Investors Talk About Next XboxNext-generation consoles are always a hot topic, even when a new console has just barely hit the market. At a time like this, when current consoles are reaching their peak, and a few inklings are starting to drift out from hardware manufacturers, its hard to avoid the subject, even when theres not very much in the way of hard details to talk about. So it was at the ongoing Piper Jaffray investor conference, where a group of several CEOs from retailers and publishers discussed the future of the games industry. Comments on next-generation hardware focused on Microsofts next offering, which conventional wisdom currently expects to arrive as early as late 2005. When asked if Microsoft could manage to take 30% of the market with its next-generation console, improving on its distant position in this generation, Electronics Boutique president Jeff Griffiths agreed. "Yes, they could get a 30% share," he said. "I think if they got less than that theyd be disappointed, if they come out earlier than Sony, if they have the breadth of exclusive titles like Sony had for PS2. I think theyd definitely have potential for market share leadership." Brian Farrell, CEO of THQ, agreed that the Xbox successor has potential -- "I think Microsoft is being more aggressive," he said. However, he qualified his prediction somewhat: "Can they gain share? Yes. Do they have to have a solid value proposition? Yes. Do they have to have aggressive marketing? Yes." The feeling among the panel seemed to be that Microsofts next console may be of a more familiar kind than Nintendo and Sonys next offerings. Ataris Bruno Bonnell said he expected an "evolution of the existing box," a system that wont surprise the existing Xbox following, rather than a radical departure of the kind that Sony has been discussing (albeit in extremely vague terms). Regardless, Bonnell also agreed that Microsoft has a chance to jump out and take the lead in the next hardware generation. Farrell, however, voiced the general understanding that theres not enough information available about next-generation hardware to jump to any binding conclusions at this point. "Whats going to make people buy Xbox 2, PlayStation 3?" he asked. "None of the hardware companies have explained that yet."