Nvidia’s pushing out a new beta version of its slick GeForce Experience software Thursday, building atop the awesome update from last month that lets you play local co-op games with your faraway friends—even if they don’t have gaming machines.
The update adds the ability to broadcast your games to both Twitch and YouTube Gaming at a buttery-smooth 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution. You can now stream games from your GeForce-equipped PC to an Nvidia Shield device at up to 60 fps at 4K resolution, and that’s with 5.1-channel surround sound, too. It’s all wonderful stuff, pushing Nvidia’s class-leading GeForce Experience software even further out in front of the competition, especially if you’re all-in on Nvidia’s ecosystem.
But what’s coming today isn’t the real news, even if it’s welcome news. The real news is what’s coming in December—or rather, what’s not coming after December.
Of drivers and single-source destinations
One of the key weapons in Nvidia’s arsenal against AMD is its deluge of Game Ready drivers. Virtually every major PC game release in the past two years has been accompanied by a day one, WHQL-certified Game Ready driver from Nvidia, designed to make the latest and greatest games run wonderfully on GeForce graphics cards. They’re great!
Sometime in mid-December, however, you’ll be able to install Game Ready drivers only via GeForce Experience—and even then only after you’ve registered a verified email address with Nvidia. The drivers you can grab on GeForce.com or via Windows Update will be limited to quarterly releases for bug fixes, new features, security updates and so on. More frequent Game Ready drivers will be GFE-only.
Locking performance-enhancing drivers that have always been freely available behind a registration wall chafes—hard—but Nvidia says the change will reduce headaches for both casual and hardcore gamers, as well as continue to push GeForce Experience as a go-to PC gaming solution.
“We kind of have two camps in terms of gamers,” Nvidia’s Sean Pelletier said in a group call with journalists. “On one hand you have the gamer that’s just casually playing things here and there, using their system for daily use and gaming on the side. They don’t want to be inundated with these [Game Ready] drivers…
“On the other side of the equation you have enthusiast gamers, who get excited about preloading a game, who want to play a game the day it comes out with all the bells and whistles,” Pelletier continued. “That’s obviously the demographic we’re looking at for Game Ready drivers. We’re targeting GFE as a single-source destination for those gamers.”
GeForce Experience has long functioned as a control hub of sorts for Nvidia users, offering one-click game optimization, easy driver downloads, the impressive Shadowplay video capture tool, the ability to stream PC games to Shield devices, and more. It’s great!—just like Nvidia’s Game Ready drivers. But while Nvidia reps tried to downplay the upcoming registration requirement by pointing out that “mid- to high-90 percent” of Nvidia owners already apply updates via GeForce Experience, the fact stands that currently, you can bask in all those value-adding features—and drivers—without ever having to register with Nvidia or officially log into GFE.
Nvidia plans to add more functionality to GFE in its quest to make the software a “single-source destination” for PC gamers, however. PC gaming news will make its way into GeForce Experience, as well as hardware giveaways and early access to games. It’s easy to envision Nvidia leveraging GeForce Experience to pass out codes for beta access to games, rather than relying on website-based giveaways as it did with the recent Rainbow Six Siege beta. One day, the free games that Nvidia bundles with its cards could even conceivably be delivered via GFE, similar to how Nvidia offered free Witcher 3 copies to Titan X owners earlier this year. Game-based goodies like that would basically require you to log in to register, anyway—as they have in the past.
But locking Game Ready drivers away unless you hand over your email address to Nvidia just feels icky—like an overreach that benefits Nvidia more than actual gamers. Alas, most gamers will likely wind up handing over the info, even if they grumble. The allure of Nvidia’s delicious Game Ready drivers is just too great, and once you’ve already invested in a Green Team graphics card, you’re likely to stick with it for a few years before upgrading. You can’t leave performance on the table for that long.
And it certainly feels like Nvidia knows it.