Game Developer To World: Please Revolve Around Me!

Today I read an interesting interview with Tim Sweeney of Epic whose tag line is “PCs are good for anything, just not games”.

Summarizing the interview perhaps a bit unfairly, here’s what he says:

(1) People aren’t buying expensive enough PCs. (2) Even the expensive PCs aren’t good enough to run his games. (3) People who buy cheaper machines with Intel integrated graphics are giving their money to Blizzard instead of Epic. (4) This aggression cannot stand. The solution is that everyone except us should change what they’re doing and buy machines with more expensive graphics hardware.

What I find sort of amusing about this discussion is that the only time the word “stability” enters the discussion is when Sweeney talks about Epic’s development environment (“Do as we say, not as we do!"). This reveals a fascinating truth that doesn’t get a lot of wide discussion among hardcore gamers: cutting edge graphics solutions tend to make your computer crash more.(footnote 1)

The upper end of the videocard market is a dog-eat-dog market where the margin is high. Both hardware and drivers are revved frequently, more frequently than the marketing names of the cards might indicate. As a developer, if I had a buck for every time I encountered a situation where software behaved differently on two allegedly “identical” videocards, I’d be rich. Likewise, I’ve heard my friends in the Microsoft OS group talk about graphics drivers negatively impacting system stability in great detail (this detail usually involves phrases like “utter and complete garbage”, sometimes coupled with words that I won’t use in this space).

All of which is a way of saying: complain about integrated graphics all you want, but computer and electrical engineering is, inherently, all about tradeoffs. What Intel is selling in their integrated chipset is more than just “crappy performance and low cost”. They’re selling some specific level of performance (“Good enough for some percentage of PC users to accomplish everything they need."), along with low cost, low space, low power usage, low heat, and a certain level of stability.

Games are, for most of us, only a part of what we use our computers for. It’s not clear to me that a computer manufacturer – or a consumer – who accepts the tradeoff offered by an integrated chipset is making a bad choice. And if you insist on defining “the PC games market” as “those consumers who are willing to pay more money for a faster but louder, hotter, larger, less stable product,” then no wonder you think the market sucks. The market you picked sucks. Instead of plaintively wishing that perhaps the market will change, you should change your business plan to match reality.

In summary: I wish Epic was a publicly traded company, so that I could short them.

Footnote 1: Cue response of “Well, my computer has never blue screened, so you must be doing something wrong.”