Expectations High for Next Xbox


LOS ANGELES - It's almost time for a new Xbox.

Eight years have passed since Microsoft unveiled the Xbox 360, double the amount of time between the original Xbox debut in 2001 and its high-definition successor's launch in 2005. With the next-generation Xbox expected to be revealed Tuesday, anticipation for the entertainment console's latest evolution is running high.

"People get excited about new consoles because consoles represent the future," said Stephen Totilo, editor of gaming site Kotaku.com. "When you buy a new console, you're essentially investing in five years of your future in the hopes that this box won't just be cool the day you buy it, but in five years from now, it will be even cooler."

The platform has been the exclusive home to such popular gaming franchises as science-fiction shoot-'em-up "Gears of War," racing simulator "Forza" and first-person shooter "Halo," starring super-soldier Master Chief. In recent years, Microsoft expanded the console's scope beyond just games, adding streaming media apps and the family-friendly Kinect system.

The next generation of gaming already got off to a rocky start last November when Nintendo launched the Wii U, the successor to the popular Wii system featuring an innovative tablet-like controller yet graphics on par with the Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3. Nintendo said it sold just 3.45 million units by the end of March, well below expectations.

Microsoft will likely take aim at Sony during Tuesday's next-generation Xbox unveiling at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington state. Sony was first to showcase plans for its upcoming PlayStation 4 - but not the actual box - at an event in New York last February. The reaction to that console, which featured richer graphics and more social features, was mixed.

Totilo said to wow gamers with the next Xbox, Microsoft must show off great games for it that players will crave, as well as technology that feels futuristic. He said there's concern from Xbox fans that Microsoft has lost interest in hardcore gamers with their recent efforts to attract casual gamers with the Kinect, its camera-based system that detects motion.

There will be at least one hardcore game showcased at Microsoft's event: "Call of Duty: Ghosts," the next chapter in the popular military shooter franchise from "Modern Warfare" developer Infinity Ward. Activison-Blizzard Inc. previously announced that "Ghosts" would be on display Tuesday and will be available for both current and next-generation consoles.

"They wanted `Call of Duty' on their stage to show off what next gen is capable of," said Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing. "We're excited about the approach that both Microsoft and Sony are taking to the next generation. Our business, of course, depends on them launching this new hardware, so we want to do everything we can to help."

For the past five years, questions and rumors about a new Xbox have circulated more than the chainsaw on the end of a "Gears of War" rifle. What will the new Xbox be called? How much will it cost? Will it play used video games? Blu-ray discs? Will it be backwards compatible? Must the Kinect always be on? Will it require a connection to the Internet?

It's that rumor about an always-on Xbox which has ignited the most negative comments on social networks, according to research firm Fizziology. Overall, Fizziology said gamers seem to be more jazzed about a potential new Xbox, with 32 percent of the chatter positive compared to 10 percent of the sentiment negative in online conversations.

"I think because people have been waiting a long time, expectations are higher," said Laurent Detoc, North America president of Ubisoft Entertainment. "As a result, they may not be seeing what they anticipated. In the end, from the research we've done, there's a strong appetite for new machines. I have no doubt they're going to sell extremely well."

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