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ECGC 2011: The Future of the Gaming Industry

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 32 comments
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There were mixed views on where the industry is heading at ECGC 2011 this week, signaling a big change on the horizon.

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...

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  • 8 Hide
    proton9 , April 16, 2011 1:59 AM
    cloud based gaming? *dislike*
  • 4 Hide
    dalethepcman , April 16, 2011 1:59 AM
    Quote:
    and it all seemingly started with Apple and a thing called the iPhone.


    and it all seemingly started with Facebook and a thing called farmville.

    There I fixed it.
  • 2 Hide
    mister g , April 16, 2011 2:02 AM
    Am I the only one that finds this news a little wrong? With the way the industry has been going I don't think PC games are going to look so good if they keep getting ported from consoles. Even with Nvidia's new tech which developer is actually going to use it in this decade?
  • 6 Hide
    dalethepcman , April 16, 2011 2:12 AM
    On a more serious note, the gaming industry should realize the reason game sales are down is because the market is over saturated with garbage.

    Look at how many games come out every month that are just carbon copies of other games. Look at the mess that is Wii games, 90% of them are garbage that can only be enjoyed by someone with severe ADD and massive short term memory problems.

    Now lets look at one of the big franchises. If they did more than change the players names and randomize some numbers that represent statistics for the players, rename it by adding 2010 to the end and sell it for $60, then maybe more consumers would have faith in the gaming industry.
  • 4 Hide
    dcompart , April 16, 2011 2:54 AM
    ^ +1. I could not agree more. There are so many games out there that are either clones of other games or are poorly developed. If consumers are going to pay an expensive $60 game it better have hours of gameplay and be polished. Rushing games out w/o polish is bad business. It's like selling car that's a lemon. It's just shady and deceptive business. I'm not going to endorse piracy, but there are people that torrent games because they are afraid of being ripped off. Games like Fallout 3 New Vegas have momentum but are so glitchy and buggy that it's almost non-stop problems so people would like to test the games before committing.

    I know this will never happen, but they need to release demo's for every game so consumers are aware of the junk that is out there. I have no sympathy for developers of garbage games. They need to get culled from the industry. The movie industry needs to do the same thing. At least DirectTV lets you watch so many minutes in before you purchase.

    /ends rant.
  • 0 Hide
    stm1185 , April 16, 2011 3:09 AM
    "With the way the industry has been going I don't think PC games are going to look so good if they keep getting ported from consoles."

    But what if consoles do not survive? Streaming has the potential to kill off the consoles as we know them, and make all gaming PC gaming.

    If they can solve the latency and bandwidth issues with streaming games then there would be no need for a dedicated gaming PC, but also no need for a console. You would just play over a browser on a PC, Tablet, Phone, or with an adapter for your TV (Onlive already sells one.)

    As this streaming technology advances they could offer that Nvidia photorealistic gaming on any display, PC, Tablet, or Phone. With Onlive and other streaming companies wanting more graphically advanced titles to offer, and those titles to be run on x86 hardware with Nvidia/Ati graphics, this could mean that PC gamers could start seeing a surge of new graphically intense games that they can run locally on their x86 Nvidia/Ati hardware!

    The console era may soon be over, replaced by streaming photo realistic games for the masses, and local versions for the PC enthusiasts with the hardware to run them.

  • 3 Hide
    kinggraves , April 16, 2011 3:34 AM
    Alright so they think cloud gaming is the future even though OnLive isn't doing well, they think that small app games are the future even though only casual gamers ever play those social games, and they think that monetization is a good path to take even though most cash shop MMOs fail and bomb within a year.
    I think that too many publishers have went the corporate route, and rely on studies and analysts to make their decisions, instead of paying attention to real gamers. They obviously have no clue what people actually want and they're trying to shake people for every last dime when the industry really isn't going belly up.

    Nintendo alone has enough revenue from Wii and DS to withstand a whole new generation even if it totally fails. At the present moment, their pool of games is getting shallow, but they still have room to shake things up at E3. E3 is a real conference where announcements take place, not this circle jerk of Ex-PC turncoat developers. When that's said and done, and we see the gaming industry's real hand, then maybe people can speculate on the future. Right about now it's April, which isn't the high point for gaming, and consoles are nearing the end of their life cycles, which is also usually a weak point. Oh, and I don't think the recession is helping, or the fact Japan sort of got slapped around a bit by Mother Nature. Right now is a low point, this isn't when you start to decide the future.

    And yeah, it's already been said, games these days just aren't as worth playing. If they think trying to turn into home arcades is going to save them, they haven't really learned from the past. DLC is fine if it's used to release original content and continue updating a game, but it's a slap in the face to release a half made game for full price then try and charge for the other half.
  • -1 Hide
    piesquared , April 16, 2011 3:36 AM
    fusion render cloud

    we've been informed of this 2 years ago.

    Oh, and anyone advocating or making excuses for piracy in any way for any reason, go f--k yourself. self entitled nerds sitting behind their keyboards thinking they have the final decision on the rules are delusional if they think game makers are going to continue to make games if so many scumbags aren't paying for them. So many self entitled nerdy kids justifying why piracy is ok in certain circumstances. If there are any like that reading this post, give your head a shake and get a clue. the warning was loud and clear 5 years ago, so the onus is on all those that shrugged there shoulders, made excuses and said so what we're allowed to do what we want.

    For those that justify theft because there is so many bad games out there, you can read the reviews and then decide not to buy it if you don't like it. There's a million review sites out there. The burden is on the buyer.
  • 2 Hide
    joytech22 , April 16, 2011 4:14 AM
    Why on earth would I own so many hard drives if I knew there was cloud based gaming?

    Reason: I want to put MY system though it's paces, I don't want ANY delay between my controls and the response time of my screen, I don't have speedy internet and the list goes on (although my internet IS fast enough for OnLive).

    Us enthusiasts out there built our systems as a hobby, We built them so they could run games we want to play at OUR preferred settings, We are so starved of content that can actually stress our systems enough to make games unplayable that there's virtually no reason to upgrade anymore..

    Let me see, one of the most demanding games PC ever had was Crysis, it had large destructible environments with great graphics and gameplay that you could take advantage of.

    Crysis 2 was the sequel, it had a very small linear sandbox for each and every map, clearly designed around a consoles limitations and barely any freedom to do what you wanted.

    There was Metro 2033, A great game with incredibly demanding graphics, A new benchmark for some.


    This list can also go on and on..


    Now to the point (finally!)

    We all know developers want to know where the moneys at, what does almost every average house hold contain, A computer.

    Which community is starving for incredible content developed AROUND today's hardware, Why the PC community!

    What are developers doing? They're developing games around the limitations of consoles because that's the smart thing to do, but it negatively impacts PC gamers.


    I think my typing will end here, I don't remember where I was going with this.

    Oh and why is every ones post so long hehe
  • 0 Hide
    enforcer22 , April 16, 2011 5:30 AM
    IMO if they went back to making well thought out games and pushing the limits of PC hardware. PC sales would sky rocket again. Not to mention it would drive a new revolution in hardware that could do better. I mean go ahead and make a console version sure it makes sense. But don't push 7 year old tech ported pos onto the pc and expect people to care. I mean i have a 8 year almost old computer right now that has the same video card in it when i got it. And i still can play games released today........ Thats just sad. While in the console world thats the desired effect but in the PC world you devs are really letting us down in the PC market. THATS why we don't buy your games not pirating. When i see a good game running dx 10 with amazing graphics and its well built and is fun. Ill throw down my $50 on that no hesitation. Its just been YEARS since thats really happened. At least with good games. crysis and gears of war need not apply.
  • 0 Hide
    alidan , April 16, 2011 7:58 AM
    stm1185"With the way the industry has been going I don't think PC games are going to look so good if they keep getting ported from consoles."But what if consoles do not survive? Streaming has the potential to kill off the consoles as we know them, and make all gaming PC gaming. If they can solve the latency and bandwidth issues with streaming games then there would be no need for a dedicated gaming PC, but also no need for a console. You would just play over a browser on a PC, Tablet, Phone, or with an adapter for your TV (Onlive already sells one.) As this streaming technology advances they could offer that Nvidia photorealistic gaming on any display, PC, Tablet, or Phone. With Onlive and other streaming companies wanting more graphically advanced titles to offer, and those titles to be run on x86 hardware with Nvidia/Ati graphics, this could mean that PC gamers could start seeing a surge of new graphically intense games that they can run locally on their x86 Nvidia/Ati hardware!The console era may soon be over, replaced by streaming photo realistic games for the masses, and local versions for the PC enthusiasts with the hardware to run them.


    streamed games look like hell compared to a pc running them.

    the latency problems are there, and in many games if you are withing 50 miles of a server farm, its great, but than there are raceing games and the like, which are unplayable with latency even at its best.

    cloud gaming is a pipedream and ill explain why.

    in 10-15 years, even the most basic pc will play any game GREAT. possibly not at the extream end of the resolutions we will get by than (think 4k home) but at 1080p it will be nice.

    people will never trust a cloud exclusivly, so the tech will evolve VERY slowly due to lack of funding.

    now there is only SO MUCH a game maker can do graphically, and still pull profit. what needs to be done is passive things, i mean realistically we hit the limit on what we can do, but we already render things in millions of pollys, tessellation is the way to go. allow the REALY hq stuff to bee seen up close, and let the background things you cant see suffer, this is one example of a passive tech that can improve graphics without the need to any extra work on the developers part.
    EnFoRceR22IMO if they went back to making well thought out games and pushing the limits of PC hardware. PC sales would sky rocket again. Not to mention it would drive a new revolution in hardware that could do better. I mean go ahead and make a console version sure it makes sense. But don't push 7 year old tech ported pos onto the pc and expect people to care. I mean i have a 8 year almost old computer right now that has the same video card in it when i got it. And i still can play games released today........ Thats just sad. While in the console world thats the desired effect but in the PC world you devs are really letting us down in the PC market. THATS why we don't buy your games not pirating. When i see a good game running dx 10 with amazing graphics and its well built and is fun. Ill throw down my $50 on that no hesitation. Its just been YEARS since thats really happened. At least with good games. crysis and gears of war need not apply.


    i want to point out "dx 10", there is nothing in dx10 that cant be faked in dx9. in 10 it will render smoother and require less power, but nothing that can be done in 10 cant be done in 9. now 11 with tessellation as the main thing, that cant be done in 9 to my understanding... well it could, but it would be a pain to program and never run as well.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , April 16, 2011 8:03 AM
    "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."
    ---------------------------

    "We consumers" is a non-existent entity. I'm perfectly happy installing software myself, so that it's on my hard-disk and capable of transferring data to the CPU and GPU at a rate literally hundreds (and soon thousands) of times that of the average broadband connection (and while lots of people might be perfectly happy paying for FttH if they're lucky enough to have it in their area, you would have to be an unbridled optimist in this economic climate to think investments in fiber-penetration can keep up with Moore's Law).

    Installing software (specifically games) locally also means I can modify it with third-party content, although for some reason nowadays developers and publishers seem weirdly offended by the idea that their game has enough potential to keep modding and adding content for years, which seems odd considering how far that goes into building a loyal fan-base.

    Call me a sceptic, but I have serious doubts if "streaming games" can offer a smooth experience even remotely near that of locally installed games. Whichever way you look at it, there will be delays (and yes, they will be noticeable, annoyingly so). Even if you stream the game assets directly into a locally installed engine (instead of a video stream), I'd like to know how that would even be possible, when we're talking about a 2014 game which takes up 4GB of RAM where available (even assuming a 100Mbit connection maxed out that's well over 5 minutes just to load stuff into RAM, compared to, say, a few seconds on an SSD).

    Imagine a cloud-based Steam setup, at peak hours, having to stream GBs of game data to millions of users worldwide - not just once of twice, but every time they play. It all sounds like a massive waste of bandwidth, just so publishers can try to re-invent the wheel and make gamers pay by the bloody minute.
  • 0 Hide
    enforcer22 , April 16, 2011 8:27 AM
    "i want to point out "dx 10", there is nothing in dx10 that cant be faked in dx9. in 10 it will render smoother and require less power, but nothing that can be done in 10 cant be done in 9. now 11 with tessellation as the main thing, that cant be done in 9 to my understanding... well it could, but it would be a pain to program and never run as well."

    If thats true which I'm skeptical. I haven't ever seen it :/  Though switching from DX9 to DX10 in the games that support it. it was night and day. If they could do the same in DX9 why not just do it :) 

    From what i read somethings might be emulatable but DX9 cannot do EVERYTHING dx10 can do and if there is a performance hit for doing it. Well that doesn't make much sense :)  I do believe a few things in DX10 and DX11 are done in hardware and software wraps suck.
  • 3 Hide
    shin0bi272 , April 16, 2011 10:00 AM
    piesquaredfusion render cloudwe've been informed of this 2 years ago.Oh, and anyone advocating or making excuses for piracy in any way for any reason, go f--k yourself. self entitled nerds sitting behind their keyboards thinking they have the final decision on the rules are delusional if they think game makers are going to continue to make games if so many scumbags aren't paying for them. So many self entitled nerdy kids justifying why piracy is ok in certain circumstances. If there are any like that reading this post, give your head a shake and get a clue. the warning was loud and clear 5 years ago, so the onus is on all those that shrugged there shoulders, made excuses and said so what we're allowed to do what we want.For those that justify theft because there is so many bad games out there, you can read the reviews and then decide not to buy it if you don't like it. There's a million review sites out there. The burden is on the buyer.


    the consumer should always have the final say in whether or not they want to purchase a game based on its content not the hype surrounding it. I downloaded doom3 and fear before buying them because I wanted to see if they were as good as the rumors said... they were and I bought them happily. Then continuing the trend I downloaded red faction guerrilla and it was horrible. Played it a few hours and got a couple of missions done and that was all i could take. So if you think that I should blow 50 or 60 clams to hate a game that sucks because its was a bad port from a bad console game then you need to have your head examined. review sites are flooded with reviews like "OOOH its soo cool looking its a 10!" with absolutely no talk of the content of the game itself... why? because anyone can write a review on a website. I read 20 reviews for the new wolfenstein but when I bought it it was boring and stupid. Can I get my money back? NO! But Im sure thats of no consequence to you. Its also good to know that there are government stooges out there blaming people who dont want to play bad games for the downfall of mankind. Lets see if a game sells 100,000 copies its not a very good game is it? well 100,000*60usd = 6 million dollars. If that title was a bargan title and it was 20 bucks thats still 2 million dollars. If you cant make a halfway decent game for 2 million then Im sorry youre just not going to make it in the gaming industry... try baking cookies or bread instead. You act as if these game creators arent pandering to get the most money possible and as such ruining the experience for a lot of their audience. Like they can do no wrong or something. well why dont you send me 60 bucks for wolfenstein and 40 bucks for enemy territory quake wars cause those were 2 games I purchased prior to playing and they were both let downs that ID and activision bilked me out of money for. And since you seem to be so rich that you can buy games based on what other people think you should have plenty to throw around.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , April 16, 2011 11:37 AM
    shinobi I guess the FREE demos of wolfenstein and quake wars were too expensive? I understand where you are coming from, I bought C&C 4 in good faith(i enjoyed the previous titles) and got burned badly, there was no demo for that. Your attitude still is full of entitlement, and it is incredibly naive to think that people downloading the full game are going to pay for it later as a general rule.
  • -1 Hide
    g00ey , April 16, 2011 2:01 PM
    Quote:
    We were asked to determine which was real, and which was rendered by a Nvidia GPU.

    This sounds awfully biased to me. So nVidia is now superior to ATI/AMD?
  • 1 Hide
    AEternal1 , April 16, 2011 2:18 PM
    i'm left quite skeptical about this whole cloud business. if they make the cloud so accessible to everyone, and make it so stunning that anyone can have the best possible experience, i mean, think of the bandwidth required. even at maximum compression, rendering a game at 30 fps will have to consume at least 1 mb per second. now times that by a wide open market of billions of people. at the very least, in such an open market, the cloud servers would have to be able to run hundreds of millions of high res games at once. thats a load of serious hardware. the end user may not need such serious hardware, but somewhere has to do all that processing. im sure a data center isnt going to match pc to consumer ratio in their servers, so each server is going to have to run several games at once. that means some ridiculously powerful servers.

    im not sying that its impossible, just highly unlikely any time soon.maybe small market segments can support this, but it will probably take at least 5 years to be anything close to main stream.
    i personally have a hard time putting faith into any project with this large of a scope.

    im still mixed. im a hardcore overclocker, and i really enjoy it. i dont know if i would appreciate having all that hard work made easy enough for a cheap computer. i mean, i almost wouldnt want to buy a cheap computer, even if expensive computers become irrelevant.

    which brings to light...hardware manufacturers will no longer be able to justify high end gaming hardware. it wont be neccessary in the cloud.....thats a lot of lost revenue. to say nothing of innovation.

    while it may be where we are heading, i dont think its a good idea.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , April 16, 2011 5:40 PM
    I don't know where all these PC GAMES ARE DEAD people keep coming from. STEAM is selling games by the boatload. CONSOLE GAMES ARE DEAD or AT LEAST ON THE LOW right now do to no upgraded systems. Others also have hit the nail on the head. Cookie cutter copies of other games get boring. Look at the companies that are making good quality stuff and see if they are hurting as bad. EVERYONE is hurting now and to run screaming the pc gaming industry is dead is the the same as saying "The Sky is falling" BACK OFF PEOPLE! Relax feel the winds that are changing and flow with them or create a new breeze yourself. Apple is NOT KILLING PC GAMING! NEVER DID NEVER WILL be a target of apple as the numbers of REAL gamers will continue to stick with pc's. Some will migrate to Mac's as Steam helps them along.
    There will be NEW and excite venues for gaming such as the iPad and Xoom and stuff like that. What will die due to the iPad is the EEPC and the NETBOOKS with a few sticking around for the hard core netbook users.
    MMO's will continue to morph from time to time from free to play back to normal but then again who knows this is all unknown with the current economic's we have right now. The entire economic system is what is driving our current lack of sales mostly and people need to remember that in times like this only the fittest and the most popular will survive. i.e. fittest will mean most money stored up and most popular are the most creative and playable and FUN that makes the user go OH I HAD FUN AND WOW I GOT MY MONEYS WORTH! that is what we want to see. SO say what you want if you can't say the above phrase then your product won't sell PERIOD!

    Give you and example of something I really liked but its my preference may not be yours. MASS EFFECT 1 and MASS EFFECT 2 I have played completely through on the pc 4 times each. NOW I had a BLAST AND I GOT MY MONEY'S WORTH!!!


    As for social gaming those are not really gamers games. They can be addicting and will have a place for a long time to come but not for everyone. Gaming is getting bigger. Wide range of player types now and not every game is going to make $50Billion. A small company making $5million is a lot to a company of 10 people. Welcome to a fun time. Don't fret. LOOK, FEEL, find a way and lead us gamers to your new creations but don't get down and die because of a bunch of quiters! LEAD US TO YOUR NEW GAMES! CREATE NEW GAMES FOR US! PLEASE!

  • 2 Hide
    theosco , April 16, 2011 6:51 PM
    I would love to see these photos.
  • 2 Hide
    Tijok , April 16, 2011 6:56 PM
    I'm also very skeptical that cloud based anything will steal the show the way that people have been claiming. I think 'The Cloud' has produced interesting results in new and emerging sectors, and will continue to do so, but I also do not believe the classic sectors are going anywhere. This is not a zero-sum operation, not even close.

    I also agree with one commenter's idea that future computers will be so powerful that needing to run games in the cloud is rendered silly and infeasible. This future is almost on top of us already, I mean even Intel's ridiculously bad HD3000 can render games like Sims 3 and WoW with impressive results. We're living in an age where sub-$100 GPUs are rendering 1080p games at very respectable framerates and detail levels.
    And that's today. The competition between AMD and Nvidia shows no signs of slowing down, and GPUs are only getting faster.

    Yet another factor to take into account here is how few gamers really care about the levels of photorealism we are talking about here. Graphics are a great value added for games, but with current technology, the returns on very large investments into graphical fidelity are getting smaller and smaller.
    People are getting more and more interested in interesting gameplay styles and new approaches to gaming interaction. Look at the success of Portal, it's graphical improvements were minimal at best, but it made gamers think in new ways and challenged us to do more with our gaming experience. These are the games that will lead the gaming future.
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