E3 — perhaps the biggest and most important gaming conference in the world — took place last week. Sony and Microsoft came ready to do battle, Nintendo showed up, and we were up to our armpits in little companies doing amazing things with virtual reality.
However, companies that weren’t at the event, like Amazon and Netflix, likely have more to say about the future of gaming than those that had a big presence there. You may recall that LP records, CDs, VHS tapes, and DVDs all have become largely obsolete over the last 15 or so years as a result of companies coming out of nowhere and replacing the market leaders with something new, different, and desirable to consumers.
There are three technologies that could change gaming forever — I’ll share some thoughts on that and then end with a really cool gaming PC from AMD that changes the rules with regard to design and performance.
What is funny for me with regard to streaming is that I had an argument a few years back with Robbie Bach, who was then running the Xbox effort at Microsoft. I argued that streaming was coming, and that with Microsoft’s cloud efforts, the company should be out front. He argued that I was full of crap, and that streaming games was never going to go anyplace — implying that this cloud stuff was just a flash in the pan.
Well, he’s gone from Microsoft, and the guy now running the company came out of Microsoft’s cloud effort. Amazon last month announced it was going to be streaming high-end games written specifically for its Fire TV platform.
Sony has started streaming older games to its consoles. It bought OnLive, what was one of the top PC game streaming companies, and Nvidia launched its high-end Shield set-top box, which streams high-end PC games pretty damn well at 4K resolutions. I’ve been playing on it in 4K for several weeks (I had to pick up a 4K TV just for gaming — no, really, I HAD to) and the experience is pretty amazing.
Netflix is a natural to enter this segment — it looked at game rentals and decided against it in 2012. Given that 4K is becoming big with gamers, the fact that the existing consoles don’t produce 4K images suggests that this current generation may not be long for this world.
This will be at least as disruptive as streamed media content was to the DVD-rental business, and by the end of the decade, I expect most new games will be streamed at 4K resolutions.
Your days of buying a game other than online are likely all but over.
Everyone and their brother is doing VR, and the activity is off the charts. One little company called “Starbreeze” kind of knocked it out of the park with a product called “StarVR.” There is a little doubt this won’t be a cheap date, but the showcased resolution and performance levels are likely the baseline for this technology to be successful, and no other company demonstrated this performance level.
To make VR really work, you need photorealistic resolutions so it feels more like you are really there and looking at the world through a visor rather than a set of VR goggles.
Most of the other efforts are compromised in some way, undoubtedly to keep costs down. However, as Tesla showcased with its car, when faced with a new technology it is better to go after the high-end market with a no-compromise product than it is to build a product that kind of sucks.
VR will cause us to rethink our games — and particularly, our controllers — because it has to not only look real, but also feel real. We’ll see who gets this right first, but it’s pretty clear our days of playing games on TVs and monitors are coming to an end.
There is a huge AI effort on the commercial side of the computing business that is poised to revolutionize gaming. The reason that it is more fun to play against other people, in part, is because the game-generated characters are pretty much one dimensional, operating on a fixed script.
Once you know what they will do, it is pretty easy to outsmart them because they have no brains. Granted, if you are killing zombies, that’s actually a feature, but for anything else — particularly with pets — having something that is actually intelligent will add a ton of excitement and value.
Imagine a strategy game in which you act as oversight, and the team of AIs you are managing loosely follows your direction, capable of independently responding to threats and adapting to changing conditions. Imagine a pet that just doesn’t run in and die when ordered, but actually gives you some lip and then smartly contributes to the fight.
You could even have an AI training module that has your back and provides custom advice on how to improve your in-game performance. Granted, if you make her look hot and nurturing, you may have a lot of male gamers who will even be worse at interacting with real women — a definite unintended consequence.
Over the next decade, we will see the gaming market evolve incredibly quickly to embrace streaming, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. The end result will be games that redefine immersion and that will give the next generation of kids the opportunity to look back at the games of today and say, “Grandpa, your games really sucked.”
Over the next few years, companies like Amazon and Netflix will enter this segment and redefine the power structure, and we’ll see titles that have us wondering what is real and what is virtual. It’ll be amazing.
It has been years since I’ve gotten really excited about a new PC design, but Project Quantum — a high-performance, small form factor, VR-ready PC — did just that. I don’t know what the price is yet, and I know it won’t be cheap, but this is desk art.
The product looks like an advanced sculpture of metal and plastic, and it showcases the kind of creativity we don’t see out of the chip companies anymore.
Years ago, when my fried Pat Gelsinger was at Intel (he is now CEO of VMware), he used to run a PC competition, and I’d look forward to it every year, because that was when I’d see something amazing.
Intel doesn’t do that anymore, but AMD isn’t sitting back, and under its new CEO Lisa Su, it is bringing out some pretty impressive products all of a sudden.
Project Quantum is designed to showcase how to cool something that is both small and very high-performance quietly. It represents a design-focused attitude that we rarely see outside of Apple, and I think it is an amazing showcase for the new AMD.
Project Quantum is a representation of the VR PC system of the future, and it is my product of the week.