‘Final Fantasy’ producer says 5G will end games console’s long reign

The advent of 5G as a global standard will herald the long-term demise of the dedicated games console, even as the Covid-19 pandemic has boosted short-term demand for the machines, said one of Japan’s most prominent figures in game production.

The prediction from Naoki Yoshida, a director at Square Enix who oversees the development of the blockbuster Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series, comes despite demand for Sony’s PlayStation 5 outstripping supply and sales of Nintendo’s Switch continuing to beat forecasts.

But improved streaming speeds and a long-term shift away from the television as the primary medium for gaming could change that.

“Once 5G becomes the global standard, there will definitely come a time when we can transfer images to any device,” Yoshida told the Financial Times in an online interview.

“Players can enjoy a high-quality gaming experience on any device by not being tied to a gaming hardware or TV monitor. We’re definitely heading in that direction, and I don’t think coronavirus will slow this shift,” he added.

The games industry and analysts are torn over whether cloud-based gaming and the entry into the market of technology groups, such as Google and Amazon, will finally put an end to the games console. The machines, which date from the mid-1970s, have proved resilient to predictions of their imminent disappearance.

Yoshida is best known for resurrecting the role-playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn following its catastrophic debut in 2010. More than a decade on, the role-playing series is one of the most popular online games, with 22m registered users worldwide. Its upcoming Final Fantasy XVI is also being produced by Yoshida.

Square Enix itself has benefited from lockdowns boosting demand for home-based entertainment. For the fiscal year that ended in March, the group’s operating profit rose 44 per cent from a year earlier to an all-time high of ¥47.2bn ($430m) following the launch of Final Fantasy VII Remake and other new game titles.

“With home consoles, you need to sit in front of the television . . . and turn on the power and wait for the hardware to start up, so it was a time-consuming entertainment,” Yoshida said. “With stay at home, there were more opportunities to turn the switch on.”

Still, following the extraordinary gains last year, industry research group Newzoo forecasts that the console market will decline 8.9 per cent to $49.2bn as gaming companies grapple with supply constraints caused by the global chip shortage.

While the pandemic has forced gaming companies to adopt a more flexible working environment for their artists and programmers, Yoshida conceded some setbacks of not being able to physically interact during game development.

“It’s hard to read the atmosphere when you’re online, so people started asking questions all the time using chats,” he said. “We initially thought it would be more comfortable online but there were unexpected blind spots.”

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