More rumored details are being leaked about the next generation XBOX 720. And it’s shows what could be the next great frontier for gaming platforms… upgradability.
The news of an upgradable Xbox comes from a Microsoft Patent (#20120159090) which was actually granted back in December 2010. The patent, which was granted to Microsoft architect Jeff Andrews, calls for “platform resources, hardware resources in particular, to scale up or down over time.” And according to numerous rumor sites, like D’Vice, the upgradeable capability was actually eluded to in Microsoft’s 56 page treatise for their next generation XBox 720.
The thing is, gaming platforms like the XBox, Playstation, and even the Nintendo Wii have extremely long life spans – about ten years. And even with rapid advances in gaming graphics, motion controllers like the Kinect and Move, the basic guts of the platforms stay the same over nearly a decade of use.
Being able to make a more modular design that would allow users to customize and upgrade the basic platform configuration could allow for making the XBox 720 faster and handle more realistic and memory intensive graphics over time. It would also allow for faster development of hardware peripherals which could evolve at a pace along with the games as they are written. Additionally, it would also make sense with Microsoft working on it’s own version (called the “Fortaleza Kinect Project) of iGlass, and Google’s Project Glass. The ability to upgrade a platform would allow for new technology like that to be married to the platform as it comes online. Additionally, Microsoft’s focus seems to be reaching beyond gaming, to a central entertainment hub. Making an XBox upgradeable would help as well, since it would be required to not only watch movies, but stream video, have online interactivity, and more.
Course, it also just means that if a gamer wants to pimp out their platform for the fastest rig possible, they could do it for the price. But that’s not a bad thing. It could also give gaming platforms a longer life span, allowing for upgrades to processors as they become more powerful. This is nothing new to the PC world, as gamers are often known to build their own “ultimate gaming machines” out of the best possible hardware and then add home theater sound, widescreen HDTV monitors, even 180 degree screens for a full immersive experience.
But it also could be the converse, which would be better for Microsoft. Making the gaming platforms customizable would conceivably shorten their lifespan as they become quickly obsolete for the current state of the gaming art. Rather than have a gaming platform lasting 10 years, it could maybe last two, as the next generation development windows shorten due to competition and innovation. A shorter lifespan leads to a quicker change over to yet another platform with the promise of customization. How do we know that? Just look at the promise of upgradability in the PC world. It was a buzzword in 90s and early 2000s, the promise of being able to swap out parts to make your PC faster and last longer. But in the end, as prices dropped, it became easier to just buy a new rig every three or four years. Initially, this was good for PC manufacturers, but margins quickly thinned out as the prices continued to drop.
A fickle thing, technology.