Yesterday at PAX East an extremely interesting livestreamed panel titled “The (Incredible) Future of PC Gaming” was held, discussing what we can expect from games on PC in the next few years. The speakers were Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey, Planetside 2 Creative Director Matt Higby, Star Citizen Creative Director Chris Roberts, Nvidia Director of Technical marketing Tom Petersen and PC Gamer Editor in Chief Evan Lahti as a moderator.
The panel started on a light note with the whole audience standing for the “PC Gaming national anthem” and with a rather fitting and much more serious “mission statement:”
PC Gaming is open, it’s high powered, it’s flexible, moddable, malleable, it’s not “one size fits all,” it’s gaming greatest breeding ground for experimentation and original ideas. There’s no platform that offers the same amount of choice, value, variety and performance as PC gaming.
Petersen started the dances mentioning that according to him PC gaming is going to be much more cloud oriented in the future, with the ability to stream games anywhere from your PC, and not just sitting on your basement, unless that’s what you want. He sees the future as the ability to get a great PC gaming experience anywhere, on any device. Luckey responded (causing quite a bit of hilarity) that it was a pretty optimistic vision.
Petersen clarified that since the mobile experience is in demand nowadays, Nvidia is going to drive the ability to bring PC gaming on any device, with the same games, and even the same saves.
Roberts sided with Luckey, explaining that the reason why he likes PC gaming is that he wants to have the best experience possible, and the ever changing hardware actually helps him do things he couldn’t do before, without waiting six or seven year-long cycles of a console.
He actually wants to be in his basement or in his office with the most powerful machine possible, having the best immersion, so he’s always quite skeptical of cloud experiences with their latency issues, and especially about remote cloud rendering for gaming.
He continied by mentioning the beauty of playing Star Citizen in 4K resolution if you have the machine capable of running it, but he simply can’t achieve the same resoults on a mobile device or with streaming.
Speaking of 4K resolution Petersen said that the price of compatible monitors is coming down, so playing at that resolution is becoming accessible and doing so with multiple monitors is not far beyond. He also took the chance to pitch G-sync, which is Nvidia’s technology that forces the monitor to refresh frames following the frame rate rendered by the video card instead of the traditional opposite.
Higby moved on to say that hardware inconsistency is one of the biggest challenges for PC developers, and the level of customization available forces developers to put a “crazy” amount of options in the games to take advantage of the different hardware, but that’s also what makes them love PC gaming, alongside the enthusiast mentality around it.
Roberts continued by saying that Microsoft has been a sort of “gater” on performance on PC, so he’s happy about the movement with Mantle and now DirectX 12, that allow you to actually make full use the hardware you have, since it’s very frustrating to have a really powerful PC and not use it fully like you do on a console, because the operating system gates resources away.
On the other hand now you can get closer to the hardware, and that will bring a fair amount of improvement. Ultimately PC gaming has always been big and has always been around, so he doesn’t get those that say that PC gaming is not a “platform.” As far as he’s concerned PC has always been a platform, and the biggest platform at that. It just hasn’t taken the same headlines. World of Warcraft has probably made more money than any other game in the history of gaming, including all the big console franchises.
Higby also mentioned that piracy has been dropping due to games moving online and on new business platforms, enabling developers to actually run a company off of making PC games. Roberts agreed, also mentioning the shift to digital distribution as a positive aspect for developers as it cuts out the middleman and reduces piracy.
Petersen actually had numbers to back it up, saying that Nvidia estimated around 24 billion dollars of yearly revenue for PC games, including sales, digital downloads, microtransactions and subscriptions.
Luckey moved on to explaining that a problem in the last few years was that developers focused too much on visual fidelity and too little in reducing latency, and that’s not as simple as running at sixty frames per second. According to him 60 fps is not some sort of magical benchmark to establish if a game is done right, and there are many games that run at that framer ate but have many layers of buffering and “all kinds of crazy shit” going on that create hundreds of milliseconds of latency. He doesn’t even know how those games are playable.
Petersen went back on Microsoft, explaining that as long standing partners Nvidia has seen that Microsoft is putting a lot of resources into making PC gaming great, but there are still things that need to be worked on, and that’s what DirectX 12 is trying to improve. Yet there’s “way more” to do beyond DX12, like latency improvements and experience improvements. There are a lot of small changes in the internal infrastructure of Windows that can improve the pace of the frame delivery and not just the quality of each single frame, and that’s being worked on.
Chris Roberts interjected mentioning that Star Citizen is going to support Linux, and all the servers run on Linux too, so it’s a natural transition, but he still thinks that Windows is going to be the dominant OS, and the big challenge is to design games to properly utilize multiple cores, and that’s also an advantage coming with Mantle and DX12. That’s why he doesn’t mind “rubblerousing” a bit with Microsoft to convince them that there isn’t just Xbox, as he feels that they got a lot more money from PC gaming over the years. That’s why they should make sure that people want to be on Windows and don’t go on other platforms.
Roberts also explained that while big projections for companies like Dell show a decline in the sales of PC, that doesn’t affect PC gaming, as most PC gamers build their own PC, and that’s why they don’t buy from those companies anymore. Statistics based on those manufacturers are skewed, and the big business based on gamers is in selling components like motherboards and video cards.
Petersen confirmed, mentioning that Nvidia pays attention to those stats, and while the overall PC business is flat or declining, the gaming sector is growing strongly. From their perspective PCs aren’t declining at all, but they’re growing stronger. Their sales for the GTX sengment has never been stronger, and that’s because the content is more compelling then ever.
Higby also mentioned that he’s surprised that seeing the birth of an open source operating system made just for gaming (SteamOS) has taken so long.
Petersen continued by explaining that Nvidia sees PC gaming as a platform, and there are now 26 million users that use GeForce Experience to automatically configure the settings of their games to the optimal values. Yet he’d find very cool to have a Windows version stripped down of all the non-gaming features, leaving you with a much thinner and more predictable OS.
Talking about SteamOS Higby mentioned that PCs could have a place in the living room, but there are still going to be a lot of people that just prefer sitting at their desk. SteamOS is going to expand the potential for what kinds of PC games can take off, as it’ll offer a different gaming experience, but in general that’s just a continuation of the expansion of what PC gaming is.
Luckey is also very enthusiastic about SteamOS, and he uses it on his own rig. While it’d be very cool to have a stripped down Windows version for gaming, that’s what SteamOS already does.
During the Q&A session at the end of the panel, a few more interesting concepts were expressed:
- Chris Roberts feels that the future of PC gaming is 64 bit. Star Citizen is going to be 64 bits exclusively, and the legacy of 32 bits is holding developers back.
- Higby mentioned that a solid state drive is the best cheap upgrade you can do to your PC, and a “great great great” thing for gaming. Petersen and Roberts confirmed that idea. Petersen also mentioned that, while a SSD doesn’t directly affect framerate, it does greatly reduce stutters as levels and textures are loaded.
- Higby sees E-sports as a driver to help developers make their games more competitive and competitive in different kinds of ways.
- Petersen explained that AI is about to go through a massive improvement as GPUs start to be used to do real machine learning, and in a few years we could play against AIs that we actually trained, and are different from everybody else’s AIs.
- Planetside 2 won’t support Linux. The problem with moving more games to Linux is the rendering pipeline, as it requires developer to move to OpenGL and that isn’t trivial. It’ll become much easier when all the major engines will support Linux like CryEngine does.
- Petersen explaind that the problem with cloud gaming isn’t downstream bandwidth, because that’s normally sufficient, but upstream, as it affects input and is unique compared to movie streaming. There’s no easy solution, but there are some big things that are easy to fix and he feels that we’ll be surprised with the quality of game streaming available even today. He also mentioned that at the moment they can already do long distance streaming with about 100 milliseconds of latency, which is less than a PS4 or an Xbox.
- Luckey expressed a concern about the cloud streaming games, because there are a lot of kinds of games that are way too twitchy to work on the cloud, like Quake for instance, and if cloud gaming becomes mainstream, would those kind of games be able to get investors or to be greenlighted by publishers? He hopes that virtual reality can actually push the trend the other way, as he’s a big believer in big horsepower located in your house, not somewhere else. He likes to own his hardware and software. Ultimately he’s more of a fan of using the cloud for AI and physics computation instead.
- Roberts mentioned that publishers definitely want to have games as a service, but he doesn’t see them wanting to get into the hardware ownershiop business than a mass movement to cloud gaming would require. Luckey added that some may be interested because it’s the ultimate form of DRM.
If you want to see the whole panel, you can enjoy it here.