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Xbox Japan chief on Xbox 2

Nothing in 2005, but "We'll be watching... Nintendo and Sony."

Xbox Japan chief Yoshihiro Maruyama has ruled out a 2005 launch for the successor to Xbox, speaking in an interview with Japanese magazine Famitsu.

"I'd like to release something in the near future, but if asked if the release will happen next year, I'd say that no, it won't be next year," he said - or will say, in the issue of Famitsu published on January 24th according to IGN. "For the release of our next generation hardware, we'll be watching the movements of our rivals Nintendo and Sony."

"We foresee the next generation PS2 hardware arriving some time after 2006," Maruyama-san said of Sony's plans. "Releasing the next generation Xbox before the next generation PS2 has various pluses and minuses, so we'll have to look closely at the release date."

Maruyama-san also confirmed that Microsoft hopes to produce a smaller console next time around. "I've heard much request for a smaller sized system. Before entering Microsoft I felt the same way," he admitted candidly. "It would be difficult with the current hardware," he said, despite lingering rumours of a 'mini-Xbox' prototype, "so it's something that we'd like to do for the next generation hardware."

Speaking of the current hardware, Maruyama-san also reflected on the difference in fortunes between the US and Japanese Xbox markets. It's a chicken and egg problem, he effectively says - the console needs a major RPG, but no third party publisher will develop one on account of the console's smaller installed base. The answer, he hopes, is Microsoft's own MMORPG True Fantasy Live Online.

Compared to the US market, he said, Japan is "unique". "In the case of America, they have sports games as the base of their retail offering. Sports games sell steadily throughout 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 doesn't have that base, so if one title gets delayed, that year's sales can be quite severely affected."

In Japan, however, "users tend to drift towards games that are new or stimulating. It's 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."

No doubt one of the "pluses" in bringing an Xbox successor to market before PS3 is the potential to ensnare [read: buy up] major Japanese franchises before they can be realised on hardware from market leaders Sony or keen rivals Nintendo, whose GameCube still dwarves Xbox in the Far East. Either way, Microsoft could do with some Japanese success this year, and will hope that Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive Online can help buoy sales enough that other publishers will start to take an interest.