Fragmentation not that big of a deal - Nvidia

Chip-maker's GM of mobile games says developers can sidestep headaches by considering the problem from the beginning of design

App Annie and IDC held an E3 panel to provide a variety of perspectives on mobile games Wednesday, but for most of the event, all five panelists spoke with essentially one voice. Whether the subject was the fate of physical game sales, the potential of second-screen experiences, or the power of the cloud, the panel shared widespread agreement, at least until the very end, when they were asked about the biggest threat to mobile gaming.

Answers varied, but Ubisoft vice president of digital publishing Chris Early and Sony's senior manager of PlayStation Mobile Sarah Thomson mentioned fragmentation of the market between a host of incompatible devices running many different versions of operating systems among their big concerns. That prompted Nvidia GM of mobile games and TegraZone Bill Rehbock to suggest the issue had been overblown.

"Fragmentation is like the four-letter word of this industry. We've actually not seen it as being that huge of an issue," Rehbock said, adding, "If you think about it from the beginning of your design, fragmentation is not that big of an issue, really. It always winds up being the 'gotcha' if you haven't thought about it at all."

Advances in multi-platform game engines like Unity and Unreal have helped make games much more scalable to hardware, Rehbock said. As an example, he talked about the ease and speed with which the PlayStation 3 Choplifter game was ported to work on Tegra. After all, he said, developers have been dealing with fragmentation since the days of the arcades, when every piece of hardware was custom-built for each game.

"I think some developers might disagree," Thomson countered.

Sega of America director of mobile business David Zemke was one such developer, as he suggested all the planning in the world won't eliminate the challenge of fragmentation in the mobile market. When consumers in other countries can pick up no-name Android tablets for $75 with who-know-what hardware behind the screen, Zemke said it was impossible to address all the resulting problems that crop up.

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Latest comments (4)

Renaud Charpentier Game Director, The Creative Assembly4 years ago
"Design" solving fragmentation? Nope, it's a technical problem that has little to do with the design of the game and it IS disrupting. Clearly the words of a guy who never tried publishing an actual 3D game on the Android sea of exotic hardwares. And no, even a portable engine like Unity doesn't totally abstract the hardware, when some device have 2Gigs of ram and others 256Megs, no engine is going to level that. And when some of your players still run iOS4, good luck for relying on iOS5 Cloud saves as a standard feature...

Fragmentation is at its peak right now on mobile because techs are moving forward very (too?) quickly.
Console generation: 8 years; smartphone generation: 8 months...
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee4 years ago
From personal experience observing and being involved in projects, its a technical challenge but not a fatal one.

It is true to say that some challenges can be offset by planning - memory is an obvious one, knowing what extensions a game may not be able to use across all platforms or knowing what OS (or browser in cases) restricts access to certain aspects of the hardware can help too. May not just help with multiplatform compatibility but avoiding unnecessary compromises.

It is also hard to deny that middle ware has made it a lot easier to publish across platforms, even if the abstraction doesn't remove all the needs to consider some of the underlying hardware limitations its a hell of a lot better than having to rewrite everything when a lot of the hard work has been done for you after years of effort in making the cross platform tools.

I don't think it would be right to say there are no problems but things aren't necessarily that bad and the situation could be improving thanks to the tools and also better OS standards.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development4 years ago
+1 @Renaud.

And don't forget all those buggy drivers that never get updated. One shader only works if magic number x is highp, on another phone it has to be lowp. And all for no apparent reason.

This is funny, because someone like nVidia consider fragmentation to be solvable, but the problem they're actually talking about is like a minor side issue down at the sharp end. They're right, screen size issues are trivial, but only because of the herd of elephants in the room!
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 4 years ago
After all, he said, developers have been dealing with fragmentation since the days of the arcades, when every piece of hardware was custom-built for each game.

This betrays utter cluelessness when talking about the fragmentation issue. In the arcade days it wasn't a problem because you ran your game on one specific piece of hardware and that was it. The issue is not how many hardware/software platforms are out there, but on how many you need to run. Even if they all mostly work well, the testing costs alone still get nasty, especially if you're a small developer.
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