The next-gen consoles may dominate the headlines, but there is plenty of life left in both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, at least as far as Microsoft and Sony are concerned. While price drops have been predicted for both consoles during E3 2012, neither is expected to hit that magic, mass-market friendly target, $99.99.

If a new rumor proves to be true, the Xbox 360 won’t have to. Microsoft may have a $99 option available well before then, provided customers agree to a two year, $15 a month contract.

As reported by The Verge, Microsoft allegedly intends to release a $99 Xbox 360 bundle that includes a 4GB system and Kinect though its retail Microsoft Stores, possibly next week. Purchase of the bundle requires that users agree to the aforementioned two year/$15 per month contract. What do prospective gamers get for that $15 a month? Xbox Live Gold, naturally, and maybe access to streaming content from as-yet-unnamed providers (HBO Go? Xfinity TV On Demand?), though the specifics haven’t been ferreted out. A two-year warranty on the hardware apparently rounds out the deal, though be warned — early termination, just as with cell phone contracts, carries a penalty.

On the plus side, the cost represents a fairly good value. Current 4GB Xbox 360/Kinect bundles retail for $299.99, and two years of Gold (which, I know, can be found cheaper if you look around) comes in at $119.98 — all together, $419.97. For the $99 package and 24 month subscription, the total is just a bit higher at $459. On the minus side, though, the malls of America aren’t exactly teeming with Microsoft Stores — only 20 locations are listed on the merchant’s website, and four of those are designated as “coming soon.” Still, if the idea takes off, it could certainly be expanded to more traditional retailers, like GameStop and Best Buy.

If nothing else, it’s a fascinating experiment — the ubiquity of cell phone contracts should make the subscription concept an easy sell — though it is the ramifications for the future that make this initiative so exciting. Whatever ultimately comes of Xbox Lite or Loop, the next real Xbox console is going to be released at some point over the next couple of years, and like all new systems, it’s apt to be expensive at launch. Could the subscription-backed Xbox 360/Kinect bundle be a test run to see if such a price-structure can work for Xbox 720? What do you think? And if Xbox 720 launches with a low initial price supported by a monthly contract, how likely would you be to buy one? Let us know in the comments below.

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Source: The Verge