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Mon 24 Feb 2014 7:55am GMT / 2:55am EST / 11:55pm PST
Hardware

Nvidia's Tom Petersen on Steam boxes, Titan and how mobile will catch up to console

"You buy a graphics card today, it's going to be awesome for three years, but there's going to be something better in nine months."

In that one sentence, Nvidia's Tom Petersen has neatly summarised the eternal dilemma of the PC gamer: even if you're completely happy with your rig's performance, you can't quite rest easy if you know it could be better. You'd think that, as director of technical marketing, Petersen would be a prime candidate for the espousal of the bleeding edge of gaming hardware, no matter the cost, but his attitude is much more pragmatic than that.

"I think it's true that people should not expect that if they buy something today, that it's going to be the top for forever. It's probably not going to be the top for forever, but it's going to play games for a long time.

"Technology innovation is a rapid, sort of semi-'eat your own children' kind of market, where you're basically developing something that's going to replace what you've done in the past," Petersen muses. "The idea, though, is that the benefits we're delivering are significant from generation to generation.

The latest generation is Nvidia's 'Maxwell' architecture - a range of cards which is focused on producing more output per watt, reducing noise, heat and battery drain, making them perfect for small form-factor machines, tablets and mobiles. Between Maxwell and the recent Tegra chipsets, Nvidia seems to be making significant advances in portable processing power, so I ask Petersen the divisive question: can we ever expect parity between portables and mains-powered gaming systems?

"It's probably not two years away before a mobile device is giving you the game experience of the equivalent console"

"When a mobile hits a console performance? You can kind of graph it," he replies. "It's hard to predict, but the difference between a mobile device and a console is that a console is plugged in, a mobile device is not. We're going to have to make some pretty specific steps to be able to do on a battery what a console can do plugged in, but I don't think it's impossible. It's just going to be difficult.

"The other way I think about it is, at what point does a mobile platform get good enough and the technology be good enough so that you can't distinguish the experience versus the console? I feel like that is very close. It's probably not two years away before a mobile device is giving you the game experience of the equivalent console. At that point, that's when this whole question gets more real for, I think, console guys.

"We've got mobile coming up from the bottom. Desktop PC's and Mobile PC's are pressuring from the high end. How do consoles remain relevant? It's not clear."

That opinion seems to be reflected in Nvidia's current portfolio - both the PS4 and the Xbox One are powered by GPUs from rival manufacturer AMD. With the new machines establishing their user bases more quickly than most expected, does Petersen feel that Nvidia should have been involved?

"I would look at the market as an option for Nvidia, but it's not a uniquely special market. At the end of the day, we're going to decide what to invest in based on what our expected return is. In the current round, it's very difficult for us to imagine making a reasonable margin as the console provider. This last round, we didn't see that as our most profitable avenue for investment.

"We've been investing in things like desktop GPU's. We've been investing in GRID. We invested in Shield and Tegra. All of those are multi-billion dollar investments. We believe they have a larger probability for a good return for our investors. If you compare that to the console market. The console business is actually pretty difficult.

"I can't predict how console remains competitive in the face of increasing mobile competence. PC prices are continuing to put pressure on that. The whole business model for console is challenged. It's under a lot of stress because of Free to Play and because of micro transactions.

"I feel like consoles have a little bit of adaptation to happen to make sense. Right now, I just scratch my head a little bit, when it seems pretty obvious that they're in the middle. They're in the middle between a massive platform, which is mobile and a massive platform, which is PC.

"I think consoles need to reinvent themselves, just like PC's do and just like mobile does"

"How do you build a console to harvest revenue off of the software in a model where a lot more of that revenue is going directly to the game guys? It's a tough nut. It's a tough nut. It's not impossible, but I think consoles need to reinvent themselves, just like PC's do and just like mobile does. I believe in the last earnings from AMD, they even mentioned that their margin is going to be a little bit depressed because of the contribution from console."

It's a diplomatically phrased way of dismissing the current console generation as interesting but not business-viable, essentially - perhaps exactly the way you'd expect an executive to talk about a market which has just become the exclusive territory of his company's main, if not only, competitor.

In fact, it strikes me that the tide of business has flowed back and forth quite evenly between AMD and Nvidia - that despite Nvidia's bigger market cap, the two co-exist successfully in a market of their own. We chat for a while about what Petersen calls a "stable duopoly".

"I wouldn't call it convivial," he chuckles when I ask him about their relationship. "It's definitely an intense competition. I don't feel like it's personal...I don't think AMD is a bad company. I think that they're actually doing a lot of good work. I think it's just sometimes that they're in a tough position because we're a larger company now and we're dedicating a larger percentage of our revenue towards GPU design.

"It's very, very difficult to be the number two guy. The real risk, I think, is falling into this consistent number two. It's difficult to make the investment level remain competitive there. They really need to be number one once in a while."

AMD's latest innovation is Mantle - an API which reduces the 'translation' time between games and graphics drivers to make them run more smoothly. It's a neat idea which strikes at the core of PC development, the diversity of hardware which is at once the platform's biggest strength and obstacle. It's a notion that clearly intrigues Petersen, and he's openly interested in a lot of Mantle's objectives.

"From what we understand, it's all about creating a less overhead intensive way to access directly the hard drive. Which makes a lot of sense. It's primarily a way to improve the performance and eliminate layers.

"The problem is, of course, that doesn't work very well unless you're delivering the same visual quality as before. As far as we know, Mantle is not designed to change the look of a game. It's supposed to basically make the same look, only run faster. That's what we think is a great idea. Hopefully, we'll see that in more places.

"The big challenge for Mantle is it's hard to benchmark because it's not using any industry standard., but from our perspective, the idea of increased performance by thinning the amount of software layers between the hardware and a game is a great idea. I view Mantle as probably a nice idea in terms of thinning the layers. Whether it's a competitive response to what we're doing or not, I'm not sure. I will also say that the biggest challenge of any new interface or new spec like that, is adoption. My guess is it's going to be somewhat difficult to push for the smaller share vendor to drive a new standard that's not adopted by all GPU's. However, I would say some technology like Mantle, that was used by all GPU's, is probably in everybody's best interest."

"We have big enough business where we can afford to deliver a product for people that are not going to buy a lot of them, but they're going to buy the best gaming device you can have"

Nvidia's own flagship GPU brand is Titan - monstrously powerful cards which are formidable enough on their own, but can also be strapped together to produce frankly ridiculous levels of processing capability. These cards aren't cheap, though, and anyone who can afford six of them in a rig is more likely to be controlling satellites than Lara Croft. The range has always felt more like shop-window tech than mass-market - bragging rights for the extreme gamer. Petersen agrees, with some caveats.

"I don't view Titan as technology that's going to filter down per se," he tells me. "I view it as...it's a love letter to PC gaming. We have big enough business where we can afford to deliver a product for people that are not going to buy a lot of them, but they're going to buy the best gaming device you can have. Since we have a huge business, to me it's more about building the brand.

"We don't really need to make a ton of money on Titan, because it's almost like that's one component of our entire stack. To be truthful, our strategy is not to take Titan technology and bring it down, it's to continue to innovate that ultimate enthusiast, discerning buyer, and to incubate that as sort of a discerning, differentiated design. It's not limited, by cost, really.

"For example, you can have a whisper quiet card that's the highest performance graphics card in the world. That's never been the case before. This is the real test. A couple of years ago, Jen-Hsun (Huang, Nvidia founder) asked us what card to we have in our PC's at home. Nobody told him that we had our highest end graphics card, because at the time, our highest end graphics card was too hot and was too loud. Almost all of us preferred something down the stack. Now, that's not the case. Every single one of us, of the leaders in Nvidia, would want a Titan. There's just nothing about it that's not delightful.

"I would almost say it's more like a leadership statement of this is what PC gaming can do. You can have multiple monitors running at 25 by 14 or 4K in the future and you can get this amazing experience. We're incubating the industry now. There's no ... Intel is not incubating gaming. When we're out there showing Titan, showing multi-monitor gaming, showing all of our gamings technology, it's about helping people understand where's the industry going.

"A product like Titan helps us communicate that."

Another industry shift that Nvidia has jumped into, perhaps less predictably, is streaming. The Shield, launched last year, is primarily an Android-based handheld, using Nvidia's Tegra 4 chip to power a five inch tablet screen to play Android titles. On top of that, though, it also allows PC games to be streamed from a PC running an Nvidia GPU. It's not directly in competition with services like OnLive or PlayStation Now, but there's a clear statement of intent about what Nvidia sees as its remit in the near future.

"I think, and I believe we think, at Nvidia, that streaming of games is an incredibly disruptive technology that's going to make high quality gaming available to very low power handhelds," Petersen says, in the emphatic tones of a man engaging on a favourite subject. "As an example, if you can stream the best graphically enhanced video game to a very low power hand held device, I think that's going to be awesome.

"I think, right now with our game stream technology, we're right at the point where that becomes delightful"

"As long as it delivers the promise of giving you interactive, real-time, stutter free, latency-low gaming. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to make that experience awesome. We know there's a bunch of technology that's required and we've been working on it for about five years. I think, right now with our game stream technology, we're right at the point where that becomes delightful.

"It's going to take a little bit more, but it's really, really good right now and it's about to become just great. Once that happens, I think it's going to be a change in consumers' minds. Where, before you started streaming movies, you always thought you needed to have a HDDVD or a Blu-Ray to get that quality experience because you couldn't possibly stream that. Well, all that's changed now.

"I don't remember the last time I bought a DVD. You stream movies because it gives you that incredible experience. Once gaming reaches that point, it's going to be the same. You're going to be streaming your games because it's just a better experience than, in many cases, playing it the old way.

"Shield is a particularly good device for streaming games, especially in the house using our game stream technology. I think the Shield device is a final product. It's a great Android gaming platform. It's great for streaming, but we've also learned a tremendous amount. Since we think streaming is the future, this was the great learning device. We figured out, 'Hey, people that buy Shield, almost always are GeForce customers.

"If you're a GeForce customer, you buy a SHIELD because you want to use it for streaming. Maybe that task is slightly different from Android gaming. As we start to understand a little bit better who our customers are, we'll probably be building products that are more tightly tuned towards specific uses."

Speaking of that, and the ever-increasing pressure on consoles from smaller form-factor PCs, our conversation turns to another PC-centric company taking a step out side its apparent comfort zone: Valve. With the first wave of Steam machines now specced up and ready to hit the living room, Nvidia's cards are playing a prominent part - with the Maxwell technology seemingly a perfect fit. Is this a trend we can expect to see Nvidia backing more directly?

"We're definitely not on the sidelines," Petersen allows. "I think the Steam initiative and the Steam Box in general, is a neat idea. I think we should go back and look at the real strength of a PC. That comes from this hyper competition that results in a lower cost and a lot of hardware variation that different people can pick based on their performance preference, right? That's all good. It gets consumers a better platform and a more personalized platform.

"I think the Steam initiative and the Steam Box in general, is a neat idea. I think we should go back and look at the real strength of a PC"

"The negative is it's like, different levels of performance make it hard to content developers to target. We've come out with a technology called GeForce Experience. I don't know if you're familiar with it?"

I am. It's an app which sits in your system tray, if you sport an Nvidia card, and scans your PC for games, allowing you to automatically optimise your machine's performance by tweaking their settings based on the power of your rig. It's the sort of thing that Valve's Steam service has been crying out for.

"That's our answer. We're deploying the power of the Cloud to test thousands and thousands of configurations. As a user, you plug in the best hardware that you want and you say, 'Optimize.' We will automatically set the settings so you get a great experience. It seems to me like, again, since I'm not privy to Steam's strategy, I can guess, that since they're doing the OS and they're still allowing variation on the hardware size, it's not a closed platform from a hardware perspective. My guess is they're going to borrow some of the ideas that we pioneered with GeForce Experience. I don't know that, but if I were Steam, building a console style experience, I would expect for them to try to simplify this a little bit.

"The easiest way to simplify, I think, is through the technologies that we've pioneered with GeForce Experience. If you look at a game like Skyrim, there are, I forgot the right number, but it's like, a million combinations of settings and it's probably more. Users that are not dramatically in to the PC hardware, into graphics, they hardly know what the names mean, let alone what the combinations of settings are. I feel like that, in general, is both a strength and weakness of PC gaming.

"It's a strength, obviously because you can get customized, perfect performance. It's a weakness because it's too complicated. I think Steam Box should take a crack, hopefully, at simplifying that."

30 Comments

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

897 1,339 1.5
If anyone has developed for iPhone 5S you'll get an appreciation for where mobile is going and just how fast it's getting there.

Mobile will never provide a console experience (and vice versa) based on form factor and usage patterns, etc. But in terms of outright performance, I expect parity by the end of this console cycle. Or close enough to make no difference.

Posted:8 months ago

#1

Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital

202 1,108 5.5
Popular Comment
I think that nobody expected to Nvidia executive to talk about how awesome both PS4 and XB1 are. Thing is, AMD is probably not going to make a lot of money out of the console deal, but with consoles being the key platforms for most AAA games, AMD may be getting advantage in the PC race, as more games will be developed with their hardware in mind.

Posted:8 months ago

#2

Curt Sampson Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
Popular Comment
"We've got mobile coming up from the bottom. Desktop PC's and Mobile PC's are pressuring from the high end. How do consoles remain relevant? It's not clear."...
"I can't predict how console remains competitive in the face of increasing mobile competence. PC prices are continuing to put pressure on that. The whole business model for console is challenged. It's under a lot of stress because of Free to Play and because of micro transactions....it seems pretty obvious that [consoles are] in the middle. They're in the middle between a massive platform, which is mobile and a massive platform, which is PC.
Oh, Christ, not again the "consoles are dead" thing. Why do people with clearly no clue what they're talking about persist in statements like this?

Consoles have been "under pressure" from PCs for more than thirty years, as will be obvious to anybody who compared the Atari 2600 to the Atari 400 or Apple II. They have remained relevant all this time, and will continue to do so, because they have an interlocking set of advantages that appeal to a large segment of the core gaming population. (Ease of use is the biggest one, along with a lower initial financial investment, a curated market, and a few other things.) Anybody who doesn't understand this is simply utterly ignorant of the how and why of consoles, and has no business discussing them.

Mobile is an utterly different market. It should be obvious even to a simpleton that the kind of people who want to play Assassin's Creed IV, Skyrim or Battlefield 3 are not going to accept Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga as a substitute. In terms of number of consumers, the core gamer market is certainly considerably smaller than the mobile market, but a hundred million or more consumers willing to spend one or two hundred dollars a year on gaming is still a large and thriving market by any reasonable definition.

In a few years, tablets and phones will certainly have the technical capability to replace consoles. When you get home (or to a friend's house, or hotel room) you could pull your phone from your pocket, plug it in to the TV, pair up a Bluetooth controller (or keyboard and mouse), and start playing your games. But there's a lot more than just technical ability needed to do for games what the iPod did for music. (I won't go in to detail about that, since this comment is already long enough.)
"I would look at the [console] market as an option for Nvidia, but it's not a uniquely special market....In the current round, it's very difficult for us to imagine making a reasonable margin as the console provider. This last round, we didn't see that as our most profitable avenue for investment....
The console business is actually pretty difficult.
Well, I don't know enough about this to know if he's right or not, but this does smell a bit like making an excuse for failing to get the console contracts. It doesn't seem all that hard to me to be a console provider; you do a bit of custom work at the beginning, and then just churn out chips (or collect royalties) for the next decade.

Posted:8 months ago

#3

Tom Keresztes Programmer

685 340 0.5
Consoles are not dead. At least not yet.

But the performance disparity is disappearing : if you ignore the GPU power, the A7 cores are faster than the Jaguar cores (although the Jaguar has 8 of them). Just check out some Kabini benchmarks (which is a 4 core Jaguar) Having a 250W GPU into a mobile is not really feasible (unless you want them to explode and have a battery life of 5 minutes), but using the same tech in a different form factor is quite possible. There are already attemts to use this tech in a console form factor (I tried the Ouya, Mojo - Tegra3 and 4 respectively) and i think we will see a big player trying to capitalize on this tech,

Consoles will stay. Companies come and go.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tom Keresztes on 24th February 2014 10:27am

Posted:8 months ago

#4

Curt Sampson Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
Consoles are not dead. At least not yet. But the performance disparity is disappearing...
The problem there is that it's too late for performance alone to make smaller and cheaper devices compete. Consoles are not just a piece of hardware, they're an ecosystem, and you need a lot more than just performance to make a successful competitor to the PS3 or PS4.

Posted:8 months ago

#5

Tom Keresztes Programmer

685 340 0.5
they're an ecosystem, and you need a lot more than just performance to make a successful competitor to the PS3 or PS4.
Amazon ? Google ? Apple ? All have the infrastructure and even appeal for non-gamer market (movies) ... It would only take a small step...

Posted:8 months ago

#6

Curt Sampson Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
Amazon ? Google ? Apple ? All have the infrastructure and even appeal for non-gamer market (movies) ... It would only take a small step...
Yes, but that's precisely not a competitor to the gaming consoles, since it's not any better as a media centre (probably worse, given that the PS3 plays videos not only from Amazon but from a huge variety of other sources). There's no reason I can see that anybody with a PS3 would buy the Amazon console as well, given that they can just fire up the Amazon app on their PS3. And I can't see Amazon taking away the ability to use your purchases on other platforms, any more than they're likely to remove the Kindle apps from non-Amazon platforms.

Amazon has no hope of creating a console that any moderately serious gamer would choose over a PS3 (or Xbox 360), not because they can't create a more capable $250 console, but because the PS3 and 360 have a huge advantage in the massive game libraries and support from publishers. They only way they can get in to the set-top box market is to offer a significant cost advantage for those not willing to spend $250 but who do want some gaming along with their media centre. It's an open question as to how big that market really is, of course, since there you're now in competition with mobile devices that can be plugged in to a TV.

Posted:8 months ago

#7

Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator

954 183 0.2
There's no doubt the power of mobile devices will catch up to consoles over time but that doesn't mean the gaming experience will be the same. And of course there's the whole issue with phones moving forward faster than the battery itself.

Posted:8 months ago

#8

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
Popular Comment
Consoles wont be dead unless you can take a 40" inch screen with you. And seeing how battery life is an issue with mobile devices, youll most likely need to be plugged in anyway. And if you have to plug in a mobile device to view it on a large screen and be connected to a power outlet like a home console, it essentially becomes a home console. Therefore it renders everything mobile about it irrelevant.

Mobile versus home console isnt about system specs, its about how they are used. And I think both provide expiriences that niether can offer, because of the nature in how they are used. I seriously would not enjoy playing a game like mass effect, zelda or metal gear on a tiny screen. And for extended playtime I play home, were I can be focused and not walkiing around or moving or in danger of getting run over by a car.

And as a gamer, i like having dedicated gaming device.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 24th February 2014 1:42pm

Posted:8 months ago

#9

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,138 1,179 1.0
Why worry about consoles being replaced?
Have movie theaters been replaced by TV, or VCRs, or home streaming, or mobile players? Were board games or card games completely replaced by computer games?

Consoles have competitive advantages too. Wall sockets to power them, superior heat dissipation, broadband Internet with lower ping and less bandwidth restrictions. Parts with better cost efficiency due to not having to be shrunk that much. Gigantic display devices.

That's not to say the current consoles formula was perfect. Considering how Apple and Android quickly replaces the internals of their platform, the idea of creating this one box you then sell for ten years unchanged, except for shrinkage, might come under pressure at some point. Whether Amazon is this point or nor remains to be seen.

Posted:8 months ago

#10

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
No matter how many times you explain it, most people do not understand Moore's law.
"The number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years."
This means electrical power used and heat created halves every two years. Compound.
That the cost of processing power halves every two years. Compound.
That the maximum power of a given device doubles every year. Compound.

And this is for Intel. ARM is evolving a lot faster. Smartphones have gone from $100 to $50 to $20 very quickly. Soon they will be free with the cornflakes.

Look at the grains of rice on a chessboard story to realise what exponential means.

Consoles are cast in stone for 8 years. This generation didn't even kick off at the bleeding edge of technology. They are going to look tired very quickly.

Posted:8 months ago

#11

Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital

202 1,108 5.5
Popular Comment
Aren't you all already tired of this old debate? This article is not even about consoles vs. mobile or vs. PC.

Yes - mobile phones are evolving quickly and will undeniably catch up to consoles, one day.
Yes - consoles are not going anywhere as long as there is a demand for AAA gaming and the the Sun shines bright
Yes - the experience on consoles and mobiles (and PC!) is very different from each other and is not interchangeable.
Yes - the Moore's law is still valid, though nobody cares.

I mean... there are so many great things to think about and discuss in this interview...

Posted:8 months ago

#12

Brook Davidson Artist / 3D design

83 223 2.7
@Klaus
Have movie theaters been replaced by TV, or VCRs, or home streaming, or mobile players? Were board games or card games completely replaced by computer games?
The funny thing about that is, Movies to TV, is like Arcade to Consoles. And yes, Arcades pretty much got decimated. The only reason movie theaters stayed relevant is because you are able to have a better experience than at home with your TV. Assuming you are not rich.

Someone who owns a huge entertainment center as good as any movie theater and is able to get all the new movies in the best quality as soon as they are released, I bet they would never go out to the movies again. However, since that is not the case for most, theaters remain relevant.

Consoles however, remaining relevant is much trickier. The few things that make console more accessible are beginning to merge over to PCs. As a consumer what would you rather have. 3 consoles and a gaming pc so you can play ever single AAA game on the market, or would you rather eliminate the consoles and essentially turn the PC into a console so you only need 1 platform to play all AAA games. It's better for the consumer in the long run.

As a game developer it is also better. You games become more accessible to every one.

It also does not hurt Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo for that matter as they could also easily jump on board making their own versions. It's essentially still as simple as a console, it just can do a whole lot more.

lol of course I suppose all this could be just wishful thinking on my part. However, that is how I always imagined consoles would eventually end up at some point or another.

Posted:8 months ago

#13

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,138 1,179 1.0
If you look at the recent resurgence of ARM, the first processor worth mentioning was in the DS in 2004 and it had a fabrication of 130nm. Back then, mobile fabrication was trailing behind desktop processors, which were at 130nm since mid-2002.

It took Intel until 2012 years to get fabrication down to 22nm at which it still is, until 14nm is due later this year. Today, the most advanced ARM processors are at 28nm (Snapdragon Octacore from this week), Apple is at 32nm and your trusty mainstream midrange phone is at 40nm. While the gap has somewhat closed it cannot account for all the shift in power differential between consoles and mobile which we observe. The distance is still there in part.

Meanwhile, the architecture itself was refined to be more competitive in the first place. A trend which Intel started earlier than ARM processors. Intel Core architecture was quite the step and since then not much has happened. Qualcom put these years to good use, putting a lot of specialized processing units into their SOC. Test results were further muddied by the fact of half an Intel chip being devoted to a graphics card, doing little to make CPU benchmarks look better. Things such as these screw with our perception of how efficient processors are and how Intel stacks up against ARM.

Another huge factor is the size increase of phones since 2006. Phones used to be small, today they are gigantic. A larger screen allows for a larger processor, which can be powered by a larger battery, plus there is more surface for heat dissipation. Quoting Moore's Law is one thing, but there was also a trend which allowed for more square centimeters to be used up as 'processing space'. Mobile SOCs got ridiculously large until batteries tapped out and subsequent fabrication reduced the size again. Just look at some of the iPhone disassemblies featuring Apple's A5.

Across all factors, I hope it is clear why we say mobile processing evolve at a breakneck speed in the past and lose some momentum right now. We need the next battery push, the sizes of phone can't get bigger.

But most importantly, Intel and ARM have finally met in the 10 inch tablet space. You can buy a 10 inch tablet with the latest ARM and you can buy a Microsoft Surface with an Intel Core i5. And let me tell you, that this is not a competition at all. The Surface butchers the ARM competition. Arm had a good run these past years, but I would always bet on Intel once they shift gears; and they do.

Posted:8 months ago

#14

David Serrano Freelancer

300 272 0.9
I feel like consoles have a little bit of adaptation to happen to make sense. Right now, I just scratch my head a little bit, when it seems pretty obvious that they're in the middle. They're in the middle between a massive platform, which is mobile and a massive platform, which is PC.
There is cross over traffic between the mobile and console markets, but mobile devices are not competing head to head with consoles for the same pool, or types of players. And they won't until a smartphone or tablet can replace a console as core TV gaming device.
How do you build a console to harvest revenue off of the software in a model where a lot more of that revenue is going directly to the game guys? It's a tough nut. It's a tough nut. It's not impossible, but I think consoles need to reinvent themselves, just like PC's do and just like mobile does.
In other words, console developers and publishers need to "reinvent themselves" by adopting a model that will entitle the middlemen to the majority of the revenue generated by their games, but will not require the middlemen to provide the developers and publishers with services of equal or greater value in exchange. So "harvest" actually means exploit: to benefit unfairly from the work of (someone), typically by overworking or underpaying them.

Posted:8 months ago

#15

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,184 979 0.8
No matter how many times you explain it, most people do not understand Moore's law.
"The number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years."
This means electrical power used and heat created halves every two years. Compound.
That the cost of processing power halves every two years. Compound.
That the maximum power of a given device doubles every year. Compound.
It is unfortunate that we are endlessly getting lost in a hardware war. What really does this power mean for the actual experience? You could fit a GTX 480 in a phone one day but it doesn't necessarily mean that games design and approaches to interaction will automatically get better or that the game experiences are really of any higher depth or quality.

What we do we want? 16 player Battlefield on a phone? Crysis? Or maybe Flappy Bird with physically based rendering? In the evolution of mobile gaming, I'm not necessarily looking for condensed experiences or unnecessary graphical features.

Performance and memory always helps in games development, evolution in networking and connection speeds also helps. But design and practicality come first. Which is why devices big and small will always have their place. A 4k mobile screen is not the same as a 4k cinema screen. A powerful Tegra based phone is not the same as a powerful Geforce PC (or console for argument's sake).

The way these devices are interacted with, the way they fit into social situations and form they take are all different.

But most importantly, Intel and ARM have finally met in the 10 inch tablet space. You can buy a 10 inch tablet with the latest ARM and you can buy a Microsoft Surface with an Intel Core i5. And let me tell you, that this is not a competition at all. The Surface butchers the ARM competition. Arm had a good run these past years, but I would always bet on Intel once they shift gears; and they do.
Lets make no mistake, even the Intel Atom has managed to beat ARM on performance, in cases - single core compared to rival multi-core chipsets. Looking at the comparative density of the features in the chips, plus some of the facts about manufacturing processes above, I find the claim that ARM is evolving faster quite deceptive if not false. Mobile or desktop.

Not only do Intel potentially have the smaller transistors, the X86 cores still have their origins in being designed for performance, whereas ARM takes a power efficiency first approach. When they meet in the middle, it comes down the chip that has the best ratio of features to size to battery life, something Intel can win on.

That's not to say all Intel chips are superior or all ARM chips are inferior, but the current benchmarks on performance and battery life definitely tell a story different to the rhetoric.

Posted:8 months ago

#16

Carlos Bordeu Game Designer / Studio Co-Founder, ACE Team

70 92 1.3
"Consoles are cast in stone for 8 years. This generation didn't even kick off at the bleeding edge of technology. They are going to look tired very quickly."
@Bruce

So, when mobile supposedly far surpasses the console specs, who are going to make the multi-million budget games that make the current-gen console titles look 'tired'? The mobile game developers? Console developers are already struggling to make games look considerably better than current console-gen titles despite having way more power in their hands.

And if I am a mobile studio why would I care to invest millions of dollars on a game if what seems to be making money on the platform is simple titles like Angry Birds, Candy Crush or Flappy Bird?

It takes way more than a powerful CPU and GPU to make a title that makes next-gen games look 'tired'. You need to invest millions of dollars and years of development with a team of maybe over 100 developers. Up until now I see no evidence that this would be a good business proposition for mobile game development. I think you're more likely to lose a ton of money and to get beaten to the top charts by whatever next simple 2D title that becomes popular (which could perfectly be done by one or two developers).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Carlos Bordeu on 24th February 2014 8:23pm

Posted:8 months ago

#17

Keldon Alleyne Handheld Developer, Avasopht Ltd

450 423 0.9
No matter how many times you explain it, most people do not understand Moore's law.
I'd imagine most software developers here graduated in Computer Science, of course we understand Moore's Law. And a lot of us are also very good at maths, so yes, we understand exponential growth. Some of us are also familiar with business concepts such as the learning process, which is what Moore's Law results from, ...


... BUT, whatever increase is made in mobile is also made for consoles and unless your argument is that the gains from moving from mobile to dedicated hardware with large cooling fans and higher voltages will decrease, you have NO argument whatsoever.

Am I missing something here?

On the flip side, past a certain point graphics are a non issue. Graphics are an issue proportional to their shortcomings, and with environment mapping and the improvements in detail via anisotropic filtering, there are much less details that subtract from the gaming experience. But going back to what you were saying, erm, .. really?! there will be no gains from going from mobile to dedicated in what year now?

Posted:8 months ago

#18

Curt Sampson Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
And if you have to plug in a mobile device to view it on a large screen and be connected to a power outlet like a home console, it essentially becomes a home console. Therefore it renders everything mobile about it irrelevant.
That's like saying "everything mobile about an iPod Touch as compared to your CD player and disc collection is irrelevant" because you often plug your iPod in to your home stereo.

The iPod greatly changed how we buy and play music. There's no technical reason the same couldn't happen with consoles, though as I've said before, there are massive non-technical (essentially economic) reasons why this might not happen, and I myself predict a large gap between when we have the technical ability to do this and when it actually happens.

In fact, for some time we've already had the ability to "iPod" the PS1 and most other console systems of that era or earlier; all it requires is a (possibly rooted) Android device of reasonable power that has an HDMI output, a readily available Bluetooth gamepad, and the will to sit down and do a lot of installing and configuring of one of the many emulators out there. (That this is rare demonstrates that there are other non-technological factors at work here.)
Someone who owns a huge entertainment center as good as any movie theater and is able to get all the new movies in the best quality as soon as they are released, I bet they would never go out to the movies again.
I can confirm that's certainly the case for me. I used to be a frequent cinema-goer, but in the mid 2000s I bought an HD projector and a Blu-ray player, and I've not even stepped in to a cinema since.
The few things that make console more accessible are beginning to merge over to PCs.
Beginning, yes. But we'll see if it ever goes far enough; I can attest (as a recent convert back to PC from consoles, which were my primary gaming platform for all of the oughts) that there's still a massive gap.

Posted:8 months ago

#19

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,138 1,179 1.0
@Curt:
the iPod did not change how we listened to music. It was just another mobile player with headphones. But the online store it came with changed the way music was sold and that was what set it apart from all the other dedicated mp3 players who went extinct.

Posted:8 months ago

#20

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany

822 654 0.8
Popular Comment
@Bruce

Ok, let's talk about understanding, Bruce...
This means electrical power used and heat created halves every two years. Compound.
Still this hasn't take place in the last two years, because of that a game like skyrim (which is 3 years old) is still impossible to port to a tablet/mobile device.
Look at the grains of rice on a chessboard story to realise what exponential means
We can see that, still does not apply to mobile devices when every developer is after very low production costs (and low sell prices, of course) That means that mobile market is stuck to minigames from ten years ago in a machines with the power to run games 3 times more powerful. So it doesn't apply here
Consoles are cast in stone for 8 years. This generation didn't even kick off at the bleeding edge of technology. They are going to look tired very quickly.
For somebody who talks about understanding you pretty much seems to fail at even knowing the basic reason for console to exist. A console will never have the last in technology because it is not supposed to; it could have the most recent graphical CPU and GPU, but that would make it a PC that you can't update and would beat it's purpose. Consoles achieve a lot with very little, because they are dedicated platform (Another thing a phone or a table are not and will never be). In 8 years they will be running games that a mobile device will never be able to run (Still waiting to see something as "Crackdown" on a phone, and this is a 9 y/o game, Bruce).

And Yes: I said "Never". Not as much about the fact on the limitation on the controls on a mobile device but because all that mobile market wants is a quick cash-in, a money grabbing product like "Candy Crash Saga" and not dropping a single word about experience. If you want an example just listen to yourself; you talk a lot about "activations", "devices", "income", "numbers", Not a single time we read you mentioning "experience".

Console market will be there, because it offers things that Mobile market just cant. Mobile market wants the money of a "Flappy Bird", not the artwork of a "The Last of Us". Mobile market thinks about "activations" and not about "community".

Mobile market thinks "we are making more money that you will never make". Proper video game market thinks "We got a profit creating an experience worth remembering" That is the difference between "a trend" and "a passion"

And that's it for now, in a few years you may want to remember this kind of predictions. You did say "dead on arrival" for consoles after all, didn't you?

Good day Bruce

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alfonso Sexto on 25th February 2014 8:09am

Posted:8 months ago

#21

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany

822 654 0.8
"It's probably not two years away before a mobile device is giving you the game experience of the equivalent console"
It's provably two years away before I will come hare to say "Been hearing the same since the last 6 years"
Please, tell me how you plan on putting the two analogs sticks, the digital pad and the 8 buttons of a console pad into your mobile device's screen...

Posted:8 months ago

#22

Tom Keresztes Programmer

685 340 0.5
Please, tell me how you plan on putting the two analogs sticks, the digital pad and the 8 buttons of a console pad into your mobile device's screen..
Add a bluetooth joypad and an HDMI cable and you have a console.

Posted:8 months ago

#23

Curt Sampson Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
Klaus: I didn't realize it wasn't clear, but by "iPod" I did not mean "just a portable MP3 player," but also the ecosystem that came along with it (and has since been copied by other vendors). The other dedicated MP3 players didn't go extinct, or did go extinct along with the iPod, depending on how you want to look at it. Most people these days use non-dedicated devices, such as phones and computers, to play their music libraries.

Tom: if you add a Bluetooth gamepad and an HDMI cable to a mobile device, you get the console *hardware*. You can do the same with a bunch of cheap PC components, too. Neither gets you what you get when you buy a PlayStation 3 or Vita, as I explained in the thread about the Amazon console.

And as far as Bruce goes, I'm sure that nobody will mind the PS4 and Xbox One looking "tired very quickly," if they don't look any more tired than the eight and nine year old PS3 and Xbox 360, both of which still sell massive amounts of software. A quick look at the VGChartz top ten shows nearly a million games shipped on those two platforms in the last week just out of the top ten list. And these are games selling for ten times or more what it costs to buy a mobile game.

Posted:8 months ago

#24

Tom Keresztes Programmer

685 340 0.5
Neither gets you what you get when you buy a PlayStation 3 or Vita, as I explained in the thread about the Amazon console.
But that ecosystem is something Amazon can build

Posted:8 months ago

#25

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,184 979 0.8
"I would look at the [console] market as an option for Nvidia, but it's not a uniquely special market....In the current round, it's very
difficult for us to imagine making a reasonable margin as the console provider. This last round, we didn't see that as our most profitable avenue for investment....
The console business is actually pretty difficult.
Well, I don't know enough about this to know if he's right or not, but this does smell a bit like making an excuse for failing to get the console contracts. It doesn't seem all that hard to me to be a console provider; you do a bit of custom work at the beginning, and then just churn out chips (or collect royalties) for the next decade.
In many ways, he probably is right. I doubt Nvidia would have got nearly as much financially out of consoles as they can from PC or mobile markets, where they can simply sell discrete Geforce GPUs or Tegra SoCs. The problem is, it is often made out as if being a console provider is a choice.

I don't think anybody wanted Nvidia be their provider, despite their awesomeness. It seems clear to me that AMD were in the best postion to offer a high performance GPU and X86 CPU on a single 28nm die. The only other company capable of doing this is Intel but their graphics solutions (despite huge strides) don't come close.

Posted:8 months ago

#26

Curt Sampson Sofware Developer

596 360 0.6
The only other company capable of doing this is Intel but their graphics solutions (despite huge strides) don't come close.
I'm not so certain that Intel couldn't produce a good SoC for a console; the real performance killer with Intel integrated graphics is that it's using the slow CPU RAM. The Iris Pro Graphics 5200 chips have fixed this in the Xbox One style by including eDRAM on the die (which is why they're so much more performant than the Iris Pro 5100 chips, which have similar graphics processing capability).

That said, there's a big difference between having the technology and having a working chip appropriate for a console, of course, and I reckon it's unlikely that Intel could have come up with something appropriate during the time when these consoles were being developed.

Posted:8 months ago

#27

Adam Campbell Associate Producer, Miniclip Ltd

1,184 979 0.8
@Curt

I merely suggested that Intel have the capability to create a 28nm APU with an X86 processor, not that the performance or other features are a perfect match. Hence why I said AMD were the only practical solution on the table ;)

Posted:8 months ago

#28

Tom Keresztes Programmer

685 340 0.5
I reckon it's unlikely that Intel could have come up with something appropriate during the time when these consoles were being developed.
And it would have been unquestionably more expensive.

Posted:8 months ago

#29

Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online

134 75 0.6
Dear staff, is there any way to add meaningful (!) subheads to your long and good articles? That would make reading much easier and encourage me to stick with a story.

Posted:8 months ago

#30

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