It's nearly 5pm here on the east coast. My feet are tired and my voice is hoarse after spending two days knee-deep in the local developer community. As I watch the booths begin to break down and the attendees wander out of the convention center, I'm left even more puzzled than I was before I eagerly marched through the doors on Wednesday morning: where is the gaming industry heading?
The East Coast Game Conference (ECGC) is now wrapping up in Raleigh, North Carolina. It's not the mammoth exposition seen at E3 or PAX East-- for now, it's somewhat small and primarily focused on the local developers including Red Storm Entertainment, Insomniac Games, Vicious Cycle Software and Epic Games. This is my first venture to ECGC, and I'm told it's the biggest turnout since the original show launched years back (more later).
But I’m straying from the topic at hand. There are a lot of mixed messages here, and it's leading me to believe that the industry isn't sure where it's going. While I’ll explain more in additional, separate articles, one view seems to be that we'll move entirely into the cloud-- or at least, consumer demands will push software into the cloud. It has nothing to do with the physical vs. digital argument. Instead, it means we as consumers would rather bypass the whole process of installing software. It also means we want said software to run on most any hardware configuration, and do so without crashing, locking the PC, or doing serious damage to the system itself. OnLive is just the tip of the iceberg.
On the gaming front, I've listened to the theory that the gaming industry will need to focus on monetization and socialization to prevent a market crash. The monetization aspect dips back into the old-school arcade days when games were designed to reel in consumer quarters. The idea was to get you to play up until 2.5 minutes, then jam another quarter into the machine. A continuous feed meant the owner of the machine may actually get a profit after paying off the initial purchase. What does this have to do with games of today? Publishers are spending insane amounts of money to create titles that may or may not sell well. Getting players to purchase DLC or other virtual items will help publishers get some of those prior expenses back.
Then we have the hardware sector. Nvidia was present during the conference, and during the keynote presentation, attendees were shown two photos of a similar sports car parked in the same location. We were asked to determine which was real, and which was rendered by a Nvidia GPU. From my seat, it was impossible, and when it was revealed which image was actually rendered, it was audibly clear I was not the only one in the audience baffled. We're told that a Nvidia GPU can render photo-realistic imagery at two frames per second. That will probably jump to 30 frames per second in five years. Five years.
So if gaming is moving to the cloud, why would consumers even bother with GPUs capable of photo-realism at 30 fps in the first place? I was told by one developer that it will all tie in somehow--OnLive or another cloud service would update their servers to provide photo-realism to subscribers running lower-spec machines. The monetization aspect could also be applied to the cloud structure, giving publishers even more revenue on top of the fact that physical production costs are lowered to nearly nothing.
Looking back, maybe the future of the gaming industry isn't so confusing after all. If anything, a huge change is on the rise, and it all seemingly started with Apple and a thing called the iPhone. Believe it or not, when I heard the word "change," it was followed by the word "Apple." I'll reveal more on that as I go through the hours upon hours of audio taken from the sessions and keynotes. I was surprised to say the least.
Unfortunately, things look bleak in the PC gaming sector thanks to the overall development circle. The industry has seemingly backed itself into a corner, and PC gaming will suffer because of it. But that's a topic for another article coming shortly...