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Nvidia Gameworks Risks Further Fragmenting PC Gaming

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A close relationship between game developers and hardware manufacturers risks fragmenting PC gaming from one platform into two: Nvidia PCs and AMD PCs.

It’s been well known that AMD and Nvidia are pretty much the only two major graphics cards manufacturers out there (I’m using the term ‘manufacturer’ loosely there as the technical manufacturing is contracted out to companies like MSI, EVGA, or XFX while the R&D is on AMD and Nvidia, but I digress). This competition formerly expressed itself in a relatively consumer-friendly arms race of technology: they had incentives to produce cards with the most bang for the buck as the PC gaming market tends to be a decently educated market thanks to sites like Tom’s Hardware, PC Perspective, and Linus Tech Tips. Unfortunately in order to get ahead, it appears as if the competition has turned decidedly anti-consumer.

Nvidia, with its ‘PhysX’ mini-processor on their top-of-the-line GPUs has begun working closely with developers to design games that are explicitly created with that card in mind. Gamers with older Nvidia GPUs or with AMD cards can expect not just poorer graphics (which, okay, that’s somewhat fair and kind of how things have been going,) but a game that will perform poorer.

One fine example of this in action is Project CARS released earlier this month. Gamers on the PC noticed their experiences varied wildly depending on their graphics cards. Nvidia users with newer cards were enjoying the best possible experience while gamers with AMD cards noticed not just worse graphics, but a worse game overall. At certain times, even with decent AMD cards like the R9-290X, gamers can see Project CARS drop FPS to the mid-20s. This is the same sort of issue previous-generation Nvidia card owners will experience as well, practically requiring those customers to upgrade to the latest Nvidia cards in order to fully experience the game they purchased in all its glory.

The root of this problem seems to be programs like Nvidia’s Gameworks Library that provides a library of effects and implemented behaviors for elements in a game. This library cannot be shared with AMD at all. The problem is that this opens the doors to games designed exclusively around gamers who only have one specific brand of card, segmenting audiences. If AMD follows suit, it may mean we’ll end up with games that can only work on Nvidia or only on AMD cards. At the moment, we already have games designed to perform best on specific cards.

While currently focused almost exclusively on PC gaming, this issue could continue to bleed over even further to the console market. Both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 run on AMD cards, which I am sure Nvidia hates. One the one hand, this could mean more PC and more console exclusives, but this also risks makes ports in any direction more likely to fail, or at least be poor.

Of course, this is a complicated issue. One the one hand, it could mean those games designed for Nvidia hardware will look absolutely gorgeous, and it could be useful for developers to have access to a library like Gameworks. That being said, I can’t help but feel this sort of program is ultimately a detriment to gaming as a whole. It further fractures an already fractured market. Buying a new card might not just be about getting the best performance for your budget or the card with the drivers you prefer, but instead it might be about the grand that is actually going to play the game you want to play. Keep in mind, this might not just be limited to Project CARS. The Witcher 3 was also designed through Nvidia Gameworks. We’ll see in two days how that plays out, but for the time being, I’m getting nervous.

Where do you stand? What do you think of the Nvidia Gameworks program? Has it affected any of your games yet? Let us know in the comments!

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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