id Software co-founder John Carmack has high expectations for mobile. He points out that the rate at which smartphones and tablets are improving means that mobile will soon catch up with where consoles are today. As a result, he believes mobile could one day overtake traditional console gaming.
"It's unquestionable that within a very short time, we're going to have portable cell phones that are more powerful than the current-gen consoles," Carmack told IndustryGamers. "People have exaggerated the relative powers - the iPad 2 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, two years from now, there will be mobile devices more powerful than what we're doing all these fabulous games on right now."
Carmack notes that when id Software started developing Rage, an upcoming first-person shooter and racing video game, iOS didn't exist. The iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad (200 million devices and 15 billion apps downloaded) were all released and upgraded in the space of one project development timeline. He worries that a major landscape change could be happening as gaming companies work on large scale projects. As a result, id Software needs to do everything it can to constrain its projects to not take so long, he said.
Some game developers argue that that mobile will always be a different experience... Carmack calls it a diversion rather than a destination. Gamers are not abandoning their console for their mobile device; the numbers certainly don't show that, according to Carmack. If anything, companies are selling more big titles than ever before, despite having multiple new mobile platforms available. He argues that this means mobile and console are undergoing parallel growth rather than stealing from one another.
Still, as mobile devices become powerful enough to offer destination titles, game companies will need to refocus. We could reach a point where you just don't need a console: your mobile device just connects to your TV (probably wirelessly) so that you can get the big screen experience with surround sound without having to switch devices. Once you can do that, consoles may just not be as interesting anymore, unless they can stay significantly more powerful and interesting over their mobile counterparts.