Cross-gen: why the industry must bridge the next generation gap

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Destiny will arrive on 360, PS3 and “future console platforms”, we learned yesterday. Bungie’s next blockbuster is a cross-generation game, then. And it certainly won’t be last.

Combined, PS3 and 360 represent a user base of over 140 million. For thirdparties like Destiny publisher Activision, drawing a line under that colossal marketplace and starting again simply doesn’t make business sense. Sony and Microsoft’s next boxes will inevitably attract millions of early adopters, but they will represent a fraction of the current-gen player base for years to come. Unless developers and publishers are heavily incentivised by platform holders to make their titles exclusive to next-gen, it seems unlikely they’ll do so. Instead, we’ll see the next era of blockbuster videogames span the generations.

“I would not expect any launch titles to be exclusive to the new platforms,” says senior analyst at 
Brean Capital Todd Mitchell. “Developers have had dev-kits for the new consoles for over a year now. Usually they run a parallel development process to current-gen. I would expect the next-gen consoles to enable certain multiplayer, community or connected features not available on current-gen.”

One option open to developers making cross-gen games is to build a cutting-edge next-gen title and scaling it down for release on current-gen tech. It’s something Crytek has been doing for years, says the studio’s senior field applications engineer Sean Tracy.

Crytek says that its game engine allows developers to create high-end next-gen games and then scale them back for a current-gen release.

“We at Crytek strive to push the boundaries of visuals and gameplay on all platforms we develop our games for,” he tells us. “Leveraging the power of the CryEngine allows us at Crytek to develop a game with the highest fidelity and then export the game and its content to other, more hardware restricted, platforms.”

“Our ultimate goal is to have a single interface where we only need to build the game once and not recreate it for individual platforms. This is one of many things that makes CryEngine so attractive to developers as it saves them time and increases the overall quality of their games. I can’t speak of course for all our developers but this is what we encourage, as working on the highest spec and then creatively solving how to achieve these high-end effects on less powerful hardware is what the CryEngine, simply put, is best at.“

As Epic Games also noted recently, this kind of flexibility will be increasingly important for studios as we transition to next-gen. As well as potentially releasing two versions of the same game – one cutting edge, one current-gen – always-on game services will help studios claw back revenue from its investment in new platforms. Next-gen exclusive DLC and other platform-specific features will take advantage of the new technology in a way that current-gen can’t – they’ll also increasingly tempt game players into upgrading to the more powerful box.

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