New gaming consoles are coming from all the players in the field - Microsoft (MSFT), Sony (SNE), Nintendo (NTDOY.PK) and possibly even Apple (AAPL) if you believe the rumors. Judging from the recent success of mobile phone and social network-based gaming - new console-based systems are going to have to release some stellar technology updates to shake up the industry and pump up related stocks.
Fueling the next generation gaming chatter online this week - software giant, Electronic Arts (EA) has, according to their CEO John Riccitiello, earmarked $80 million in preparation for what he called "fourth-gen" gaming consoles to be released in the coming months. These next generation gaming devices are Microsoft's Xbox 720, Sony's Playstation 4 and Nintendo's Wii U. Apple joining this fray is a long shot, but not impossible. An unconfirmed report surfaced recently saying that Apple CEO Tim Cook was spotted at gaming giant Valve's headquarters in Bellevue, Washington.
Many continue to speculate as to why Cook would be visiting Valve, maker of fan-favorite game series like Half-Life and Portal. Valve is also highly regarded for their online PC gaming platform called Steam that operates much like the Apple App Store. If Apple really wants to rule the living room, they will have to contend with the current gaming consoles that rest on nearly every entertainment stand around the world. When four-year-olds are playing on Xbox's and 84-year-olds are bowling with a Wii - those waiting on the sidelines are forced to take notice. Beyond an Apple television set, many sources predict the bundling of an Apple-branded, Kinect-like video game console. Recent Valve job listings seem to indicate that the company is working on a mysterious hardware project. Interesting indeed.
Beyond next generation gaming consoles and Apple rumors, it is important to note that Microsoft is not resting on its laurels. With most next generation consoles due in 2013, the company has taken it upon itself to get creative with its current gear. Taking a cue from wireless companies, Microsoft is now selling 4-gigabyte Xbox 360 consoles with Kinect for $99 if customers sign up for two years of Xbox Live Gold Membership at $15 per month.
While the new Xbox deal looks great on the surface, some quick match shows that you'll end up paying $460 over the course of the two-year contract. If you just want an Xbox and Kinect without the online contract - you can find one for about $300. If you do opt for the $99 deal with the Xbox Live Gold Membership, it has been said that consumers will be able to transfer their membership over to a new console - assuming the Xbox 720 drops within 2 years.
In a scenario that is nothing new to Microsoft - most of the current gossip swirling around its next generation gaming console is coming from unconfirmed reports and anonymous sources. Still, it is quite difficult to keep something of this magnitude completely behind the curtain. A rogue vendor or tech blogger with access is sure to break a new story every few weeks.
If the next Xbox is to be as popular and endure as long as the current iteration has - it's going to need to up the ante on both speed and graphics. The latest rumors suggest that the console will retain a version of AMD's (AMD) 7000 series graphics. The inclusion of the AMD 7000 series graphics would put the new Xbox on par with the latest rumored specs of the Sony PS4.
While both the Xbox 720 and Sony PS4 continue to leak information that would put the two consoles on level footing in terms of performance - the technology would appear to put these consoles well behind the latest technology that will be powering modern PCs.
Don't get too discouraged on the technology lag though, as console gaming still has a huge market and developers are already playing with Xbox 720 hardware. A recent job advert from Peter Molyneux's Lionhead studio asks for developers with a background in DirectX 11 - a platform not used by any of the current consoles, but is most likely being used in the new AMD-powered Xbox 720.
Many rumors suggest that the second version of Microsoft's Kinect will be the absolute core of the Xbox 720 experience. A console built around motion detection appears to be the next great gaming leap and it is highly likely that Microsoft will be embracing this direction.
While Microsoft and Sony chase true "generation four" console dominance in the coming years - Nintendo is just weeks away from its big Wii U push at E3 2012 this June. Nintendo's next gaming device should give the current crop of consoles a run for their money, but many analysts believe the new machine will fall short when compared to later releases from Microsoft and Sony. According to comments made by Wii U game developer, Brian Martel (from Gearbox), "the Wii U system will feature textures and resolutions that you haven't seen on the current generation, but it is really just a nice stop-gap in between this generation and the next."
Don't count Nintendo's Wii U out of the race yet, because, much like the current Wii, Nintendo has again opted to reinvent the controller experience instead of trying to compete on processor power. The Wii U will come with a new touch-screen sensor controller that will act as a multi-purpose input device for the console. This new tablet-based controller is the key to Wii U's future and if kids have anything to say about this - the tablet controller could be a real difference maker.
Regardless of whether you're a gamer or not - these gaming stocks and related vendors are currently designing the next evolution of game technology which is sure to send our country's obesity rate up a few ticks. If nothing else, we can all try and profit on a few of these stocks assuming the prices rise inline with our pant sizes.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.