Has this generation gone on too long?

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This console generation is winding down, and there’s almost certainly going to be an imminent announcement of new hardware from Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo’s already revealed its next generation console – the Wii U – set for release at the end of this year. It’s been a long one; where consoles usually last for about five years before being technologically leapfrogged, we’ve been playing on our Xboxes, PlayStations and Wiis for (roughly) 6 years already  – with platform holders having promised a ten year cycle.

PC technology, as it does, has hurdled far past that of consoles, delivering incredibly more detailed, crisper visuals and better performance – on modestly priced hardware. One reason for that, possibly, is that PC gaming is being held back by current-generation consoles – and it’s got a lot of people wondering if perhaps it’s time for new consoles sooner rather than later. Square-Enix certainly seems to think so. In fact, they believe that Sony and Microsoft dragging the generation out is huge mistake.

"We have Sony and Microsoft talking about this generation lasting seven, eight, nine or even 10 years and it’s the biggest mistake they’ve ever made," says Square-Enix’s technology director Julien Merceron.

"This generation has been way too long, and I say this because you have a lot of developers that work on a new platform, and perhaps will not succeed, so they will wait for the next generation, and will jump on that platform. You could not do that with this generation though. So these developers went elsewhere to see if the grass was greener. They found web browsers, they found iOS, they found other things and a lot of them won’t come back to the hardware platforms. So you could look at it that thanks to Microsoft and Sony and the length of this generation, it helped the emergence of other platforms and helped them get strong before the next hardware comes out."

Merceron suggests that future console generations should be shorter – by utilising architecture that’s simpler to program for – and thus cheaper to produce.

He explained, "With a simple architecture you do give more chances to everybody, which I believe is very important based on the critical business situation we’re in. Games will be more costly. If you start to make the entry bar really high, more studios will die, more publishers will die, there’ll be less titles on platforms, etc. If you make it accessible, you give more chances to people, you’ll have a better portfolio at launch, but now you also have a problem with your longevity.

"Now you don’t need to manage longevity by complexity of programming, because your longevity is ensured by your online model. And I would suggest that maybe we don’t want long generations."

Technically challenging hardware, that developer need to take years to wrap their heads around certainly didn’t help Sony at the beginning of this generation; PS3 ports of games were nearly always inferior to their Xbox 360 counterparts – something developers largely put down to the PS3’s tricksy hardware. A platform that’s easier to develop for would have nullified those challenges – though it’s worth noting that those who’ve the time and resources to put in to PS3 development – such as Naughty dog – have managed to squeeze out visuals that the competition would struggle with.

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Merceron’s talk of an “online model” becomes really interesting when you factor in Sony’s acquisition of game streaming service Gaikai – which potentially means you could already have a PlayStation 4. Couple that with talk of Microsoft’s next console being cheap to purchase, upgradeable and rely on a monthly subscription – and it seems that Merceron’s words could be prophetic.

Last Updated: July 11, 2012

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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