What Dying Industry? The PC Gaming Alliance Interview, Part One

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PC gaming's dying, PC gaming's alive and well. If you're a PC gamer, you're probably sick of hearing either. Recent punditry pegs PC gaming as an industry in decline, but the reverse is in fact true according to the PC Gaming Alliance, a group of key industry publishers doing their best to bring absent perspective to widely published but decontextualized retail sales figures.

Intel Director of Gaming Randy Stude is the PCGA's standing president. We caught up with him to clarify the PCGA's initiatives and see if we could debunk any ongoing myths.

(This is Part One. Parts Two, Three, Four, and Five.)

Game On: According to your website, "the PC Gaming Alliance will be the authoritative voice of PC gaming world-wide...we will conduct research and publish data about the PC Gaming market." Talk about your formation, composition, and purpose.

Randy Stude: The formation of the organization occurred in private prior to forming a public nonprofit corporation based out of Oregon. We're a 501c, which is the distinction for nonprofits that are industry consortiums. This gives us a forum for coming together and having open discussions about the direction of the industry without having any conflicts. If we met as individuals from each of our companies exclusively, there would be antitrust implications that wouldn't be able to be sorted out as succinctly as through an organization that says at the beginning of every meeting, hey guys, we have an antitrust statement, we read it off, you're expected to know it, you're expected to understand it, you're expected to respect it.

We're competitors but we're all here for the same objective, which is to see PC gaming thrive in the next millennium, and to report out the success and health of the industry, and to deal with any challenges the industry might be facing that we're undertaking now.

GO: You formed around the Games Developer Conference 2007?

RS: No, we actually announced ourselves at GDC 2008, but we had our first informal meeting at GDC 2007.

GO: Can the PCGA be an entirely impartial entity? You're Intel. You're Microsoft. You're Activision Blizzard and EA. You're NVIDIA and AMD and Dell and Sony and so on. You're essentially an aggregate of the very companies who stand to gain the most by marketing intensively, and who to a certain extent have to do so in order to exist. When Microsoft's Xbox 360 sales figures are down, they accent the positives and leave out the negatives. Ditto Sony. Why trust your numbers, which talk up PC gaming as exceptionally positive compared to gloomier suggestions from other analysts?

RS: Why would you believe the console vendors numbers just because they're coming from the console vendor? Why would you believe Sony's numbers just because Sony's reporting them or Nintendo's reporting them? The whole point of this was that prior to our organization existing, you had all of us fragmented, coming in and wanting to do great things for PC gaming but none of us having a concise voice that said hey look, we're not trying to cook the books, we're just trying to make sure they get counted fairly and accurately.

You had one entity that dominated the media's opinion of what the trend was for PC gaming and that was NPD, and NPD as you're aware, only tracks retail sales figures. Well guess what, the PC is an online beast. It always has been. It's been copied by the consoles repeatedly on that front and we all know as PC gamers that we don't rely on the retail store to determine what we do or don't get for our PCs. If there's something we want, we go, we purchase it, and we download it. We've been doing this for the better part of a decade on the PC, and it's time that someone besides NPD, who only counts retail, got involved and said hey, stop, this isn't true, this isn't accurate.

You go look at games that are being played on the PC, you know, like Counter-Strike. Hundreds of thousand of people playing it at any given time of the day. Was anybody keeping track of that, you know, before we got involved? No. And that's the point. No one's being fair to that audience out there who loves this pastime.

GO: The IEEE is a nonprofit international standards committee with over 350,000 members that actually establishes binding standards like Ethernet and Wi-Fi. The PCGA is also a nonprofit group with major industry members and comparable goals, namely your attempt to establish gaming standards for "a more streamlined experience." How much success have you had in putting teeth to concept, and can you list some notable examples?

RS: Well we're not trying to make standards, first of all. We're trying to make it easier for gamers to play games on a PC. That's one of our subcommittee initiatives, which is trying to figure out what are the challenges with a game when you install it and try to run it on the system.

We've been doing a ton of testing over the last year, and it's not that testing wasn't done before. Each one of our individual companies have for our own sake done a lot of testing to make sure our products work for our customers. But at the same time, as an industry, we needed to come together and face some realities that consumers face and do some more testing. At GuildHall in Dallas we set up a lab where we had students come in and do playtesting, and we determined certain facts to be the case, you know, what's working, what's not working. Based on that, we're going to publish a document to the game developers and system builders that says here's what the experience should be like for a consumer out of the box with the PC and a game.

Whether they act or not, we're not trying to put forward a unified standard or recommended spec or anything crazy like that. What we're trying to do basically is set the expectation for those who are selling PCs and those who are selling games, so that everybody meets in the middle and says yep, this is the right way to play games on a PC.

Read Part Two

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