Interview: Intel's Richard Huddy
We find out what Intel has planned for its integrated graphics division and the future of PC gaming
Although the PC gaming market is still huge, over recent years it's been hit hard by piracy problems, while the desktop PC, with its powerful graphics cards, has suffered from a lack of cutting-edge software to justify it; meanwhile the market has moved towards towards mobile and free-to-play software.
To find out what's going on, we talked to Richard Huddy, European Gaming Enablement Manager at Intel to find out how the PC graphics market has changed, Intel's plans for on-chip GPU and if the PC has had its day as a games platform. With a career in PC graphics starting with 3DLabs in 1996 and encompassing big roles at Nvidia and ATI, Huddy has been at the forefront of this every-changing industry.
THE EVER-PRESENT PC
The games market has changed a lot over the years, with the PC often getting a console conversion of a title, rather than its own version. It's this combined with some high-profile prophecies of the PC's doom that have led to speculation that the traditional computer isn’t a force to be recognised with. Look at the figures and talk to the experts, though, and it becomes clear that this simply isn't true.
"I remember reading an interview with Tim Sweeney from Epic from around 12 years ago, where he predicts the death of the PC graphics card in five years," said Huddy. "Now, Tim's a smart guy, but he managed to get this one wrong."
It's now estimated that the PC gaming market is larger, by revenue, than the console market, showing that it's strong and healthy still. The reason that the PC has managed to thrive for so long is down to its ability to adapt and change. It's this ability that Huddy believes will mean the continuation of the platform's success.
"The PC has plenty of legs and there's a lot of creativity in the business, making it a compelling platform," he said.
One of the biggest issues with the PC as a gaming platform has been the free-and-easy piracy of titles. With developers spending ever-more on the big-name titles (some games have Hollywood-sized budgets), piracy has been a big issue for them. It's also something that Huddy believes the PC market has dealt with extremely well, to the point where piracy is no longer the issue it once was.
"Games developers dealt with piracy by going for online validation, and the environment is quite similar to consoles with a closed ecosystem," Huddy told us. "Going to games developers, the major concern used to be piracy, now it's lower down the list. Piracy is no longer the killer."
Where consoles have an advantage is that they're designed to sit in the living room, using your big-screen TV for gaming. Traditionally the humble computer hasn’t fared well in the living room with Microsoft unable to persuade people that they should have a PC underneath their TV. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the PC hasn't made it into the living room.
"It's not obvious to me that Microsoft tried and failed," Huddy said. "It took the technology from the PC and made the Xbox and Xbox 360."
While the architecture of PC made it to the living room, it's fair to say that the standard computer is not a common fixture. That doesn't mean that it won't be and there are new approaches to make this happen. Most recently, it's something that Steam wants to do with its Big Picture mode. This is a brand-new interface that makes Steam easier to use on a TV. It's something that Huddy believes can potentially change the PC's perception and its use, although not necessarily with Windows.
"Steam has been outspoken about Windows 8 and the interface changes Microsoft has made, although you'd have to talk to them about that," said Huddy. "It's also looking at getting developers to write for Linux.
"With the delivery platform [Steam's] offering, they're approaching the PC as an open/closed environment - open in that Linux is open source, but closed in that they can lock the system down."
The PC has a big future as a gaming platform and Steam's Big Picture mode could put it in the living room