Thinking about new consoles is always exciting, even though we're currently enjoying a period of plenty. Although I don't want to speculate on specific tech specs, there are a lot of questions regarding the next round of systems; the answers to which will go a long way in determining what gaming looks like in the future. Of course, nobody knows exactly what the future will look like – not even the hardware manufacturers or developers themselves – so these issues are just the tip of the iceberg, and pure speculation on my part. Please feel free to add your own thoughts and opinions in the comment section below.

Nintendo aims to be first with the Wii U next year – which is probably when we'll hear the first official whispers from competitors Microsoft and Sony about their next home consoles. I'd guess the next PlayStation and Xbox will come out in the holiday 2013 season. Someone may push to spring of 2014, while holiday 2014 seems like a long ways off.

Who comes out first, Sony or Microsoft? There's no way to tell, but I'd have to think that Sony doesn't want to release too long after the next Xbox in order to avoid the year-long lag time of the PS3, which enabled Microsoft to gain so much ground on it.

Given that these new systems will likely be packed with sexy new tech, I'd think it's hard to avoid a $399 price tag. And I certainly hope for my wallet's sake that Sony's learned its lessons about going above the $499 mark. Nintendo traditionally is cheaper, and it will be interesting to see how the public reacts to the necessary price tag of the Wii U's bells and whistles. I imagine that system doesn't come in under $300.

Although it seems that companies could sell more consoles if they got a full-featured system at $299, for example, I wonder how much impetus Sony and Microsoft in particular have to make their next consoles that cheap (and risk losing lots of money on each system sold). I'm sure they know they're going to sell millions of units of their next systems in the early days. I say this because I believe both companies can reliably count on selling decent numbers of the Xbox 360 and PS3 even after their new platforms come out as they keep going down in price. Microsoft and Sony are probably betting on the fact that the millions and millions of current console owners are planning on getting the next system iterations even if it's not on day one. The good install base of both consoles gives them this luxury.

Of course, cost is directly tied to each console's features. This generation of systems offered numerous hardware configurations. This drove some consumers mad and left others confused, and it's hard to know if ultimately this strategy of releasing different versions of the hardware was effective or not, for Sony and Microsoft in particular.

There’s also the issue of whether these systems will contain features such as backwards compatibility, different hard drive sizes, various ports, network options, media compatibility, and much more. Personally, I think gamers in the early days of a system make too big of a deal over things like how many controller ports a system has or even backwards compatibility when assessing whether they want a console or how good/bad the platform is as a whole. Still, it'll be interesting to see which of these features make it onto the next generation and how they impact the price.

Read on for more, including the questions of new IP, the price of games, and other issues.