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Nvidia And AMD Butt Heads Over Watch_Dogs, GameWorks

Nvidia and AMD aren’t friends. Over the years, their game of one-upmanship has evolved into a full-on war, with proprietary tech and buzzwords whizzing every which way through the open air. The latest chapter in the ceaseless struggle? A claim from AMD’s Robert Hallock that Nvidia’s GameWorks program – used prominently by Ubisoft in Watch_Dogs, among others – represents “a clear and present threat” to PC gaming. According to Hallock, participating in Nvidia’s program often forces game developers to steer clear of AMD. Nvidia, however, says that allegation couldn’t be further from the truth.

First, here are Hallock’s claims (thanks, Forbes), which make GameWorks sound like the proprietary, competition-stomping boogie man:

“Participation in the Gameworks program often precludes the developer from accepting AMD suggestions that would improve performance directly in the game code – the most desirable form of optimization.”

“The code obfuscation makes it difficult to perform our own after-the-fact driver optimizations, as the characteristics of the game are hidden behind many layers of circuitous and non-obvious routines. This change coincides with NVIDIA’s decision to remove all public Direct3D code samples from their site in favor of a ‘contact us for licensing’ page. AMD does not engage in, support, or condone such activities.”

This was especially apparent, er, apparently, with the recent release of Watch_Dogs, which saw some AMD users complaining of inexcusably poor performance.

However, Nvidia director of engineering Cem Cebenoyan – also speaking with Forbes – fired back by saying that his company doesn’t force anybody into confining agreements, and evidence of that is clear as day.

“I’ve heard that before from AMD and it’s a little mysterious to me. We don’t and we never have restricted anyone from getting access as part of our agreements. Not with Watch Dogs and not with any other titles.”

“Our agreements focus on interesting things we’re going to do together to improve the experience for all PC gamers and of course for Nvidia customers. We don’t have anything in there restricting anyone from accessing source code or binaries. Developers are free to give builds out to whoever they want. It’s their product.”

Of course, “interesting things” does leave a little wiggle room for arbitrary restrictions that could – in a roundabout way – affect game code, but not really the basic sense of having direct access to it.

It’s a confusing topic, and neither side seems willing to give ground. I’ve mailed a few developers who’ve been involved with both companies to see if I can find out what sorts of restrictions they encountered. Hopefully I’ll hear back from someone, though non-disclosure agreements are often a thing. Oh well. Even then, I have my ways.*

*Frowning really big and going, “Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease,” mostly. Also anonymous tips.

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Nathan Grayson

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