Julien Merceron, worldwide technology director for Square Enix, recently claimed that the current console generation has gone on for "way too long."
"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," he explained to a game industry site. "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."
His comments raise two related questions: Would iOS and web-browser games be less popular if a new console generation had started sooner? And more broadly, would the industry be better off?
I'm highly skeptical on both counts.
For starters, it's worth asking whether Merceron is right on the facts. Is it true that developers are leaving the consoles for iOS and browsers? Or is the development business simply expanding to accommodate the new market?
Merceron is a high-ranking source in a successful company, so I assume he knows of times when developers have abandoned consoles. But so far as I can tell, the most prominent developers for browsers and iOS either (A) were formed to take advantage of these platforms or (B) develop for consoles as well. For example, Rovio, the developer behind Angry Birds, was created for the express purpose of making mobile games, and Zynga, the force behind Mafia Wars and FarmVille, has never done anything except make people addicted to Facebook. Meanwhile, the folks behind Minecraft brought their work to consoles despite having success elsewhere first.
Also, for game developers, the great thing about web browsers and iOS is that the user base is incredibly broad; these platforms are not limited to gamers who are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a console. Virtually every young person today uses an Internet browser, and a growing percentage own smartphones too—and, as luck would have it, these platforms are now powerful enough to run some decent games. I find it rather hard to believe that a new console generation would have kept developers so busy that they wouldn't have noticed this or tried to profit from it.
What about the broader question? Should we be playing our PlayStation 4s right now? I can think of one good reason we should and two good reasons we shouldn't.