AMD reaches for gamers

AMD recently spent some time with us telling the story of how its game developer program works; what it does, what it doesn’t do and how AMD plans on using its team and technologies to further the PC gaming community. But does the story add up? Can AMD convince gamers that with open physics, open 3D and Eyefinity they are the better player than NVIDIA?
The Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week was meant to facilitate the discussion of the art and business of game development amongst the fraternity of gaming.  While I was out in the area for the event AMD spent some time discussing with us how it’s technical and marketing teams were involved in the development process and marketing of some of the best gaming titles around and involved those games’ designers.  Obviously a reaction to the many stories and conversations that the media has been having with NVIDIA on this same topic, AMD was out to prove that its developer relations were just as strong and beneficial to the consumer.
The question of course, is did they succeed in that goal?

AMD started out the day talking about programs meant to further development of PC gaming and gaming technologies.  These include Eyefinity, open physics initiatives like Bullet Physics and a newly announced program to further open stereoscopic 3D support.  For Eyefinity, AMD paraded several developers on stage to discuss how simple integrating Eyefinity support could be for a new game.  Both Aliens versus Predator and Supreme Commander 2 developers talked about getting Eyefinity up and running in a matter of a day and then perfected in the matter of a single weeks time with a single programmer.  This is good news for PC gamers as we believe that Eyefinity and the lowering prices of smaller LCD displays is one of the big advances that gaming on this platform will have over consoles in the coming years.  Keeping in mind that not everyone has unlimited funds, you can easily get a set of three 22-in 1080p monitors for less than half the price of a single 30-in display and, in this editor’s opinion, get a much more exciting gaming experience. 

AMD's Gamers' Manifesto: Gaming Evolved - Graphics Cards 2
A 6-panel Eyefinity configuration at work

But for that to really catch on and be perfected, developers do need to target multiple displays and make sure things like menus and control icons aren’t out of the views main focal area or covered up by bezel-corrected configurations (as has been known to happen currently).  For example, in Burnout: Paradise much of the options screen was hidden in our 6-panel setup with bezel correction turned on as the selections are hidden behind the bezels!  Some basic forethought on the issue by a developer will surely make this a non-issue. 

AMD was still pushing their open physics program utilizing the Bullet Physics program that was first shown to us in September during the Radeon HD 5870 launch event.  AMD now claims that Bullet Physics can be implemented in either OpenCL or through DirectCompute so that any application or game developer will be able to integrate the engine no matter what API they are using.  Unfortunately for AMD, this is all that was shown.  We didn’t get a chance to see anything more substantive than that regarding the open physics API and we didn’t see or hear of any game developers actually USING Bullet Physics for any upcoming titles.

The same can be said of the brief mentioning of the open stereoscopic 3D initiative – AMD says they are working with developers and third-party hardware manufacturers to make sure that AMD GPU hardware is ready for them.  However, no 3D glasses hardware was shown, no games were shown to take advantage of it and the exact phrase “just like our open physics announcement from September” doesn’t exactly fill me with a lot of excitement.  After all, it has been nearly 7 months since Bullet was shown and we have seen little external change there…

The second point that AMD wanted to make in our meeting with them was about HOW they worked with developers and to demonstrate the point they brought several of them to the stage.  AMD made comments about “not preventing competitors from getting access to game builds” and “not sending programmers to game houses to fix a problem for only their own hardware” so it was painfully obvious why AMD felt the need to respond.  AMD was definitely making these exact claims about NVIDIA just in a more diplomatic way than we might have expected.  (We have discussed these accusations before.)

The software developers on stage, ranging from Activision to Codemasters, all pushed upon us that AMD was very easy to work with and was flexible both in terms of hardware and software support as well as with various marketing goals and programs.  Of course none of them would come out and say anything directly about NVIDIA since they still have some kind of relationship with the other hardware vendor.  Overall it was great to see so many software developers on stage backing what many consider to be the underdog in the gaming race even though they current have the best hardware.

The culmination of the day was in the revelation of a new branding program for all of AMD’s product and technical marketing efforts called “AMD: Gaming Evolved.”  AMD’s team claims that this will bring “real resources and real commitment” to the world of PC graphics.  I do feel that AMD is taking another step in the right direction here by publicly displaying their vowing to support the future endeavors of this industry.
Final Thoughts

That being said I still have questions regarding the open initiatives that AMD is pushing for both physics and now stereoscopic 3D.  Open is good, and given the choice, we will almost always support the open standard that offers the same features and technology as the closed option.  However, it is hard to deny that at this point in the game, NVIDIA has been more successful with CUDA, PhysX and 3D Vision than AMD has been with Stream, Bullet Physics and open stereoscopic 3D.  Will AMD be able to catch up or will the software industry realize the benefits of the open standards and force NVIDIA to comply with them to stay relevant? 

I tend to believe they will but will be in soon enough to counter the marketshare and mindshare gained by NVIDIA before it happens?  You can debate whether or not PhysX is a worthy addition to gaming or if CUDA applications are truly better than those that use other standards but the fact is that they are offering SOMETHING that the competition can’t yet and it is up to the AMD marketing teams on display this week at GDC to make sure NVIDIA doesn’t continue to dominate the discussion.

The AMD: Gaming Evolved program looks like it has that opportunity and the weight of Eyefinity (a media and crowd favorite) behind it; now we just need see execution on these other programs for AMD’s current hardware dominance to carry over into consumer mindshare, and most important to the pocketbook, marketshare.

Note: you can read AMD’s take on the Gamers’ Manifesto directly on its site.