Rumor: Xbox 720 Could Get Two SKUs

Could Microsoft's next console arrive next year with a two SKU strategy?

Hold onto your hard drives, ladies and gentlemen; another one of those Xbox 720 rumors that nobody seems to be able to get enough of just reared up. Microsoft is looking to bring back the two SKU strategy with its next platform according to a report posted on by Digital Foundry’s Richard Leadbetter. That particular tidbit is just one portion of a larger story Leadbetter conceived that details whether or not he believes the console will be challenging Nintendo’s Wii U one year from now.

It’s…believed that Microsoft will continue its successful two SKU strategy, and indeed take it much further with its new platform: a pared down machine is to be released as cheaply as possible, and positioned more along the lines of a set-top box (the use of 360 as a Netflix viewing platform in the US is colossal) and perhaps as a Kinect-themed gaming portal, while a more fully-featured machine with optical drive, hard disk and backward compatibility aimed at the hardcore would be released at a higher price-point.

If you’re anything like me, you waited about 17 hours in line out front of a Best Buy six years ago only to witness the eager gamer in front of you get handed the very last ticket for a console with an included HDD. If not, I can assure you that it is not a pleasant experience. Of course, gamers who got stuck with the lovingly grudgingly dubbed “‘tard pack” model had the option to purchase a hard drive separately for a few extra pesos, but that’s hardly ideal.

On top of that, there has been no shortage of third party developers who were hamstrung by having to design their big budget games to function on both systems with and without hard drives. Those who bought hard drive models like good little consumers suffered because of the issue, and it has been no picnic on the development side, either.

All of that being said, the strategy highlighted in the quote above is a horse of a different color, so to speak. What Leadbetter is talking about – and it remains to be seen how informed his statements are – is one model designed for the demographic that loves movies and enjoys an occasional dabbling in Kinect Sports or Dance Central 2, and a whole ‘nother beast for those of us who want to gun down the Covenant and Locust armies for hours on end.

Such a move would permit the major game studios to get as ambitious with their disc-based releases as they please, because the audience for such projects would almost be guaranteed to have a system with an HDD. Meanwhile, casual gamers would still be able to save money when taking the next-gen plunge and have a library of downloadable titles to choose from when they’re sick of watching Law & Order reruns on Netflix.

Of course, the entire plan would hinge on Microsoft flooding the market with enough of the premium-level units to meet demand. That’s of no concern these days for the 360, but don’t forget that it was a real problem in the early days of the console’s life-cycle. While it’s true that the most ambitious titles don’t hit the market until any given system has been around for at least a few years, having a slice of your audience potentially unable to play your games could still end up being a concern for some studios. All of this is, of course, conjecture, though.

All SKU issues aside, Leadbetter also discusses whether or not he believes Microsoft is planning to butt heads with Nintendo in 2012. Although he alleges that, in all probability, the tech giant does possess the resources to push out the Xbox 720/Loop or whatever it’s going to be called one year from now, his standing is that it simply is not going to happen.

He highlights the fact that we’re just hearing rumblings about the console over the past several months or so as the main reason why it’s probably still at least two years out. That’s not the most solid evidence in the world, but don’t forget that this is an industry in which history is all but guaranteed to repeat itself. Hard facts (as well as wild nonsense) about the Vita and Wii U began surfacing much further ahead of their scheduled launches.

Leadbetter therefore believes that we would know more by now if the Xbox 720 was actually going to be unveiled at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES). It’s far more likely, he contends, that the unit will first pop up at E3. Although those of us here at MTB aren’t entirely convinced that we’ll have to wait that long, Jarret, Rob and I also pointed out in a recent edition of the Mashcast that CES is hardly the ideal place to blow the lid off your next generation console plans.

That being said, the 360 was announced during a special MTV event; so waiting until E3 is in no way a lock. For now, all we can do is wait and revel in the rumors. The only thing that we can assert with absolute certainty at this point, is that more scuttlebutt is definitely on the horizon.


Nick Santangelo
Nick Santangelo
Nick Santangelo

MASH Veteran

Nick has been a gamer since the 8-bit days and a member of the MTB editorial team since January of 2011. He is not to be interrupted while questing his way through an RPG or desperately clinging to hope against all reason that his Philly sports teams will win any given game he may be watching. Seriously folks, reading this acknowledges that you relieve MTB of any and all legal liability for his actions.

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