AMD’s cross-platform gaming strategy: Finding a lever

Archimedes said something to the effect if you have a long enough lever you can move the world. Well, right now gaming is reallt in trouble. Gaming companies are struggling to stay alive, with interest appearing to have moved from both game consoles and PCs to lower performing tablets and phones.

The cause is actually tied to a number of factors: Consoles that were allowed to stay in market long after the underlying technology was obsolete, Microsoft’s shift from focusing on PC gaming to Xbox gaming, and the massive ramp of tablets and smartphones.   

This is an ugly trend with a lot of momentum going the wrong way. So the folks at AMD stepped back and tried to find a lever long and strong enough to push this trend back the other way. It is a strong strategy, but we’ll have to see if it is strong enough. I’m at AMD’s GPU2014 event in Hawaii this week (yes, my job doesn’t suck) and here are some of my initial impressions. 

Pooling Resources

AMD’s strategy is to connect the game consoles (mostly Xbox One and PS4) and PC gaming together at the hip so that titles developed for any one of these platforms can be simply ported to the other platforms. What makes this strategy important is that it lowers the development cost across all of the platforms, significantly raising the potential revenue for the games, as the potential customer base potentially cuts across all three segments.   

AMD is also clearly showcasing significant increases in graphics and audio performance. Given how badly game systems have languished over the last decade, the greatest improvement will be seen with them and, assuming the games are quality, the revenue potential is actually still very strong. As I write this, for instance, Grand Theft Auto V is setting revenue records – clearly showcasing that for the right game (even a sequel) the money available is in line with successful blockbuster movies.   

This, coupled with the promise of an improved risk/reward ratio, should provide the base AMD and the game developer industry (not to mention the gaming PC vendors like Maingear and console vendors). This is the lever that they hope will move the industry, a new synergy between all high performance game systems to offset the momentum shifting development resources to low performance tablets and smartphones.  

But there is more to AMD’s announcement. 

Bells and Whistles

This latest technology release has some other aspects associated with it which should significantly enhance the gaming experience. While 3D never actually reached critical mass in homes, particularly not in gaming, 4K (very high resolution TVs) are showing more interest. This is because the resulting picture has a ton of realism and it is much easier to upscale HD programing to 4K specs than it was to take a 2D image and transform it into a good 3D image. And for a 4K experience you don’t need special glasses, and it was those damn glasses (often costing around $100 a pair) that made home 3D a non-starter even though 3D movie content improved over the last few years.   AMD announced that one of their new features is the ability to auto configure 4K displays.  

Another area AMD is enhancing? Audio. Not just sound quality but better positional audio to create the most immersive experience possible – with depth and altitude so sound seems like it is kicking out above and below you. Branding is a bit confusing but I’d seen the earlier demo of this at CES and it is very impressive in person. If you close your eyes you can actually feel like you are in the middle of a live scene. If you go to GenAudio you can check out some of the demos they shared. While AMD started with a 24 channel converted to a 7.1 experience, the company proved it could go to two speakers (like you’d have with headphones) and preserve the experience. When they cut out all but two speakers it still sounded like they had all 7 surround speakers rolling.   Impressive demo, apparently the technology was created through brain modeling.  

Wrapping Up: It’s The Strategy that is Impressive

While the technology demonstrations were impressive, this has always been a moving bar and unless developers are creating compelling games showcasing this specific technology you just won’t get the benefit. That is  is why AMD’s strategy is important here, because if it can get developers to see the cost advantages associated with developing on their platform and easily porting to PCs and game consoles (at the same time), we should see far better games for PCs and fame consoles. Think of it this way – the user benefits from more popular games like Grand Theft Audio V, while the  revenue benefits for devs should create a vastly more powerful gaming future. I’m a gamer, and a more powerful gaming future really hits me where I live.