So yeah I'm at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco and hanging about talking to game people in overcrowded bars. It's a fun time, with a few moments of genuine delight at the bright shiny world of gaming that lies ahead of us, and a few moments of numbing jetlag or vertiginous horror at our absurdly debauched modernity.
The really astounding thing about this event is that it makes it quite clear just how many really bright people there are who basically just want to enjoy their lives by spending them making games. Bright people should really be using their giant brains to fix the sky or create cures for hiccups, but I'm nevertheless chuffed that some of them are putting their energies directly into the thing that I care most about: defeating boredom (or Ennui Lite, as I'm rebranding it for 2008). I'll blog about one of these people a bit later. He's someone you've never heard of, and who blew my mind with a laptop and a half hour conversation.
But anyway, let's talk about The Personal Computer Gaming Alliance. Or how Intel and their gigantic computer chums want to save our platform.
Representatives from Intel, Dell, Nvidia, Ace/Gateway, Microsoft and Epic gathered to talk about their plans for PCGA. In trundled the press with their backpacks and dictaphones, and sat down to have a bit of a listen before asking some questions.
Intel's Randy Stude, an imposing type with a peculiar grey felt shirt, stood up and told us how the companies had come together to create the PCGA, a non-profit organisation intended to advance the PC gaming platform. He gets to be president, which he sounded indifferent about. Some of the others get titles too.
Stude then explained that the consortium of bigwigs was going to help developers do two things. Firstly, they intend to fix the flow of information about the PC as a platform. This is a kind of bigger version of the Valve hardware survey, only the PCGA want to figure out exactly what hardware is out there and who owns it. Then they want developers to look at this and get excited about making games for PC. Secondly they want to give both consumers and developers a better handle on what PCs run what games. There's no detail on how they're going to do that, but the consensus seems to be that there's going to be a band on a graph somewhere into which certain PCs will fall and be categorised as being suitable for a particular type of game. Again, this is bit vague, but the intention certainly seems admirable. It's all about improving the "customer experience" with gaming on PC, which was a phrase reiterated at least half a dozen times during the presentation and the Q&A that followed.
Stude said that the PC had both massive growth and massive piracy. The growth, according to DFC intelligence, which tracks online, in the shops, and MMO subs, is up 12% on 2006, with $2.76bil made in 2007. That's about 30% of all games sales. There are also said to be 263 million online gamers worldwide.
The floor was soon open to questions and the world's PC press struggled to grasp what PCGA were trying to achieve, with mixed results. People asked whether the PCGA would recommend Vista, or if it would fix bugged game releases. Maybe, they're just getting started.
Mark Rein, one of the members, made his views about integrated graphics known: he'd rather they were expunged entirely, and PCs shipped only with nice, fat, accelerated graphics cards. Impossible, of course, but you can see why he thinks like that. He was also pretty sure that PC games had to stay on the shelves at retail, rather than using all that fancy internet delivery magic.
PC Gamer's Tim Edwards: “Does the PC even need retail, I mean-”
Mark Rein. “YES! Yes.”
Later an anonymous man in the audience started screaming at Rein, shouting “Haven't you heard of the Internet!?” It was interesting. Rein, who had heard of the internet, observed that piracy was so bad that people even ran cracked servers for pirate CD-keys of their games. This was what the real thread of the discussion moved around: how to get around piracy. Stude couldn't quote figures for losses from piracy, but it certainly seemed that everyone in the room felt it was the most unattractive aspect of the PC, after exploded system specs. How do we fix it? Well, that's the problem, isn't it? Nobody really knows. Maybe the PCGA can come up with some suggestions. Make your games free might be one. Who knows...
The presentation ended with a mixed feeling of anticipation and validation. PC gaming is huge, and growing, and the big boys know that they have to get a handle on it, and that they can't leave it up to the single-entity consoles to lead the charge into the future of gaming. I really hope the PCGA can settle some problems and do some things to change the landscape of gaming in a positive way. I really hoped it doesn't just fizzle out and quietly disappear. While I'd argue that it's people like Valve and the Runescape boys that are really doing the most for the PC, it'd be good to know that the commercial magnates are actually paying enough attention to realise they have to work together. That alone, I suspect, could be enough to make PC gaming a far stronger, safer place for development.
Then I went to another event down the street and saw the actual future of PC gaming. It was incredible, and I can't talk about it until the end of the month. Bah.