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In an industry that at times seems constantly obsessed with the Next Big Thing, it's no wonder there's always so much hype that swirls around the introduction of a new generation of video game consoles.
Console gamers don't have the same geek luxury as, say, Apple fanatics, who get a couple shiny new devices every year. Typically, it's only once every several years that a major new home video game console launches. That's a long time for anticipation to build up.
For game developers, it can be an exciting time as well as a time of uncertainty. But you can't stop progress, and as the current generation of consoles grow long in the tooth, it's time for a change.
So much has evolved since the Xbox 360 kicked off the current generation back in 2005 -- new business models, new distribution methods and new ways to interact with games and fellow gamers will all have an influence on new consoles.
So what exactly should game developers expect, and what do they want from the next generation of consoles? We already know the basics of Nintendo's offering with the Wii U, but what about Microsoft and Sony? As rumors about a new Xbox and PlayStation continue to swirl, Gamasutra speaks with several top-tier game industry figures from Crytek, DICE, Epic Games and others to answer the question: What do you desire from the next generation of hardware?
Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic Games
Cary, North Carolina's Epic Games has built its business this generation on high-tech visuals, sound, online play, and core-focused game design with Gears of War and Unreal Tournament. The highly-influential company has been known to push the boundaries of new hardware, with its commercial game releases also serving as convincing advertisements for Epic's widely-used Unreal Engine.
"For us, there are two things that are going to be essential to the console market going forward," says Epic founder Tim Sweeney. "One is bringing together all the features and expectations that gamers have built up from all the main platforms out there today. There are great games with Facebook integration that enable you to hook up to social networks and find your friends in there. To be able to do that from next generation games and consoles would be really valuable."
And it's not just social integration that gamers expect, says Sweeney -- mobile platforms have shifted player expectations of how they get their games, and new consoles should allow developers to meet those expectations.
"To be able to easily buy and download games on future consoles as we do in the iOS App Store would be really valuable to us as developers," says Sweeney, "and make it easier to get our games out without an over-reliance on manufacturing a whole bunch of pieces of spinning plastic that we'd ship to consumers."
"So, having all the things you'd expect from the game industry as a whole, and the best that's been done elsewhere, and bringing that to the console platform is really important," adds Sweeney.
"We went from consoles as a little, fixed, TV-connected device to an online-networked gaming device on which you could play with your friends, get updates, watch movies, and we love that," Sweeney says. "I think a huge portion of the business opportunity in the next generation will be extending that concept even further, that this is a mainstream computing device that hooks into all of your social circles as well."
There's another thing that Sweeney and Epic want to see introduced in the next generation of consoles: "Raw performance," Sweeney says. "The thing that separates consoles from FarmVille is the fact that consoles define the high-end gaming experience. When you look for the best graphics in the home gaming industry, today you look at Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and those games are the best out there, bar none. The big opportunity for future consoles is to bring that to an entirely new level by delivering a dramatic increase in raw computing power."
"We measure that in floating point operations per second," he continues. "Now we talk about teraflops, trillions of floating point operations per second. We want as many teraflops as is economically possible to deliver to consumers, because that allows us to create the best quality experience possible, and that will drive people to buy new machines."
Hooking early adopters and hoping they drop a few hundred dollars is one of the most nerve-wracking parts for game companies that are backing new hardware. "That's the big challenge with consoles, is that you reset your install base from millions and millions back to zero, then you have to convince everybody to buy new hardware," says Sweeney, illustrating just how daunting that task is. "To do that, you need to have awesome games that provide a level of graphical fidelity that people have just not seen, or even imagined, previously."