Carmack: Mobile tech to surpass consoles in 2 years

id Software's technical director believes mobile's supremacy is "unquestionable"

id Software's John Carmack believes that mobile technology will soon overtake consoles, potentially replacing them for users seeking a more convenient gaming experience.

The company's interest in mobile development has grown exponentially in the last few years, and Carmack, in particular, seems energised by the rapid pace of progress in the sector.

"It's amazing to think that when we started Rage, iOS didn't exist. There was no iPhone. All of that has happened just in the space of one project development timeline," Carmack told IndustryGamers.

"That's a little scary when you think about it, because major landscape change could be happening underneath our feet as we work on these large scale projects. And we're going to be doing everything we can to constrain our projects more to not take so long."

Major landscape change could be happening underneath our feet as we work on these large scale projects

John Carmack, id Software

Carmack's comments are supported by recent data from Nielsen suggesting that games were the most popular app category over the last 30 days. The report also indicates that 93 percent of app downloaders are willing to pay for games, with iOS gamers now spending almost twice as much time playing as the average mobile user.

Nielsen's findings seem consistent with Carmack's own experience: id's older developers rarely use their Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s for gaming any more, and increasingly regard the iPad as their platform of choice.

"It's a different experience, though... It's a diversion rather than a destination. And while they're certainly powerful enough now to make destination titles, that's still not really what's doing particularly well there. But it certainly is a worry."

In Carmack's view, the sales figures don't support the theory that mobile blockbusters like Angry Birds will erode the popularity of AAA console titles, and he suggests that both will continue to grow in parallel.

However, he does invoke a possible future where mobile phones could be linked to televisions and serve the same function as a console. What's more, he believes that mobile technology will be powerful enough to do so, "within a very short time."

"People have exaggerated the relative powers - the iPad2 is not more powerful than the 360. It's still a factor of a couple weaker. But the fact that it's gotten that close that fast - that means that almost certainly, 2 years from now, there will be mobile devices more powerful than what we're doing all these fabulous games on right now."

A key factor in mobile replacing consoles could be convenience, and the same is true of cloud-based services like OnLive, even if OnLive doesn't exist when that future finally arrives.

"It's not at all clear that the existing ones will survive long enough for that future to get there, but I think that it's almost unquestionable that, if you look 5, 10 years in the future, that type of delivery - even though it's not going to necessarily be the same graphical quality of latency quality, but a whole lot of convenience can make up for [what's lacking]. So I do wonder if the mobile platforms might get more and more of that going for them, where it provides a good enough experience for [most people]."

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Latest comments (28)

Ean Miller Studying Journalism, University of Oklahoma10 years ago
The idea of mobile replacing the console market seems very farfetched to me.
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Indeed. People generally expect consoles to be bigger than mobile devices, therefore consoles could always fit more of the same tech in them. The difference is the product lifecycle. In the time that the 360 has been out, apple have gone through 4 versions of iPhone and 2 iPads.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 10 years ago
Mobile device with good controls making full use of a 1080p television screen? Sony Vita 2 anyone?

But except manufacturers start delivering handheld devices with fire proof asbestos gloves, the PC will retain an edge, simply because it can push more wattage ithrough all its processors.
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Show all comments (28)
Mihai Cozma Indie Games Developer 10 years ago
@ Ean I don't think that is exactly what he wanted to say. I think what he wanted to say is that the power of mobile devices could get faster than expected on par with the power of consoles (or low end PCs, which is what consoles really are in terms of processing power).

@Klaus Maybe you will have some alternative cooling solution like a "dock" or something with external power supply, and certain apps could require that to run at full details (just a supposition :))

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mihai Cozma on 8th July 2011 2:59pm

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David Bachowski VP Business Development, Babaroga10 years ago
I am more prone to say that mobile will start integrating more into the console space
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Sergio Bustamante II VP, Executive Producer, Pixofactor10 years ago
I thought the comment that Carmack made of mobile phones replacing the console (and/or perhaps controller) is a valid one. Apple already has the pieces in place to make this a reality down the road. A later version of the iPhone could be powerful enough to run higher end games and with the addition of Apple TV and iCloud, there is no reason why Apple wouldn't be poised to take over the living room space where "hard core" games are played.

Again, great insight!
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Anil Das-Gupta Smartphone Developer, Capcom10 years ago
I think it's quite likely that 5-10 years from now, we will be playing console-style games on our TV's that are actually being run locally from our Smartphones. The picture will be streamed directly to the TV from the phone, much in the same way that Wii U will be streaming from it's central console to the touch screen found on the Wii U controller.

This way, gamers who want a more "core" experience can still do so. It would be easy to have a Joypad / Joystick also connect via bluetooth to the Smartphone, so that a user can play a game like an FPS using a pad. When you're done, simply put your phone back in your pocket.

Interestingly, from a game design perspective, this could mean that we have games created that support a full-on core console-like experience mixed with a pick-up and play / bite-sized experience too. Imagine during the day using your Smartphone to organise your inventory, assemble new weapons and so forth, and then when getting home using the fruits of your labor on the battlefield in an FPS or Hack and Slash.
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Robert Clegg Producer, Knoverse10 years ago
The comment that struck me the most was, ""It's a different experience, though... It's a diversion rather than a destination." That goes to the heart of content development.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 10 years ago
That's all good and well, but what do you do when (duh!) you CAN'T ACCESS YOUR CONTENT WHEN THE NETWORK GETS HACKED?

Sorry, but this will always be the big issue at the end of the day, period. Having more power, speed and flashier graphics are all fine, but once you make people slaves to any sort of online component, you're asking for trouble.

Anyway, I'm old and I like most of my games on a bigger (HOME) screen so I can actually SEE what's going on. As much as I love my handhelds (and no, I don't own an iPad, which isn't a handheld), I like sitting on the couch or up in bed relaxing more than I do walking down the street stepping in dog shit and avoiding open manholes and traffic trying to play Pissed Off Bovines XVIII...
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Interestingly enough you cite "Wii U" - which isn't out yet - when talking of streaming to TV while iPad2 is already capable of doing exactly that with Apple TV - doing it without "additional peripherals" is just a matter of "shared standards".

So, to reprise what Carmack's saying: iPad2 ALREADY streams to your TV... and Wii U just got way too late on that and on many other things. :)
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Jason Bolt10 years ago
The headline is a bit misleading. Carmack said "2 years from now, there will be mobile devices more powerful than what we're doing all these fabulous games on right now." Which is probably true. But at the same time consoles are improving. The Wii U is on its way, and their have been rumors about the PS4 and the next Xbox. The next console generation will have the advantage of either being more powerful than mobile technology or less expensive, or both, because they won't have to be shrunk down, cooled down, and made power-efficient for batteries.

The real question, I think, is whether the large demand outside of gaming for iPads and other mobile devices will result in a wider distribution of said devices than of the next generation of consoles. That could lead to a larger market for mobile games over console games.
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Andrew Jakobs Lead Programmer 10 years ago
The biggest problem with mobile devices is controls.. Vita will be a great device because of its superior controls (but being a handheld it will have a big job at trying to persuade smartphone users to buy it.
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Rob Craig Instructor / Writer 10 years ago
Great comments all. For me, the key words Carmack spoke of is the tradeoff of convenience vs AAA "destination" titles. Today you have people playing novelty games typically meant for "waiting line" moments. Angry Birds, a fantastic game, is the result of great timing, low price (or free trial), and basic game component design. There really isn't anything more in the core of the game design than what I played as a kid on the Commodore 64 ... except a painless and immediate purchase / play possibility, online updates regularly, the connected environment to have fans promote the game through social media, and of course the ability to play the game for a few moments here and there without losing context. Hundreds of short level experiences. On the iPhone; it's small display and sound, even with headphones, is far from immersive. Overall, it's a great 80's arcade getaway experience while you are bored. But, it's making big money and getting attention. That seems to be what mobile devices are best served for in gaming.

Moving the environment off the limited mobile device and onto an HD TV will be important. Whoever gets their mobile devices to connect (audio, video, controllers, etc) and can crank the horsepower required for a "destination" game will truly have made a difference. My opinion of course. Today, packing a 360 around is a pain. It's big, bulky, requires various controllers (some requiring connections of their own), a wired or wireless internet connection, etc. And did I mention optical media in most cases? I love PC and console gaming, but I clearly see the trend here.
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Bruno Brsted Incident Manager 10 years ago
I don't see mobiles or pads replacing consoles except perhaps for the very casual gamers if there is a way to put the game on a big screen eg. many of the current Wii owners may go that direction. However even without replacing consoles there is no question the market for games on these non-game specialized gizmos is growing but to me it seems to be more about a lot of new casual gamers plus seasoned gamers simply gaming more because they can.

Console and PC gamers will keep using those platforms. Partly because it's where the hard core stuff is but more importantly the interface between man and machine makes a huge difference. A racing game may become sophisticated and look great on some pad but unless I can hook up a steering wheel, pedals and gear shift then it will lack behind what I have on console/PC. Similar with almost any other game tpe.

If we include items like Vita and so on in "mobile tech" then the picture is somewhat different, but those are consoles already only they might gain more and more "mobile tech" functionality, but I hardly see them become as mainstream as smartphones and pads. Average user simply have no desire for shoulder triggers, analog controls and all that since they clutter up the interface (and cost money).
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Rick Cody PBnGames-Board Member 10 years ago
Instead of upgrading computers, phones and game consoles every few years why not just upgrade the one device which replaces them all and connects right to your TV?
You could set your phone down on the coffee table & have it stream to your TV, pull out a game controller/keyboard & mouse and play games/do you computing easily.

Finally, if the technology is already so powerful, simple and small why do we need cloud computing?
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Jason Bolt10 years ago
Why do we need cloud computing? Because some people prefer to pay regularly for an online service rather than make a single, larger payment for a graphics card (which, IMO, is foolish, since you can easily buy a decent graphics card for less than $100, and there are more benefits to a graphics card than gaming). Either that, or they bought a laptop with cheap integrated graphics and can't upgrade it.
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Tom Hunt Game Developer, neocade10 years ago
he's talking 8th-gen consoles vs 3rd/4th/5th-gen iphones and androids.

i agree with him, to a large extent. there are some pretty powerful mobile devices coming in the near future. what tips the scales in their favor is not just the fact that they're able to pump at a pretty respectable amount of game, but that they work as portable devices - and with no compromises at that. I've heard of some people completely abandoning their PCs for an iPad already. What's to say that consoles aren't next?

it's possible there may be another nes- or (original)playstation-level leap in consoles, where the entire market just changes completely. it might happen, and that could revive things a bit; or it may be that the rapidly advancing mobile space is that leap.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 10 years ago
Addressing some of the points made in both the article and the comments:

Power usage: It seems a lot of people don't realize how important low power consumption has been to consoles for more than a decade now. Consoles, being consumer living-room devices, are smaller than PCs with less cooling capability, and this has been reflected in their design for more than a decade now. In 2001, when IBM first sat down to design the CPU to be used in the PS3 (and, in modified form, in the Xbox 360), one of the three primary design criteria was power usage.
Processing power: Consoles will always have the capability of staying well ahead of mobile devices in this area, since they always have more and cheaper power and cooling, and less need for miniaturisation. But the real question is, will they? Especially given the long release cycles they have compared to mobile devices, even if the next generation of consoles does spring ahead as far as this generation did from the last, it's not unreasonable that mobile devices will have caught up by half-way through the next cycle. Given how the cost of development rises as consoles become more powerful, though, and the clear consumer acceptance of "last-generation" processing power demonstrated by the Wii, I can certainly see how we might see consoles improving at a much slower pace in the future. (Is the Wii U a sign of that?)

Controls are a dead easy fix, at least when you're at home. There's no reason that my Bluetooth PS3 controller couldn't work just as well with a mobile device rendering to my TV as it does with my PS3. (In fact, this can be done now with the PSP Go.) But mobile is coming up to speed on that, at least in some instances. The Vita, for example, is equivalent in number of buttons and joysticks to a PS3 controller (if you use the rear touchpad to emulate two more shoulder buttons), though it appears to be missing pressure sensitivity on the face buttons and L2/R2. (That last loss is quite annoying when it comes to things like driving in games.)
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game10 years ago
A problem I foresee for console level AAA gaming ever making it on mobile phone hardware is hardware redundancy. Take something like Skyrim or GTA that has a 4-5 year development time. If you started a game in 2007 for the 360, we would expect it now. If you wanted the game ready for the launch year of a console, it would have been being made long before you knew the hardware, but you would spend x amount of months getting it optimised. If you started an iPhone game in 2007 with a 4 year cycle, the original hardware (1st gen iPhone) is totally redundant, the 2nd gen (3GS) is virtually redundant, the only reason people like me are using them is that my contract isn't quite up, and every time you spent 9 months optimising that scale of game and polishing and testing, and all the stuff you expect from a AAA massive release, Apple will have released a new model, and you risk your massive expensive game looking less impressive than a 6 month developed title which has less content, but is built ground up for the modern hardware.

OK, this is an issue to an extent on PC, but at least the hardware evolution there is more organic, not reliant on one company revealing the details, and in the PC market you have a large percentage of people with slightly older, or mid range, hardware anyway. Even then, it's taken until now for the technical advantages of decent PC hardware to show this generation, the familiarity with Xbox and Playstation hardware has allowed developers to push it far further than if they had to fix it to work on new hardware every 9 months, which compensates for a while for the fact it is slightly dated a few years later.

Of course, mobile hardware could slow down, as much as this would fly against the policies of companies that traditionally make all their money on hardware, but then the hardware would not be catching up technically with consoles.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Goodchild on 9th July 2011 7:46am

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Jan Almqvist Senior Artist, Playdead10 years ago
Mobile devices has for quite some time been more powerful than the PS2, a roughly 10 year old console. Why would anybody be surprised that in two three years time, handhelds would be more powerful than the current consoles, that by then will be 8-9 years old?

I also find it slightly sad that consoles are still considered toys with an expected "low" price point. The notion that a gaming console should ideally be around $300 is a much bigger threat to console gaming than the mobile devices themselves. People are fine with paying $500 for an iDevice but gamers shit their pants when a console comes in at that price. Hopefully it can change as gamers gets older and doesn't have to rely on parents or low income but Sony tried to up the status with the PS3 (premium price, premium hardware) but that sort of backfired. I think that experience might have a negative impact on the next generation, which if it doesn't deliver could be the last proper home console gen. And that could lead to the end of big budget game productions.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jan Almqvist on 9th July 2011 11:13am

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.10 years ago
Portables will not replace consoles for a very long time because consoles will always maintain a hardware performance advantage and developers and consumer will want to have the best available hardware.

Look how much effort developers put into pushing the X360 and PS3. And look at how gamers fight over the most minute nuance of multiplatform games. Do you think this group of content providers and consumers are really going to want to go backwards in hardware performance?

By the time the mobile space equates X360/PS3 performance a new generation of home consoles will be out and the cycle stars anew.
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Three points:

1/ Unless there is a major breakthrough in battery technology, power consumption/battery life will be the limiting factor for mobile devices (if it isn't already).

2/ Consoles have more price pressure, as they are typically bought up-front: where as mobile devices are typically bought on contract (and paid off over several years). The mobile devices can be much more expensive.

3/ Consoles only get rev'd every 4-6 years, whereas new mobile devices are coming out every few months. As you get towards the end of a console cycle, mobile devices may well be more powerful - but IMO its very unlikely to happen when a *new* console is released.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 10 years ago

don't forget that when your magic battery pumps all that energy into the mobile device, the resulting heat has to go somewhere. Even if an engineer could shrink a 8000mA/h laptop battery to 1/10th its current size, you still could not put a current GPU in any handheld device.

P = CV*f !!!

Thermal design is the key limiting factor of any computer. It is the limit when companies build server farms and calculate how much air conditioning they can afford. It is the limit when people build a PC. It surely is the limit when Microsoft wants to avoid another generation of Red Ring of Death. Thermal design is the limit if you want a mobile device which does not melt the skin in your hands.

So no matter how good a handheld chip gets, the chips which are build with actively cooled, fist sized chunks of heat absorbing metal in mind, will always have a giant advantage.

If you want one environment where Onlive really makes sense, then it is mobile devices hooked to low ping next generation mobile networks. You would not necessarily do it to outsource the processing power to a remote location, you would do it to outsource the heat which is being generated in the process of rendering a 1080p game.
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Carmack is right, consoles are done. Stick 'em in the garage next to the DVD and VCR.
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Adam Campbell Studying Games Technology, City University London10 years ago
Mobile technology can already rival a low end, integrated DX10 GPU from a laptop in a tiny, fanless design. In 2 years a lot would have changed, especially looking at the number of cores we're getting, the achievable clock frequencies, more sophisticated architectures and massive growth in memory. It's very possible and will be interesting to see..
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Stephen Rebeiro Creative Lead / Technical 3D Artist, Ink Vial Games10 years ago
Most new developers would hit the mobile platform for getting their ideas and product quickly to the market, its a first level entry with low cost production, quick revenue , though there is a risk of representing the game on console rather than on mobile, but it does depend on how the game ends up as a package.
Also Mobile games could be a potential to gain users for future console versions, Imagine Angry birds (with extra features) released on console, its obvious it would get a huge response.

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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ10 years ago
I'm not saying that Real Racing 2 is at the same level of detail as the high end consoles, but it's interesting to see it being played at 1080p from an iPad 2 on a large television.

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You could imagine that with the addition of a nice racing wheel and pedals, for example, you'd be quite close to the full console experience. And with just a bit more power on your mobile devices, you could get a level of graphical compexity that's closing in on the console experience. Yes, I suppose the console could always pack more power into a larger specially built device. But as Carmack says, for many people, that extra flare and definition isn't necessarily that important.

I think mobile devices will be taking us to interesting places, and offering many non-hardcore gamers a great way to have quite a powerful and immersive gaming experience, without needing an extra specially built games machines or uber graphics card upgrade.

The convenience of having using this "all in one device", that you already own anyway, could be enough for many people.

One upside of this is that these devices can bring a whole bunch of "new gamers" into the market who may not otherwise be playing games at all.

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Simon Dimes blogger 10 years ago
first off who in the right mind wants to play a title like ,,,um lets say bioshock infinite on the train. 2nd a ps3/360 controller cost 40 bucks if you brake it,are you going to buy another ipad if anything happens to it playing a triple a title.even when mobile devices catch up,its not like console tech is going to stand still.and still its not going replace the core experience,th controller is much more an experience than playing on some flat device that most likely has a whole bunch of peoples valuble stuff on it that they are going jeopordize,cloud or not.
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