This console cycle could be the last- Twitch CEO

Emmett Shear expects Microsoft, Sony to move closer to frequent upgrade loops of tablets and phones

The console cycle may be in its last rotation. Speaking with The Guardian, Twitch CEO Emmett Shear said he expects the current crop of systems to be the last console generation as the industry has understood it for decades.

"The problem is, the seven-year upgrade lifecycle doesn't work in the face of the two-year upgrade cycles for every other hardware platform," Shear said. "It's so intrinsically built into how consoles get manufactured and made and the full business model, that I'd be surprised to see another generation."

That doesn't mean a console-free future; Shear just expects the notion of console generations to change form. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 already receive software and operating system updates at a much faster pace than previous consoles, and Shear said it's likely console makers will start taking similar approaches to the hardware itself.

"I could imagine a version 1.1 product from both Microsoft and Sony which adds in slightly more speed and slightly more memory very similar to how phones and tablets work today," Shear said. "I think it's going to look more like the mobile phone market over time."

Shear also talked about Amazon's $970 million acquisition of Twitch last year, saying the online retailer was already a significant player in the gaming space.

"They sell video games effectively, they have a platform for producing video games, what Twitch brings to that is the missing piece of the puzzle: a community. We provide that reach, and it made a lot of sense. We also gained access to a lot of things through the purchase that it would have taken us a long time to build ourselves, if we ever actually could."

When asked about rumors that Google was on the verge of acquiring Twitch before the Amazon acquisition, Shear kept the focus on why Amazon was the right fit for the video streaming service.

"Amazon was committed to Twitch remaining independent," Shear said, adding, "I don't think I would have gone with any deal that didn't give us that level of independence."

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Latest comments (28)

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
Shear seems to unfortunately have a poor understanding of why consoles and the console cycle exists in the first place.

It will all go to the cloud before it goes to an annual or biannual hardware refresh cycle. Updating the OS and firmware at a rapid pace dos not equate to updating the retail hardware at any faster pace than usual.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend5 years ago
Haven't we heard variations on the same theme every console cycle?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 23rd March 2015 4:19pm

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Jordan Lund Columnist 5 years ago
He also doesn't seem to understand why this generation ran 7 years. We were supposed to get new consoles around 2010, but the economic crisis and tightening of lending delayed that. 7 years is not a normal cycle for consoles.
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Show all comments (28)
Matthew Hardy Studying Multimedia/Game Design, ITT Technical Institute5 years ago
Consoles will survive at least one more cycle due to VR going mainstream. Folks will want a reasonably inexpensive system to enjoy this new technology and it will be Sony and/or MS that facilitates that for most people.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
That and if you knock out consoles with any form of offline play, you knock out a HUGE chunk of money from users still not able to get always online connections. I don't think many realize how bad it is in some areas where the have-nots have to suffer because some people think EVERYONE is on the same bandwidth everywhere and never has any issues.
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Stephen Richards Game Deisgner 5 years ago
I think Shear makes a good point. I don't agree that the economic recession had anything to do with the extended console generation, Jordan. It lasted those few extra years partly because the 360 and ps3 were unprecendentedly expensive investments for both Microsoft and Sony. It made sense to let them last those extra couple years, given that neither competitor was imminently about force the other's hand by releasing an update at the regular interval.

Alongside the matter of profitability, there's the simple fact that we're hitting diminishing returns in terms of what improved hardware can contribute to the actual experience of playing games. It's harder to notice the difference between a ps3 and ps4 screenshot than in any previous generational leap. That's not to say that another generation can't or won't happen, but it'll be a much tougher sell now that hardware is rarely the limiting factor on what kind of games we can make.

Of course the idea that what we've got is "good enough" has been expressed many times in the past, so we should consider it with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, consoles aren't going to carry on updating forever(?!?) so maybe we have hit the ceiling at which it makes economic sense to cram in faster processors and graphics cards?
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James Coote Independent Game Developer 5 years ago
Shear is both right and wrong. He's right that hardware is moving on too fast for the traditional console cycle. I personally subscribe to the idea of device-agnostic platforms, where players download the Playstation or Xbox app onto their phone or TV or PC or whatever else and play games through that. Reason being, a new Xbox every couple of years in addition to a new phone every couple of years is going to be a tough sell, especially when there won't be much difference between the two specs wise.

However, it's clear that there is a large niche of conservative, traditionalist gamers who like things done the old-fashioned way. Disks in boxes, dedicated devices. It'll be a few decades before they fade away into insignificance, and in that time, there will be a place for companies servicing their needs. But they're not going to be at the cutting edge, creatively, technically, or in business practices.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
Your phone will never be as powerful as your console. In a closed system, physics simply prevents this from ever happening.

Some of you don't think gamers will still want new GPUs and CPUs every 5 or so years yet are claiming they want new phones with new GPUs and new CPUs ever year. And there may come a time when the law of diminishing returns makes new hardware pointless, it is not only one generation away.

Oh, and it's not a matter of being a traditionalist or old fashioned, it's a matter of the types of games those systems provide. Trying to fashion console gaming into a negative perspective as archaic orantiquated and its gamers as troglodytes shows the same lack of understanding of consoles that Twitch CEO Emmett Shear put on display in the article.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jim Webb on 24th March 2015 1:27am

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Paul Jace Merchandiser 5 years ago
"....I'd be surprised to see another generation."
Twitch Ceo Mr. Shear meet Nintendo's next console project NX. Surprise!!
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital Extremes5 years ago
Well to be fair the NX still has to bring Nintendo to this generation. They might get 3rd oarty support then.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development5 years ago
Gaming hardware will never go away, but the lines between "console" and "mobile" are definitely going to get more blurry.

For example, is the iPad a "console" already? It's a dedicated gaming device (or it can be used that way), and the power in the thing is getting better rapidly. An iPad in five years will be mental and all it needs is a controller interface and you can play on your lap and not hog the TV.

What you call this style of device is up to you, and I'm sure competitors will have different ones available as well. But I do agree with the sentiment of the O/P that there will only be one of these types of things in each home in future. (Or one each, you know what I mean)
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee5 years ago
We were overdue a 'console is dying' statement this quarter. Looking forward to the next :)
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
Well to be fair the NX still has to bring Nintendo to this generation. They might get 3rd oarty support then.
Generations are not, never have been and never will be about some arbitrary industry performance level. It's a predecessor/successor system.

And no, it takes far more than performance parity for Nintendo to have full 3rd party support.
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Shehzaan Abdulla Translator/QA 5 years ago
So console games would have to be able to scale so they are playable in some capacity across a range of hardware, just as mobile or PC games do. Yeah, I don't see why that wouldn't be possible. And as each iteration would essentially be a beefier version of the previous one cross-compatibility shouldn't be such a big issue for developers.

It's just that I'm not sure I, as the customer, want to buy into that. And I think many myopic looks at the future of tech assume uptake without having a good basis for doing so. Maybe if consoles were subsidized by their online subscriptions (and dirt cheap as a result) like how contract phones are it could work. Could.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 5 years ago
@Richard--Jim already said the majority of what I was going to say. By the time Nintendo releases the NX(or whatever it's called at that point) it will have been at least 4-5 years from when the Wii U launched and that's a pretty standard time frame for a console generation to last.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany5 years ago
Maybe, we are not sure about that. What I am sure, however, is that we will hear this again from another member of the industry when/if the next gen arrives in X years.
And "mobile devices are taking over the world", "PC soon will disappear", "F2P will make boxed model disappear" and every variation of "Every format except the one I'm working in is doomed"

For once I'll say that when the time comes we'll see what happens.
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James Coote Independent Game Developer 5 years ago
Sorry, didn't quite mean it like that. Just to say "consoles" in the sense of boxes you stick disks into to mostly play games on are slowly being superseded by more general devices. However, they're often not pitched very well to 'gamers', for whom there's always going to be a (nostalgic) desire for something like what came before and which just plays games.

I came across someone on reddit the other day making their own 8bit console. That's pretty damn cool, but it's super-niche and probably not where the future of gaming lies.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Coote on 25th March 2015 3:53pm

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
I appreciate that James but it's really not about nostalgia at all. It's the simplistic concepts of plug and play, dedicated hardware and dedicated software. Plus other notions such as dedicated input and the fact that a console for X number of years will play all games developed for it without the need for upgrades or poor performance due to increasing spec changes.

While phones are ubiquitous due to their main focus (personal communications), they will always be inherently limited in their gaming capabilities because of the laws of physics. Portability, cost, power draw, heat dissipation, input method, etc...all prevent a phone from being capable of providing the same experience a home console does. And it is that experience that gamers still want as evidenced by record breaking sales of home consoles despite mobile phone ubiquity.

There is still another couple of upcoming generations to go before dedicated consoles disappear (probably to the cloud and set top boxes). As for a new 8-bit console? Cool, agreed. Niche, agreed. Not the future, agreed. Hence why nostalgia alone isn't at it were.
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James Coote Independent Game Developer 5 years ago
Not so much set top boxes, but into the TV sets themselves as they get more and more powerful. If your TV runs on Windows 10, you don't need an Xbox One anymore (or rather, the TV is your Xbox). You buy the game once on the Windows 10 store and then play it on your TV, tablet or phone. And it's only going to be the top AAA games that won't run on the tablet or phone. (Interfaces is a different matter, but that's a game design issue).

The tech is converging pretty quickly, which is why people are saying this will be the last gen for consoles as we know them. I personally think there'll be one more, designed to ease people into this new world of device-agnostic platforms. But after that?
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
James, it's going to depend on whether gamers are accepting of the performance capability of that set top box/TV (or the cloud). If there is a big gap between that set top box/TV and a PC, you can be certain a console will have a market.

How long before the law of diminishing returns simply makes it indistinguishable between a PC and a set top box/TV is up for debate. I still believe we have at least a couple of generations to go.
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises5 years ago
A PS4.1 or an Xbox One.1 isn't a completely crazy idea. PC games have run on a wide range of hardware for a long time now. Why can't console games do it too?

I would actually prefer this as a consumer, having replaced both a dead 360 and PS3, it would have been a lot better to replace them with newer versions with more powerful graphics cards
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
Craig, one of two scenarios will play out.

1: Developers design around the new spec and consumers with the old model system play an inferior game (frame rate, resolution, loading, A.I., etc...).

2. Developers design around the common spec and consumers with the new model gain very little benefit.

Either one defeats the entire purpose of a console. You buy the console and it plays all games from console launch until the next generation rolls around.
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Rafa Ferrer Localisation Manager, Red Comet Media5 years ago
I'm with Jim here. The whole point of consoles is carefree plug&play during its cycle, no graphics settings, a global common denominator... In short, simplicity. If I do have to care about specs and performance, I'd go (back) to PC gaming where I'd get better results.
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises5 years ago
Jim, that sounds exactly like the current console situation. But we accept it because there's so many years between each console generation, and even when a new system comes out the big games still have lesser versions for older systems.

If a PS4.1 had the same CPU and ram as a PS4, but came with a solid state drive and more powerful graphics chips. Then the same game should easily play on both versions, it'll just load quicker and look better on a PS4.1.

Okay, bad example because I think the CPU in PS4's and XboxOnes are integrated with the graphics chips. But if Sony or Microsoft planned for annual/semi-annual updates like these, it could have worked. And it only works if publishers ship their games with full size textures, even if the current console has to shrink them to keep the frame rate up.

Rafa, it would still be care free if all games were backwards and forwards compatible, and they came pre-configured with the best settings for your console version. Unless some really demanding VR game comes out that needs a PS 4.5 to run.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
Craig, that almost already happens. Look at the number of models of PS3's and X360's that Sony and MS released. Most had CPU/GPU die reductions, HDD upgrades, networking changes, etc... Don't forget that the PS3 allowed for HDD upgrades from the consumer.

But, gamers don't want to buy an annual console upgrade. That is why we have consoles. Retailers would cry foul as well with the need to carry 3, 4, 5 versions of each console plus all the bundle models. Developers that spec out their game 2-3 years in advance would constantly have to re-evaluate which model to target. R&D and Marketing costs would go way up. And the last thing you want is the hardware designers holding back so they can "patch" in hardware on the next upgrade cycle. Costs would be cut on launch units leading to lots of angry consumers.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 5 years ago
But, gamers don't want to buy an annual console upgrade. That is why we have consoles.
Nobody actually tried that business model (if you don't count SteamOS).

I would add a third scenario for your two :

3, Developers design for the new spec, and the older hardware wont run the new game.
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Kenny Lynch Community Rep/Moderator 5 years ago
Personally I would have to say that yes people do want to buy new consoles. Why would they want new cars, new graphic cards, new phones, etc, etc, but not want new consoles? We love new stuff with bigger numbers attached, even when we know it is the same thing repackaged. Fact of life.

I'd say the point is that the console market makes a loss on hardware to get market share to sell games. Otherwise we would be looking in shops trying to work out if a PS4090 with double the memory but half the memory speed is better than a PS4095, etc. As long as the point is to earn money through licensed games, it is not going to change, but if it ever did people would be queueing round the block to get the latest and greatest console that costs four times as much as the vanilla version and offers nothing other than higher synthetic benchmark scores.

I don't buy the 'console users are too smart for that' argument. They are just being fleeced in a monopoly rather than a free market, that is all.
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Justin Biddle Software Developer 5 years ago
I used to be an avid pc gamer and swore blind I would never touch console. I seldom pc game now. Yes I could get a pc much more powerful than my console but I'm willing to sacrifice power for stability. Simple fact of the matter is I just reached the point where pc gaming was too much hassle. And also did not require a grand or more worth of hardware to get the best rig.

We live in a world where people expect things to be quick, cheap and convenient. Hello console gaming. No upgrading for at least 4-5 years. Every game works. And far cheaper. Oh. And say what you want about steams big screen option it's still far easier for me to plug my console into my tv and audio system than my laptop

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Justin Biddle on 27th March 2015 10:26am

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