You have to be careful what you say if you work in the gaming industry, as die-hard fans are always listening in search of the latest bit of gossip.

Phil Spencer, head of all things Xbox, obviously knows the lay of the land and this weekend stoked the flames by suggesting that optional hardware upgrades could play a key role in the development of current-generation consoles.

A riveting suggestion when you consider that games consoles have historically served as a known quantity, but what did he actually say? Here’s the transcript of Spencer’s comments from a Polygon interview:

We look at these other ecosystems out there like mobile, tablet and PC and we see that they have a very continuous evolution cycle in hardware, whereas between console generations most of the evolution is making it cheaper and potentially making it smaller.

Both are meaningful but don’t make the games play any better. If you look at PC specifically and see the evolution that happens there, there’s no reason why console can’t ride that same curve.

I look at the ecosystem that a console sits in and I think that it should have the capability of more iteration on hardware capability. Sony is doing this with VR and adding VR capabilities mid-cycle to the PlayStation 4 and they are doing that by adding another box. I don’t mean that as a negative. But it’s not changing what the core console is about.

For consoles in general it’s more important now than it’s ever been, because you have so many of these other platforms that are around. It used to be that when you bought your console you were way ahead of the price performance curve by so much, relative to a PC. But now PCs are inexpensive and your phones are getting more and more capable.

I still think a console is the best price to performance deal that is out there but when you look at the evolution … I’m not going to announce our road map for hardware … but what I wanted to say on stage for people when they see this vision of ours and question our commitment to console I want to make sure that people see that what we are doing enables us to be more committed to what consoles are about than we’ve ever been and innovate more consistently than we ever have. That’s the key for me.

There are no definitive statements, but there are some fascinating hints. And he has a point, games consoles do risk becoming stale given the rate at which technology now evolves.

With PCs already championing 4K resolutions, what sort of life span can the likes of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 expect when they’re barely managing 1080p? And how long will it be before their capabilities are overtaken by a smartphone?

But more importantly, if incremental upgrades are the answer, how would they work? Do you envisage standardised external GPUs, or much like the iPhone, a yearly model refresh with new underlying hardware? And in either case, what might it mean for game fragmentation?

It’s an intriguing proposition, so let’s open the floor to you, the gamers. Are upgradeable games consoles a good idea? Share your thoughts on the subject using the comments facility below.

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