after 30 seconds . comeback to reality. even sony’s games will have to be patched.

    Mr putin this is electronics and sony does that better than every one else i know you like live alot but that is only a software program. hell you need the hardware to use the software, hardware can be updated but its super expensive (aka a new console) but software can be changed on the whim. sony could easily use the live system its a software change but i think there way is better free net and the abiltiy to pay to upgrade over wifi cant beat that. so once natal sells to its hardcore fans and it flops like 3rd parties on the wii (when will these companies learn). what will they do then? still cant announce another system because youjust release a periphial so its almost like they are giving people the go ahead to purchase the ps4 if it comes first. why would you buy a 360 then natal the xbox 720 dont be surprised if sony doesnt use natal’s success/failure to there advantage for the next gen.

  21. Cool article Bruce. I believe Microsoft’s next console is being worked on, and has been, for quite a while. It would be a stupid idea to not get a head start knowing that Sony is biting on their heels.

    I believe that when he says, “We’re not even halfway through the 360’s life span,” he means that even after the next Xbox launches, the 360 will still have legs to keep going.

  22. I’m siding with MS on the 3D issue. Right now 3D looks like an attempt to generate sales for TV’s. While 3D sounds exciting, maintaining a pair of 3D glasses is going to very aggravating. As far as Apple is concerned, MS really shouldn’t worry about Apple joining the console game, because consoles are completely contrary to Apple’s business philosophy. Apple builds premium products and charges a premium price. Not only is Apple unwilling to take a loss on a product in the hopes of making it up elsewhere, but Apple is also unwilling to make a sale without large margins.

  23. First of all on your first issue of 3d gaming that would depend more on T.V. makers and less on console developers which would mean sony would have more interest since they make TVs and microsoft does not

    Second both companys have stated a longer hardware cycle this generation mainly in part to the economy secondly to how much money sony has lost on the ps3 yeah sony is a giant company but it runs each division as a separate entity with profits separate within each division

  24. @keysy420
    You’re wrong, consoles are not an electronics business. Consoles are a software business, and MS does software better than anyone. You can argue that hardware is necessary to run software, but it’s actually more accurate to say that software drives hardware. Without software, hardware just sits there and collects dust. Furthermore software may be easier to deploy, but it is substantially more difficult and more expensive to develop than hardware. If you think hardware is what’s really driving technology then you’ve been stuck for the last 20 years. Look around you, Google, Natal, Flash, Silverlight, Facebook, Youtube, hell even the internet are all driven by software. Nobody talks about what type of hardware runs Google’s server, because nobody cares. Nobody but fan boys talk about the innards of the PS3, because at the end of the day it’s the games that matter. Good hardware may be necessary, but the real innovation in technology is happening in software, and everybody that is in the tech industry is well aware of this fact.

  25. Hey Bruce this is silly ,Microsoft already has 3d games and avatar for 360 was announced as 3d back in 2008 for the record. Game companies choose weather or not their title is in 3d Not M$, the tools have been available to publishers for years. 3d movies are old not new. to make my games 3d I can just adjust convergence levels on my monitor and throw on some glasses. Yeah if you didn’t lots of 3d is achieved by maipulating the RGB feed. It isn’t rocket science or new from old movie projectors reels to vhs, and DVD. It is now ancient

  26. Sony supports 3D because they can sell 3D TVs and support it on the PS3. Microsoft really has no way to make money off of 3D gaming. Can the 360 even support it with an update? They seem to think Natal is the future. I don’t. I think the standard controller is fine. I don’t want to have to stand in a certain area in front of my TV to play games. That’s fine if you’re having a party but not for most games. The only problem I see for 3D gaming is cost. As the price drops though more people will buy 3D TVs.

  27. mr.putin.
    i must say that i had no idea you wanted to rebuild u.s.s.r with 3d tv-s that needs no glasses or any tools what so ever.

    btw i would love the xbox fan boys shut up and bow to their god SONY, cause you all know with slim ps3 and ps3 wand and sony’s investment on 3d gaming bill gates has ****** in his pants.

  28. Sony are riding the 3D train because they are smart, the same way they rode the Blu – Ray train because they are smart.

    Microsoft don’t do technology. They pumped all that money into HD – DVD only to crash and burn after providing little – to – no competition at all for Blu – Ray. They also decided to stick with last – gen DVD’s for their games and now they’re majorly suffering as a result.

    You’d think they’d have learned by now but no, instead Sony is riding the 3D wave into the future (3D IS the future, anyone who thinks otherwise must have no technological background whatsoever, 3D is the next logical step up from HD) while Microsoft are stuck in the past.

    No Blu – Ray and no 3D make the 360 very last – gen. Even Nintendo are probably laughing at them from a technological standpoint.

  29. press releases and truth are 2 very different beasts. the truth is both Sony and Microsoft are very near announcements for their next gen consoles. Sony won’t let the next one slip a year behind MS.
    before june i would say we wil have a next gen announcements from one of the big 3, and then there’s Apple…..
    Which ever way you look at it, its win win for gamers.

  30. Hi, I think you’re right about the console longevity issue, but, i completely agree with microsoft about 3D, i cant see many cambering to sit in stupid-looking glasses all night long watching stuff – maybe when the tech has matured enough to do it without spectacles we’ll have a chance….

  31. @David. MS didn’t support HD-DVD to win, they supported it to slow down the blu. That is it. They wanted to slow blu down til Digital Distribution took off. I don’t think 3-D is the future. I know the masses won’t carry 3-d glasses with them, I as sure won’t. So you have to bring glasses and wear them a majority of your life, I don’t think so. With USB 3.0 and higher capacity thumb drives with SSD, you don’t need a physical disk ever. I have a car Kenwood cd Player in my car. I NEVER use the CD. I have a thumb drive that I store my music on and play it through that. Guess what, no skips and faster rate of transfer. blu-ray is just too slow for games. Why don’t you think the PC industry has used it for Apps and Games, because blu is **** and slow and you install everything on your Hard Drive anyway. A hard drive spins faster than any disc drive anyway. So you fail again. Why don’t you think that blu-ray hasn’t taken over dvd? Why, because now even $30 cheap budget dvd players upscale to 1080p now. Yes I know it isn’t the same, but the difference is so minute that people don’t give a hoot about it and they are satisfied.

    Oh and talk about last gen, let’s talk about the waitsation 3 and their oh so LAST LAST gen graphics card. GeForce 7800 gtx with only 256 MB of VRAM?! Cmon! That is last, last gen as we are to DX11 now so DX9 was so 20th Century as is the waitstation.

  32. Nice article, Kinda feel the same way about things, M$ need to tramp now to have a success with moment of PS3 picking up natal has no chance without a new console to promote it like Nintendo did with the Wii. If Nintendo released the Wii-mote as a add on to the cube, the motion sensors would have been a flop and no one would even know what they are, but a new console to back it caught everyone’s eyes and its been a winner.

    Well done to the writer, was a good read. Thanks.

  33. Skygamer – obviously you don’t follow the games industry at all, Microsoft’s plan to support digital distribution didn’t work, did it??? Where is digital distribution now? If DD had really taken off every game retail store in the planet would have closed down by now, the PSPgo is proof that nobody cares for or wants digital distribution, obviously you don’t do your reserach.
    Nice failing there, kid. DD hasn’t taken over from physical media, nor will it.

    Also, bringing graphics into a last – gen argument shows how little you know about the games industry. PS3 games have better graphics than 360 games, that’s a fact. For the past two years in a row it’s been a PS3 exclusive that has won the award for “Best Graphics” at the VGA’s, so you fail again. LOL……..are you really this ignorant to the gaming industry, or are you making a special effort on my account?

    The RROD box 360’s graphics are no more advanced than those of the Game – Boy Colour. Next time you want to bring graphics into the equation, at least do your research first. It can’t feel good realising you’ve just confirmed your ignorace to everyone here.

  34. @David Macphail
    Didital distribution is increasing massively, including on the 360. Retail was down last year, partly as a result.
    The 360 has a “better” GPU than the PS3. Fact. And in a different league to GB Colour.
    Calling the Xbox 360 the RROD box really shows you up for the uniformed fanboy that you so obviously are.

  35. @redavuts
    Yes current generation HD consoles can run 3D games. Blitz have demonstrated this and I have seen the results.
    However this is not the same as a platform holder putting their weight behind 3D.
    I understand that Sony are going to do a system software update to optimise the 3D capabilities of the PS3, also the whole company is headed for a 3D future.
    Microsoft seem to be sitting on their hands at the moment and the quote in my article is proof of this.

  36. Why am I not surprised to see that dweeb MacPhail here? Does the guy ever give up or does he really think his ranting and raving will have any impact on anyone with an I.Q. above 35? We get it David, you don’t like the XBOX 360 or Microsoft. So much so that you need to flood all the game site forums with your so called knowledge of the industry. Yup, I think Sony sees a lot of value in you too. Someone puked in the staff washroom that needs cleaning up. I guess they read your crap as well so they might as well hire the guy that caused it.

    What’s next, calling me some XBOT because I don’t share the same ignorance as you? Sorry but your rebuttals just don’t have that bite to them. My PS3 gets just as much usage as my XBOX 360. No RROD here so keep up the antics while I continue to enjoy games like Uncharted 2, Forza 3 and countless other games that one can get on both systems like NHL 2010.

    I guess competition brings out the best in people. So much so that they feel threatened at the very thought of it and act accordingly. I guess you better pay up to your older brother, who’s probably about 16 by now, on that bet you made about the XBOX 360 only being around for 4 years like the original XBOX. Now if only you could talk to those 39 million XBOTs personally and knock some common sense into them. After all you are the one we all look to for real research on how things really are.

  37. @ Bruce
    I’m not gonna say that David is not a fanboy but why do you reference his RROD coment to be what makes him a fanboy.

    IMO the only real true reason why someone should HATE m$ is because of the RROD ya they fixed them but they didn’t do that until after way too many people went out and replaced their units.

    and out of so many poeple I know with X-Box’s I have yet to meet anyone on their original xbox (a few on their 5-6th). Except online when some say I’m on my original everytime that coment is made.

    To me X-box should have been boycotted and forcefully removed from this industry by the consumer because of that and I will never own the 360 ever and will not by the next gen one until it has at least a year on the market. (I may never get one at all as long as my playstations keep me busy)

  38. Obviously you haven’t read David’s comments much in the past and the inevitable future. RRoD is just one of his many pursuits to dismiss the unit and Microsoft. He’s a fanboy through and through.

    My original XBOX got the E-74 error before MS fixed it under warranty with the 3 year extension. So what I did was get some guy in the paper to temporarily fix it and sold it to him for a newer model. I’ve had this one for almost 2 years now with no issues and it’s also much quieter. It cost me $75 which is half of what a friend of mine was going to have to pay to fix his PS3 which wouldn’t read any disc anymore and he uses his PS3 less than I do.

    The Xbox 360 has also gotten much better over the year sa s far as reliability. Does this make Microsoft exempt from criticism? Absolutely not but nobody needs people like David roaming around the net acting like a complete child who witnessed a murder or something. The PS2 had issues too and Sony improved it as well.

    It’s time to grow up and move on MacPhail.

  39. I am going to delete any more fanboy style posts to this thread.

  40. I disagree with you on this one, Bruce. I’m not sure that we will ever see a high-powered console again.

    There may be millions of “fanboys” who want to pay premium prices to buy the latest console. Unfortunately, it costs billions of dollars to create the unique architecture, the new design and the massive marketing that a new console launch demands. And I don’t think that the market is getting big enough, fast enough, to justify it.

    I’ve blogged about this at Gamesbrief in “Death of the Console” but I am convinced that there will be no PlayStation 5 and I will be surprised if there is a PS4 (ditto for Xbox)

  41. Latest I hear is MS want to charge $199 for Natal with no software. If this is true, it has to be a huge failure. You heard it here first, Bruce fans!

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