Creator Of Unreal Engine Says Consoles Have 6-8 Years Left In Them Yet

Is the age of the home game console as we know it drawing to a close? There are those who say it is. But when, realistically, can the consumer expect the technology gap between the box they plug into their TV and the tablet they hold in their hand to close?

In an interview with GamesIndustry International, Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games and designer of the first Unreal engine, explained why he thinks doom and gloom are still many years away.

Mobile tech, phones and tablets, are iterating and evolving at a remarkable pace, he confirms, and consoles are on a much longer development cycle. (The Xbox 360, for example, launched six and a half years ago and as yet has no replacement officially on the horizon, although many expect an announcement sometime this year.) But the sheer physics of consoles — the electricity they use, the speed at which they work — still keeps them ahead of other devices:

The big difference between a console and a tablet is the console can consume 100 or 200 watts of power, while the tablet consumes one or two or three or four watts. That's really the limiting factor of performance there. Just on the grounds of the laws of physics, you'd have to think it is three to four hardware generations, or six to eight years before the current highest end desktop or console performance you can achieve becomes achievable on tablets. To me, that really defines the role of consoles in the world. They define the highest and most impressive graphics experience anywhere in the industry. They focus on delivering teraflops of computing performance in a way that a portable device or an economical computer really couldn't, despite sheer focus on that one aspect.

And yet, Sweeney added, the rate at which Apple in particular pushes the boundaries of the possible in mobile technology is impressive. "I'm continually astounded by Apple's sheer will to push the industry forward," he commented, adding:

Apple is by far the leading phone provider in terms of profits or any other objective measure of how well they are doing. A company in that position could just rest on their laurels and keep making more and more profit from each new phone. Apple doesn't take that approach. Rather, they push the technology forward as fast, or faster than possible to go from lower resolution displays.

In discussing the ways that the platforms on which consumers play games are changing and evolving, Sweeney also addressed some of the implications of a project his own team at Epic recently showed off at the 2012 Game Developers Conference, where they ran games using the Unreal 3 engine in Flash, on a web browser. Nearly every piece of tech out there these days has or can have a web browser in some way running on it. So what does that mean for the future? Again, Sweeney replies, it comes down to the basic level of power a device can put out:

A lot of consumer devices that you wouldn't expect now have web browsers built into them, a lot of TVs. I think we're a ways away from the point where they have enough graphics horsepower to play games like Gears of War. If you look at a console, the key thing that they do is deliver a huge amount of computing power in a consumer-friendly form factor. A TV might have one-tenth or one-twentieth or one-thirtieth of the power of a console. So, I really don't see that being a substitute for the console game experience - unless you put in a two or three teraflop GPU in there.

So, six or eight years for the world to shift under our collective feet? That feels like forever, and gives us at least the next version of the Xbox and PlayStation (along with the Wii U) to have a comfortable, familiar lifespan. But then again, time flies. A mere few years ago I wouldn't have thought one could play a big-budget Grand Theft Auto game well on a telephone, either.

An Epic Interview With Tim Sweeney [GamesIndustry International]

Top photo: Flickr user rdenubila

Comments

    Uhh, so, am I missing something here, or do PCs no longer exist?

      Pc - run flash in web browser. Besides PCs are here to stay regardless of gaming.

      No PCs exist. This guy must see that there is still untapped potential with console hardware.

      When it comes to gaming, great games do not depend on how much hardware you need or can throw at it. Its about making do with what hardware is avaliable and finding ways to make it perform as though there is more of it.

    I still disagree with how "well" games like GTA 3 can be played on a touch device... whilst it pulls it off visually, touch controls just dont do it for me.

    As much as others may wish to say other wise the idea of devices lasting over 6 years is just dumb. Sorry tech moves on, everything else upgrades every year. Alot can happen in 5 years, so thats the limit then move on. Why limit to old tech for so long?

      Yeah, all those people with PS3's and 360'S are idiots that don't realize that they aren't really having fun or being impressed by anything on them. It's all an illusion and the sheeple won't wake up!

      WAKE UP PEOPLE! YOU'RE BEING SCAMMED!!

      "Why limit to old tech for so long?"

      Why does this claim always crop up? Nobody found consoles as a problem back in the 1980's and early 1990's. In fact, it was often applauded when developers pulled off the impossible on the hardware limitations of consoles.

      Did I miss a memo or something because there seems to be this mentality that the "only" way of creating better games is to have boat loads of hardware.

      What about the design, and the creativity in the console and the use of the medium and technology.

      I know the "PC Master Race" is going to lampoon me but that comment just does not fly. It is not the fault of consoles (or their manufacturers), the problem lies in developers show are so paranoid of not getting a huge return on their investment that they have killed off any and all notion of risk.

    I dont think you can estimate on how long it will take for consoles to die out by assuming consoles wont 'keep up with technology', if the public buy's consoles and continue to, there is no reason why the industry would eventually die..., consoles are more than just for games, there media centres aswell, there not going anywhere

    I for one will be disappointed if there's no new Xbox announcement for E3. I'm ready to dive into the next gen!

    I think it really depends on the definition of a 'video game console' The traditional video game console died a decade ago when the PS2 and Xbox came out. The Playstation 3 and 360, while both are video game consoles, are more of a 'multi-media devices'
    The Wii is the only traditional console yet, purely for gaming. Its a piece of shit, and yes, people have moved on from that. I still think we'll have Playstations and Xbox's in another decade, but they will be further marketed as entertainment devices.

    I wish it were possible to have a console AND a PC. That'd be like the best of both worlds! Oh, I'm dreaming, I know.

      steam console?

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