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NVIDIA: What's up with the resurgence of the PC gaming market
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Tuesday 3 June 2014

Over the past few years, there has been a renaissance in PC gaming, with related revenues pulling even with, and perhaps this year surpassing, sales from consoles. There are a number of contributors, but the key reason is that the PC is a continuously evolving and scalable platform that can deliver unmatched performance and capability. In short, gamers want choice and they want a high-performance experience. In addition, as an open platform, the PC has benefited from enormous game innovation, including new gaming business models, such as free-to-play (F2P). F2P games such as League of Legends, DOTA2 and more have embraced the PC as their homebase and have become some of the largest and most successful games on the market, inspiring tens of millions of gamers all over the world to play, compete and spectate.

This renaissance has spurred some developers to rethink their priorities and we are now seeing the PC return to the position of primary platform for the launch of many new games. This creates a self-sustaining cycle as it brings to the PC more and more gamers who are looking for exclusive, first and premium experiences. Most analysts agree that over the next 3-5 years, the PC gaming market will continue to see revenue growth of 8-10% a year, making it a logical and lucrative platform for developers to focus on.

Developers are taking greater advantage of the PC as a scalable and incredibly powerful platform. In the console world, the hardware is fixed, which limits the dynamic range of what's possible. On the open PC platform, developers can harness the power of the PC to deliver a gaming experience that is more realistic, immersive and believable. Games such as Battlefield and Call of Duty offer more involving characters, more realistic environments and superior graphics effects and animations. Bringing increased realism to materials such as cloth, wood, metal, fire and smoke while delivering subtle environment changes like lighting, shadows and reflections requires a great deal of graphics processing power, which has brought even more focus on the GPU in the PC gaming market.

Interestingly, the drive for graphics processing is not just coming from the traditional blockbuster franchises. More and more developers are pushing the boundaries. Games coming out of Asia that have traditionally not been graphically intensive are now being launched and requiring GeForce GTX-class graphics for best game play - for example, Blade & Soul and Guild Wars 2. A pipeline of additional titles with similar requirements are set to be released in China over the next year, as developers take advantage of the fact that more and more China gamers have been upgrading to high-performance graphics cards.

But it's not all clear sailing on the PC front. While the industry has made dramatic gains in simplifying the PC platform, the fact remains that "open" means incredible diversity. This means every PC can be different, which is confusing for gamers who are not technical and just want to game. These gamers have no desire to deal with the mind-boggling number of graphics settings for each game, especially when every game has a different way of presenting those settings.

With the goal of harnessing the power of the PC platform while removing complexity for its users, NVIDIA has been working hard on a number of different initiatives that improve the end-to-end experience for PC gamers.

The heart of this is NVIDIA GeForce Experience (GFE). GFE allows gamers to keep their PCs tuned for the best possible game play, and it allows them to share their gaming experiences with friends and the broader gaming community.

NVIDIA works closely with game developers to provide an optimized gaming experience prior to every major game release. This is delivered automatically thru GFE, and includes a "game-ready" driver as well as optimized game settings.

Game-ready drivers have gone through extensive testing and are optimized for the game, long before launch. That means gamers can expect an awesome experience on launch day.

GFE also optimizes the graphics settings for each game, depending on the gamer's hardware configuration. This allows a PC gamer to simply load the game and start playing with the best possible experience with a single click. The goal of GFE is to deliver 40-60 frames per second of game performance with the best possible visual detail.

While this is a simple feature for gamers, optimizing game settings has a complex "back end". According to company SVP Jeff Fisher, the company has built a lab in Moscow that profiles all new games across a broad range of PC configurations. With this in hand, GFE automatically optimizes game settings according to a PC's configuration. While Fisher noted that optimized game settings and game-ready driver updates were the first inspiration of GFE, it is evolving into something bigger.

GFE has been expanded to add a recording/sharing capability called ShadowPlay. ShadowPlay runs in the background and allows users to record or broadcast their gaming experiences at any time. Because it is integrated into GFE, ShadowPlay does this in the background with no impact to game play. With these seamless gaming features and extra value provided from NVIDIA to gamers, GFE has surged to almost 40 million users worldwide.

Fisher also addressed how NVIDIA is working closely with developers to deliver increased visual realism in games through NVIDIA GameWorks, whereby NVIDIA provides technologies such as PhysX and VisualFX to developers so they can deliver games with cutting-edge graphics technologies that are more cinematic in feel.

NVIDIA has more than 300 engineers working on visual effects. Fisher described GameWorks as being a library of visual effects - such as flames, water, smoke and lighting - for use in games. A game developer can take what NVIDIA has done and improve on it, or use the complete libraries in the game.

This has two positive effects. It helps NVIDIA build a direct relationship with the game developers, whether they use NVIDIA's libraries or simply engage NVIDIA's expertise in visual effects. This relationship has the added benefit of putting NVIDIA in a position where it can do a great deal of quality assurance on a game before it is released, which ties into its game-ready driver strategy.

Gaming goes mobile

NVIDIA is not only making great strides in improving the desktop PC gaming ecosystem, it has been playing a key role in expanding the notebook PC gaming market, especially through the launch of its first-generation Maxwell architecture-based GPUs earlier this year. The company is seeing a great deal of growth in the notebook gaming PC market, with Fisher commenting that these devices are undergoing dramatic changes. The historic mobile gaming machines are represented by the monster 17-inch notebooks that were more "transportable", than truly mobile. While some gaming enthusiasts will still crave all the performance you can pack into a monster notebook, the power-efficient Maxwell 8-series GTX notebooks are surprising the market with their thin and light form factor, yet powerful gaming capabilities. In further support for the gaming notebook market, NVIDIA recently released GFE for notebooks, bringing all the benefits of GFE to notebook gamers.

The demand for these new gaming notebooks is also bringing in more vendors to the market. At Computex, vendors such as MSI and Gigabyte will be promoting notebook models that show they are serious about the gaming market. These Taiwan firms will help make GeForce GTX gaming notebooks more widely available through multiple channels globally, which is good news for gamers.

Computex a chance to see the future

NVIDIA continues to innovate to push the PC gaming market forward. Last year at Computex, the company highlighted its GameStream technology, which allows PC gaming to be streamed to a console (NVIDIA SHIELD). GameStream allows users to extend the PC gaming experience to other remote devices, whether from their own PC or from the cloud.

This year at Computex, NVIDIA and its partners are excited to show off what NVIDIA calls G-SYNC. G-SYNC addresses the decades-long problem in the PC gaming industry where the monitor has a fixed refresh rate but the PC games themselves don't get rendered at a fixed rate. As the scene complexity changes during a game, so does the frame rate. Yet the monitor continues to refresh at 60 frames/second.

This mismatch causes some visible stuttering or tearing on the screen as frames get drawn independent of whether the screen is being refreshed. NVIDIA studied this problem for a long time and attacked it with G-SYNC. Since monitors don't support variable refresh rates, NVIDIA designed its own module that is integrated in the monitor to synchronize the game's frame rate with the monitor frame rate to deliver a buttery smooth gaming experience. OEMs such as ASUS, Acer, BenQ, AOC, Philips and ViewSonic will highlight G-SYNC monitors at Computex this year, and products will begin shipping in the next couple of months

Not just a hardware company

During NVIDIA's recent first quarter results, the company announced strong revenue growth in all segments of the gaming market. When asked to address what has helped the company achieve such strong growth in this market, Fisher explained that it's because NVIDIA is not just focusing on hardware (GPUs), the company realizes its success depends on the overall gaming experience. Therefore it continues to focus on the end-to-end experience of PC gamers.

Jeff Fisher, SVP, GeForce Business Unit, NVIDIA

NVIDIA GeForce Experience

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