TOKYO--Microsoft Japan's new Xbox division chief Yoshihiro Maruyama says that his company's next generation machine, casually referred to by media outlets as the Xbox Next, will not see its shadow until 2006. Maruyama's comments support statements made by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer last year, when he told the Nikkei Journal that the console will be released no sooner than 2006 in Japan. But whether the Xbox Next will be out before or after Sony's next generation machine is not decided, according to an interview with Maruyama contained in the current issue of Famitsu.
"I hope that we can release the machine in the near future, but it won't be next year," commented Maruyama, who joined Microsoft last September after being hired away from Square Enix. "Considering that the PlayStation 2 is entering its fifth year and that its game lineup is in its prime, we're estimating that the successor to that console will be released after 2006. Whether we'll release the successor of the Xbox before the PS2's needs to be decided carefully. It has strong pros and cons."
One of the issues surrounding the original Xbox was the fact it was was considerably larger than other game consoles in the market. Rumors have been floating the Xbox Next will be considerably smaller and possibly uses notebook PC components.
While Maruyama did not comment on specifics, he confirmed that the Xbox Next will indeed be smaller than the current Xbox. "In terms of hardware, we get a lot of requests asking us to reduce the console's size. Actually, I was thinking so myself before coming to Microsoft. We promise that we'll make the new console smaller," Maruyama said.
As for the Xbox's disappointing sales in Japan, Maruyama commented that one of the reasons is there is no RPG--the most popular genre in Japan--for the console that suits Japanese tastes. Admitting that it cant get a major third-party publisher to develop an RPG due to Xbox's comparitively paltry installed base, Maruyama is hoping that Microsoft's own entry into the genre, the MMORPG True Fantasy Live Online, will provide a spike in sales.
Maruyama also addressed overall differences between the Japanese and the U.S. markets. He commented on how game sales in the U.S. are more stable, particularly in the sports genre. In the case of America, they have sport games as the base of their retail offfering. Sports games sell steadily through out the year, with each sport having its peak sales period. Their business is about incremental sales of other genres on top of that. But Japan doesnt have that base, so if one title gets delayed, that years sales can be quite severely affected, Maruyama said. In a sense, the market in Japan is unique, and the users tend to drift towards games that are new or stimulating. Its a serious issue for developers: how to come up with the next new thing, since the peak sales period for any one title is short.