Id's Carmack: Phone game hardware to overtake consoles in two years

Id Software co-founder John Carmack predicts cell phones and tablets will be more powerful than today's video game consoles in two years. But will that make games better?
Written by Peter Cohen, Inactive

Id Software co-founder John Carmack says mobile game systems - cell phones and tablets - will surpass the current crop of video game consoles within a fairly short period of time. His comments come in an interview posted by IndustryGamers. But will that make them better? Hardly.

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Carmack notes that mobile phones and tablets have become very powerful very quickly, and doesn't see that curve lengthening or changing. While he says that "people have exaggerated the relative powers" of the iPad 2 compared to the Xbox 360, but the mere fact that mobile systems have developed so quickly indicates that they will overtake the capabilities of current consoles in fairly short order - two years from now, he predicts.

With Nintendo a year away from introducing the Wii U, Sony rumored to be reading the PlayStation 4 for a 2012 release, and Microsoft certainly not willing to let its Xbox console series be sidelined, home console hardware is a moving target, of course.

But does all this make games better?

For the last 20 years, game developers have been obsessed with making games prettier to look at, and more realistic, in terms of predictable physics, true lighting and shadowing, and special effects that look indistinguishable from the best movies.

But games aren't necessarily more fun than they were when the original Nintendo Entertainment System ruled the roost. They're just a lot prettier.

In fact, if you're an old fart like me, you can argue that games back then were more fun than they are now. That's why a lot of gamers of a certain age love to revisit the games of their youth with retro collections.

More powerful hardware isn't a home run to making a better game, though it almost assuredly paves the way towards making a more expensive to produce game. We've seen the budgets of games spiral upwards to tens of millions of dollars as huge development teams assemble to maximize the potential of the target hardware.

But as budgets have increased, imagination has decreased.

The people writing the checks for the production of these games are, by nature, averse to taking risks with their money. They want proven successes. So they're more likely to bank on known properties, sequels with a built-in audience.

The result? Year after year of the same old crap - unimaginative games that sport only iterative differences between each other, along with a few "me too" titles that borrow liberally from other successes wherever they can.

What's happened is that the worst of Hollywood has bled over to the worst of game development.

Back in 1983, the first iteration of the home game console industry crashed. It crashed for a variety of reasons, but the principle one was a total loss of consumer confidence in what was being offered. Lousy products were being rushed to market and stores were glutted with garbage that consumers didn't like and didn't understand.

Consumers spent $25.1 billion on video games, hardware and accessories in 2010, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and the average gamer - not the person who buys the game, the person who plays them - is in their mid-30s. This is a very mature, robust entertainment market.

I'd hate to think that eventually we'll hit another point as we did in the mid-80s, and I don't see it happening. But just like the movies, people will stop spending money if they don't like what they're getting.

Regardless of how much horsepower the iPad 2 or the average Android smartphone has, a game has to be fun to make it worth playing. It's a lesson any game developer should recognize - even one with the credentials of John Carmack.

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