Some believe that the dedicated game console is an increasing hindrance to the growth of the gaming population and the works created for them. And leading voices in the game industry are starting to acknowledge that in some way too, thanks in part to the sudden rocketing success of full-blown, major game releases on smartphones and tablets and innovations in streaming technology.
Microsoft recently told Variety that gaming is becoming increasingly about having your favorite games available on any device you own. Ubisoft co-founder and CEO Yves Guillemot said he believes game consoles only have one more generation left in them before they fade away to be replaced completely by the ability to stream games to a multitude of platform-agnostic devices.
“I think we will see another generation, but there is a good chance that step-by-step we will see less and less hardware,” Guillemot said. “With time, I think streaming will become more accessible to many players and make it not necessary to have big hardware at home.
“There will be one more console generation and then after that, we will be streaming, all of us.”
Guillemot told Variety in a recent interview that he believes that the ability to stream AAA games to more screens was one of the biggest innovations coming in the game industry.
“It is going to help the AAA game industry grow much faster,” he said. “We have to work on the accessibility of those games, to make sure they can be played on any device, but the fact that we will be able to stream those games on mobile phones and television screens without a console is going to change a lot of the industry.”
A big part of that evolution is the growing use already by game developers of cloud servers, where the heaviest work of a computer is being done by outside servers, not in a person’s home or inside their console.
Guillemot believes that as more developers make use of that technology to personalize play for gamers, it will become more accessible to all developers and eventually become ubiquitous enough to do most of the work of a game console.
There are already a number of companies experimenting with different technologies that allow a person to play high-end games on basic laptops and other sorts of devices. Nvidia’s Geforce Now service is currently in a free beta. The graphics chip company said the technology “transforms any mac or PC into a high-performance gaming rig.”
Valve, which owns the largest online PC gaming store in the world, recently expanded its Link service from streaming a game from a high-end PC to a low-end one in a person’s house, to include the ability to stream games to a smartphone.
“There are quite a few people that are working on streaming, like Nvidia,” Guillemot said. “So, we think it’s a trend and that it will continue to evolve. Eventually, the technology will improve dramatically, which will allow us to have a very smooth experience in the big cities of the world.”
While Ubisoft is one of the largest third-party game developers in the world, they’re not a company directly linked to any of the big three platform creators: Nintendo, Microsoft, and PlayStation.
Nintendo for its part doesn’t see its consoles going anywhere anytime soon. The company is just a year into the incredible success of the Nintendo Switch – a hybrid console that can be played on the go or off of a television. So in some ways, it’s following the same philosophy of ubiquitous gaming, but on its own platform.
“Nintendo Switch is the only platform delivering console-quality games that can be taken anytime, anywhere,” Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said. The Nintendo Switch “just celebrated its first year on the market, and it has much more to offer in terms of unique experiences.”
PlayStation declined to comment, but earlier this year PlayStation chief John Kodera noted that the current PlayStation 4, which launched in 2013, is in the final phase of its life, indicating that a next generation of game consoles might be just around the corner. While he also talked about a continued interest in portable gaming, he didn’t note what form that new generation might take.
The statements come as PlayStation 4 holds tightly onto a major lead in console sales. The company sold 20 million PS4 in 2016, 19 million last year and expects to sell 16 million this year.
Microsoft, which stopped releasing its Xbox One sales figures in 2016, seems to be evolving the way it looks at gaming.
“Microsoft has a long history as a leader in the world of gaming,” Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming for Microsoft, told Variety. That history starts back in the early days of Windows with titles like “Minesweeper” and “Solitaire,” and then advanced with the company’s push into consoles with the original Xbox and then its support of online console gaming, streaming and game services. In 2013, Microsoft launched its latest console, the Xbox One.
“Our focus right now is asking the question, ‘What can Microsoft do for gaming?’ instead of simply how to stack up against the competition. It’s why we look at expanding the audience with Xbox Adaptive Controller, or how we make sure games can be multi-generational with projects like backward compatibility. I care less that people play Minecraft on an Xbox One, but that people can play Minecraft no matter what console or device they have in front of them.”
That notion is about as platform agnostic as a platform holder can get. Spencer notes that gaming is now one of Microsoft’s six “solution areas,” as defined last fall by company president Satya Nadella.
“He challenged us to make Microsoft the global leader in gaming by empowering everyone on the planet to play, watch, communicate, and create together,” Spencer said. “I mentioned it earlier, but it’s a particularly good example: we’re updating Minecraft to play across as many devices as we can, toward a goal of having every Minecraft player in the world able to watch, communicate and play together. We’re focused on this mission for the future of gaming at Microsoft.”
As gamers play across a variety of devices, Spencer said it’s important for the company to make sure all of those experiences are great.
“I look at investing into three key areas: content, cloud, and community – that is, making great games, making the experience of accessing and playing them better and improving things for the players overall. It helps lead gaming for everyone – not just Microsoft – into a better place for everyone.
“Regarding your specific question about console generations, this is why I still see games themselves evolving beyond generations, and I’d like to keep evolving hardware as multi-generational too.”
Spencer notes that the number of gamers has grown to over 2 billion worldwide and that growth is seen by Microsoft as a huge opportunity to “contribute to the power and potential of gaming as the next wave of the digital revolution is increasingly drawing gamers and creators together across geographies and platforms.”
Gaming, he added, is “less about having specific devices to play a certain game on, but having your favorite games accessible on any device you have.”
Read all of Variety’s E3 2018 coverage right here.