Will Wright and Square-Enix tech director weigh in on the end of game consoles

Media turns over a lot quicker these days than it used to. The Amazing Spider-man movie reboots a franchise that’s only been out of the theater for five years. Video games are no stranger to the process either. Tomb Raider Underworld came out in 2008, but now Square-Enix and Crystal Dynamics feel like the series needs to be kickstarted anew in 2013 with the confusingly titled Tomb Raider.

Video game consoles meanwhile haven’t followed suit. Quite the opposite actually; the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii are on track to be the longest-lived living room consoles in gaming history. All three companies making these machines have been focused on keeping their boxes on shelves as long as possible since 2005, and while they’ve achieved longevity, they haven’t managed to effect sustainability. According to key figures in the industry, the game console is dying.

GamesIndustry International ran interviews on Monday with both SimCity and Spore creator Will Wright and Square-Enix’s worldwide technology director Julien Merceron. Both men painted a grim image of the game console industry going forward.

Merceron, whose career reaches back to the mid-90s when he worked as a programmer on games like Rayman with Ubisoft, believes that Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo signed their own death warrants by keeping the current generation of consoles alive for so long. “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 success, so they will wait for the next generation, and will jump on that platform,” said Merceron, “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.”

Will Wright says that even if consoles remain in place as living room fixtures, cloud-based streaming gaming services will replace discs. “[Cloud gaming] is going to be the future,” says Wright, “People have so many devices they carry around. They have their tablets, their smartphones, their PC at home, their Xbox—I think that having a game that’s accessible on all these devices at any time is going to be much more sticky than something you have to go home and play on your PC or only play on your iPhone.”

“I think all the console guys are running scared. Not so much because of the hardware, but because of the business models, free-to-play and that kind of thing, have shifted underneath them,” concludes Wright.

Nintendo may very well be sealing its fate with the Wii U this fall. Can Microsoft and Sony turn around their fortunes with Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4?

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