Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Is Playing the Long Game Hurting the Industry?

IF this generation keeps marching along, then is it really going to hurt anything?

This year Sony and Microsoft kept mum about any plans for the next generation iterations of their hardware. The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 are about to enter their sixth and seventh years, respectively, and if the initial talks of the ten year lifecycle were actually valid, then there's at least a couple of more years to each before they bow out. At least one person in the industry thinks that the long shelf life of these consoles has been a mistake, but I'm not so sure myself. Before I comment on that though I should elaborate on what brought my attention to this.

In an interview with GamesIndustry International, Square Enix worldwide technology director Julien Merceron touched upon a great deal of subjects. Among them was of course the subject of the current and next generation. This was part of what Merceron had to say regarding the lifecycles of the current gen:

"I would suggest that maybe we don't want long generations. We have Sony and Microsoft talking about this generation lasting 7,8,9 or even 10 years and it's the biggest mistake they've ever made.

"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." 

The idea that this generation has gone on for too long, and has suffered for it isn't really new, or at least it doesn't feel new. However, I'm not quick to buy into that train of thought for a number of reasons. You have to remember that the Playstation 2 and the Xbox both lasted for roughly six years before their next generation replacements came about. If, as many have speculated, the successors to the current generation systems premier and even launch next year, then there will have only been roughly a year longer than the last generation. You have to consider that even after the Playstation 3 came out, that the Playstation 2 still received some support, and went on selling systems for a little while. I don't see why there wouldn't be a reason that the current generation systems won't be doing the same, as the hardware price is driven down and they become more attractive options to budget minded gamers who maybe haven't made the leap yet.

The notion that people abandoned the consoles because people couldn't jump ship to a shiny new one soon enough also strikes me as a little ridiculous. Certainly there might be those that have been turned off by the expense or time and personnel investment that it takes to code for one system or the other, but you have to keep in mind that platforms like web browsers, iOS, and others are things that are radically different in most cases than any sort of console based system. The development and turn around on the former is often much simpler and much shorter; there are reasons for the appeal no doubt, but to say that it was because the next console isn't coming out as soon as it should just rings hollow for the most part.

Personally, what it boils down to is that although I see a myriad of problems with how things are currently going, the lifespan of consoles isn't really one of them. That's even assuming that said lifespans are even going to last much longer. With the WiiU poised to launch soon, the replies from Sony and Microsoft seem all but inevitable.

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