The video game industry is changing, and it's happening right before our eyes. Old ideas about hardware cycles and their lifespans seem to be a thing of the past, at least where the previous four to five years are concerned. Sony pledged a ten-year lifespan for the PlayStation hardware, and typically that's correct, although history shows overlap. The original PlayStation lasted well into the reign of the PlayStation 2, and the same goes for the PS2 into the retail dominance of the PS3.
Microsoft though, they've radically altered even that idea. The Xbox 360 launched in late 2005, meaning this year is its sixth year of existence, and with E3 this week, Microsoft is showing no signs of revealing a successor. Why should they? The company touted a colorful graph chart showing that 360 sales have actually increased with age, something this industry has never seen. Traditionally, game companies release a hardware revision, say the NES 2 or the Sega Genesis 3, as a last ditch effort to pump dying (and cheaper, i.e., more profitable) hardware out of storage.
The revision of the Xbox 360 into the Xbox 360 Slim is actually sign of growth though, not a sign that things are beginning to fall off prior to the end of a cycle. The reason behind the introduction of new hardware was always evolving technology, the 8-bit era of the original Nintendo glossed over for the 16-bit grace of the Sega Genesis. Nintendo simply had to keep up.
Now, it's only the the PC that becomes competition in visual fidelity, audio no longer a concern with the advent of disc-based hardware. So, why should Microsoft bother? If anything, holding back ensures the next generation is a substantial leap forward, something that truly offers sights unseen. As much as console games seem to be aging against their PC counterparts, it doesn't really seem to matter. We're already at a stage where graphics are only a minor element, and so superior to what we've seen in the past, their effect is nominal.
Then again, maybe their efforts to push new hardware to a casual audience with Kinect has something else behind it. Could it be that Microsoft wants to be the first to ditch the disc and go all digital, buying time by extending the current console lifespan until broadband technology around the world is up to speed (literally and figuratively)? If they hook a mass audience now with Netflix, Facebook, and Kinect applications, would it not be easier to sell that same group on digital downloads when the next generation finally is in our grasp?
Whatever the case, E3 this year is a show of success and celebration for Microsoft, pushing what they have, not what they're planning. Despite Nintendo dominating the sales charts with their motion controlled Wii, maybe sales don't mean everything if they feel the need to announce a new console so soon. Keep in mind the Wii launched almost exactly one year after the Xbox 360. Nintendo must be feeling the pressure, and apparently hasn't kept up with new industry trends, like those established by Microsoft.