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Epic boss is thrilled at the prospect of PlayStation Neo and Xbox Scorpio

'The idea of doing everything from scratch every seven years is completely crazy.'

Epic Games founder and CEO Tim Sweeney is excited about the prospect of the PlayStation Neo and Xbox Scorpio, two pieces of hardware that look set to disrupt the traditional console cycle and potentially put an end to it, saying the old way of working was ineffective.

"I'm absolutely thrilled with this," Sweeney said of the mid-gen refresh in a recent interview with Eurogamer. "It gives you the best of both worlds, the upgrade cycle of the PC which ensures that people always have access to the latest and greatest hardware and games don't go out of date over a seven year cycle, together with the fact there's a box you can go and buy - or two boxes - and you're guaranteed that everything can work. And I think the configurations for developers are very reasonable.

"From an industry insider perspective, the console industry will grow and sustain its user base much better if it doesn't have to reset its user base to zero every seven years. The idea of throwing everything out and doing everything from scratch every seven years is completely crazy. And everything Epic's done with our new game development approach, involving these online games we're going to maintain over time, it's about building games where we don't have to reset our user base to zero when we want to add new features."

Rumours around Xbox Scorpio and PlayStation Neo have been circulating since this year's GDC, with specifics emerging at E3 in June. Xbox Scorpio will release towards the end of 2017, and will deliver what Microsoft is touting as the world's most powerful console. Sony is playing its cards closer to its chest, confirming the existence of Neo prior to E3 but refusing to go into details just yet - although a clear picture of exactly what Neo will offer has already begun to emerge.

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Both consoles are positioned to take advantage of 4K televisions, with Xbox boss Phil Spencer going as far to say that those with 1080p televisions wouldn't see the benefit of the added power offered by the likes of Scorpio. Is 4K support the right route to take with these new consoles?

"There's value to 4K," said Sweeney. "These 4K television are incredibly high quality and becoming very economical so supporting them will be good. From a typical users TV, a lot of users are going to prefer having that 3 to 4 times the computing power applied towards making the existing number of pixels look that much better. I think games will choose different routes. At any rate every game should be expected to deliver a 3X or better improvement in graphics quality as a result of this new hardware - whether they do it through higher resolution or prettier pixels is a decision for each game, and different games will exploit it in different ways."

According to the specs we've seen so far, PlayStation Neo and Xbox Scorpio look to make their performance gains through GPU rather than CPU power - a move that makes sense to Sweeney.

"I feel like consoles will remain in balance," he said. "You can see in some of the most complex games at the moment, the CPU is having no trouble keeping up with complex scenarios. As game developers, you can spend far more time doing far more optimisation for CPU than GPU - a GPU is a perfectly parallel brute force computing device, if you give us a fixed algorithm and tell us to make it two times faster there's not much we can do, you can spend a year making our game run twice as fast. If you look at what's going on in the industry, it's still propelling GPU performance growth over CPU performance growth, which is a trend I think is going to continue."

Sweeney is well-positioned to comment on Microsoft and Sony's future plans, having overlooked the success of Unreal Engine 4, which recently reached the milestone of being used by a community of some 2 million developers. At this year's E3, some 80 games were using Epic's engine, including titles as diverse as We Happy Few, Sea of Thieves, Scalebound and Eve Valkyrie.

"About three years ago, we had about 10,000 users," Sweeney said. "18 months ago, we had about 100,000 users through our subscription programme. Almost all of those 2 million has come in the last 15 months. The growth has been very fast and very recent.

"It's gone beyond our wildest dreams - not only has it not hurt our business, but a huge number of companies have come in without any sort of effort on Epic's part, and we didn't even know they were there until they were building a game, often a triple-A game. These are projects we didn't even know existed until someone called us and told us about it, and this wouldn't have been able to happen if you had to call us and speak to a salesperson."

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Sweeney himself hit headlines earlier this year after the publication of a scathing piece in The Guardian about the Universal Windows Platform initiative which, he believes, could see Microsoft monopolising game development on the PC. His stance hasn't softened since.

"I still have this concern. I think Windows 10 is by and large a great operating system, and it's great that Microsoft is running its own store and providing another alternative outlet for game sales, and it's great that they're doing all their games to support both Xbox and PCs, they're doing a lot of positive things. My concern remains that Microsoft is holding the option of using its power of monopoly to force consumer PCs into their store and out of other competing software sources. Microsoft has said a lot about the topic, but they haven't committed that they'll maintain Windows as an open platform - and they've made moves that'd make it very easy for them to foreclose on the whole consumer PC industry, by flipping a few knobs on their operating system that block the installation of third-party sources. I remain concerned about that possibility, but I'm not a general Microsoft critic."

Is Sweeney still engaged in an active dialogue with Microsoft about the issue - and are they any closer to providing a satisfactory outcome?

"[The dialogue] is continuing, and I'm grateful that they're always willing to discuss these things. What we really want is a commitment that that won't happen so we can adapt these new technologies with confidence they won't be used against us in the future.

'It's a big company, most people have their hearts in the right places, but they still have a tradition of keeping options open especially in regards to these techniques, which is an unfair application of their monopoly power. In turn they rightfully gained a monopoly in one business, with the Windows operating system on PC, into another area where they haven't earned that through fair competition, such as software distribution and in-app commerce."

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