When the Nintendo Wii U launches this Fall, it will mark the beginning of the end for the longest console generation in the history of video games. New hardware from Sony and Microsoft is expected — but not confirmed — to arrive near the end of 2013. With declining sales affecting every aspect of the industry for seven straight months (hardware sales for June 2012 were down 45% from the previous year, software sales dropped by 29%), are consumers ready to commit to the expense of next generation consoles, or will it be more than the market can handle?

Count 2K Games President Christoph Hartmann among those who support the transition to new hardware. Despite the challenges the industry currently faces, Hartmann  believes, “the market is ready to take console gaming to the next level.”

Hartmann has a lot to say about the coming generation. In a lengthy, wide-ranging interview with GamesIndustry International, the 2K Games President offers his take on the prospects for Wii U, the importance of dedicated games consoles, and the boon to creativity that only increasingly powerful hardware can provide.

2K Games has a stable of notable titles on the horizon (including Borderlands 2 and BioShock: Infinite), but only one game slated to arrive as part of Wii U’s launch lineup, Visual Concepts’ NBA 2K13. Is the publisher taking a wait-and-see stance toward Nintendo‘s new hardware, or betting against the console’s success? Not according to Hartmann, who has faith in Nintendo’s ability to deliver new experiences, but thinks gamers may not immediately recognize the system’s “beauty.”

“…Nintendo is such an impressive company, they have over and over again put handheld and consoles out that are impressive. They have so much experience that I am sure they are going to do it again. With any new console, especially where something original is added, it will take time for consumers to understand it and see the beauty of it. I know that they have such clever people at Nintendo that people will see the beauty of the console, though it may take some time.”

2K Games Borderlands 2

Nintendo’s vision for the next-generation emphasizes (once again) the importance of novel new play experiences, and while Hartmann doesn’t discount that approach, he believes that the opportunities presented by the sheer (presumed) graphical muscle of Sony and Microsoft‘s next consoles are vital to the industry’s future. As he sees it, game design won’t be able to truly evolve without “photorealistic” graphics.

“I think the market is ready to take console gaming to the next level. It is the longest cycle we’ve had and it is harder and harder to launch new IPs. Consumers are very used to the big franchises, but we need innovation in terms of content to really drive things.”

“Until games are photorealistic, it’ll be very hard to open up to new genres. We can really only focus on action and shooter titles; those are suitable for consoles now.”

“Every new platform changes video gaming because it is able to do certain things. When you look at how many open-world games are out there, that was not doable for most people 20 years ago. Other huge games like Skyrim simply weren’t able to be done. Every time the technology advances, new things will open up and be created. “

Just don’t expect those “new things” to come from the cloud. Despite Sony’s $380 million dollar acquisition of cloud-gaming service Gaikai, and OnLive‘s all-encompassing approach (even OUYA will support it), Hartmann remains adamant that dedicated gaming consoles are here to stay.

“I don’t know what we will have in the future, maybe a PS 15 or something, but we will need the hardware. It’s like in the software industry, the software pushes the hardware; there’s a give and take and it’s the same in video games. We need machines built to perform well in one area, and that is gaming.”

“You’re never going to be able to compete with it because it’s about quality and it’s built to do one thing best. And, by the way, the whole streaming and cloud thing is just nice words until the [internet infrastructure improves]. I don’t believe in cloud gaming until a cable provider stops breaking my internet connection every morning, when everyone logs in at the same time. I don’t see this being fixed for a long, long time.”

2K Games BioShock: Infinite

For the full interview, head over to GamesIndustry International.

Hartmann makes a strong case for his opinions, and as President of one of the most respected publishers in the business, his insights are not to be dismissed lightly. But is he right? Are photorealisitc graphics really necessary for game design innovation? Is the viability of cloud gaming really as far off as Hartmann believes? Time, as always, will tell, but these questions are worth asking.

For that matter, given Hartmann’s clear enthusiasm for ever-more-powerful hardware, and his apparent faith in Wii U, why isn’t 2K Games doing more to demonstrate “the beauty of the console” — like, for instance, developing an all new, original title for the system?

Ranters, what’s your take on all this?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Source: GamesIndustry International, Boston.com