Sony struck first, spending a hefty amount of marketing dollars to fly in press from around the world to New York for the unveiling of the PlayStation 4 in late February. Now it’s Microsoft’s turn, and they’ve already confirmed the next-gen Xbox reveal is coming May 21st and it will be streamed online.

While rumors and speculation last week focused on the name of the console (Xbox Infinity vs. Xbox Fusion) what matters most to users is how the system will function and how much it will cost.

After the launch fail of Diablo 3 and issues with always-online services like EA’s origin (online connectivity required to play single-player), there were justified concerns about the next-gen consoles requiring an always-online connection. Too many gamers around the world don’t have reliable high speed internet. It’s as simple as that despite what (ex)Microsoft employee Adam Orth would have his Twitter followers believe.

PS4 Short Supply in Fall

Sony was therefore quick to clarify that the PS4 would work offline, while rumors and leaked dev kit descriptions indicated that Microsoft may go the anti-consumer route on that front, especially with their focus being on not just games but home entertainment and their Xbox TV services.

Some reports indicated that the Xbox 720/Fusion/Infinity/Durago wouldn’t require a connection to be used but it’s never been made official, until possibly today. Ars Technica were forwarded an internal Microsoft email that was reportedly sent to employees involved with the next-gen Xbox development.

“Durango [the codename for the next Xbox] is designed to deliver the future of entertainment while engineered to be tolerant of today’s Internet. There are a number of scenarios that our users expect to work without an Internet connection, and those should ‘just work’ regardless of their current connection status. Those include, but are not limited to: playing a Blu-ray disc, watching live TV, and yes playing a single player game.”

That’s good news. Imagine not being able to play a solo game unless connected online and the problems that would ensue, especially for players paying to use Xbox’s online services?

Xbox 720 Pictures

This brings us to the other big piece of news regarding the subscription fees of Xbox Live for the next-gen systems. Last month, Paul Thurrot, a tech blogger who follows Windows closely, spoke about the new Xbox on the What The Tech video show, and dropped/confirmed a few details:

  • Next-gen Xbox event was scheduled for April 24th, now it’s pushed back to May 21st.
  • Next-gen Xbox will release in “early November.”
  • Next-gen Xbox will cost $500, but $300 with a subscription.
  • “Must be internet-connected to use” according to the “notes” he’s seen.
  • There will also be a new Xbox 360 model (codenamed Stingray) for $100.

So far, the first three statements listed above appear to be true while the fourth appears to be false.  The most interesting is the subscription service, something Microsoft tested with the Xbox 360 recently where users could buy the console for a lesser retail price so long as they sign a two-year deal for Xbox Live Gold (at a higher monthly price). It’s the smartphone service model and it’s very likely going to be a part of Microsoft’s Xbox plans going forward.

Thurrot adjusted his claims last week on Twitter, saying that the monthly subscription fees for the Xbox services will be $15 instead of $10 (this is for the $299 model), which when added to additional subscriptions like Netflix, is really starting to add up. Paying for internet, paying for the games and consoles, and then paying an additional fee to use them all together is killer on gamers, especially when PC, PS3 and Wii U games are playable for free online. Microsoft got away with this since the first Xbox and it’s not going away. The difference with the next-gen is that they’ll have more services to offer with its Windows 8-powered next-gen console.

We’ll find out more on the rumored two next-Xbox models in just two weeks, along with what the subscription fees entail. If anything’s for certain, games, DLC, services are all going to be expensive. At least we can soon say goodbye to the “Xbox 720” temp name.

Let me know on Twitter @rob_keyes what you’d like to see from the new Xbox.

Sources: Ars Technica