PC Gaming Alliance – My first 3 months

Published: 02/16/2011   Last Updated: 02/16/2011

I took the helm of the PC Gaming Alliance on Oct 27th 2010. Going into November and December I started taking stock of what the PCGA has been doing over its nearly three year history as I was getting ready to prepare my ‘State of the Gaming Alliance’ message for this year’s CES. Amazing how fast three months comes and goes!

Once the official announcement went out that I was the new president there were several people that wanted to interview me to ask me some questions such as: What’s the PCGA done for us? What are the PCGA’s goals & what can we expect moving forward? Lots of these questions are very valid; as are the concerns. So I’ll take some brief time here to share some initial thoughts.

First off; the PC Gaming Alliance (aka PCGA) is a non-profit consortium of companies that to one degree or another came together for a couple of reasons. (Not all of which were mutually shared – this is very normal). The two biggest reasons were: One – provide some type of Leadership, or Champion voice for PC Gaming, and Two – to combat the industry FUD & propaganda we’ve been hearing for years of ‘the sky is falling – PC gaming is dying’ type of messaging. After ‘being-in-office’ taking stock of the situation I’m not sure the PCGA was in a position to provide the Leadership it wanted too without first addressing the second reason why it was formed. What that ended up looking like for the PCGA is that we’ve been a very Research focused organization; that for the past three years has been establishing credibility and gathering data on the state of PC Gaming on a global scale. I’m happy to report that this effort has gone extremely well. The PCGA has a very strong leg to stand on that is very data driven; and not based on opinions or conjecture.

This leads to my second major point. This comes back to how to address the ‘providing leadership’ angle. Do we even need a ‘leader’? A large majority of our membership believes we in fact do. Why? The short answer is about providing other options, alternatives, or choices. The best analogy that immediately comes to mind is Khronos & OpenGL. This provides an additional graphics API option that exists both in & out of the Microsoft Windows DirectX environment. The PCGA, like Khronos, can help fill potential voids or gaps in the ecosystem over time as necessary. The fact that the PCGA is non-profit helps provide as neutral a setting as can be provided to bring all the ‘co-opetition’ together. This is never an easy thing to do but often a necessity. A few members who joined primarily for the second reason are now comfortable in saying mission accomplished; and may likely depart. However; a large majority of our members now want to continue moving towards exploring ways to provide better leadership to the PC Gaming Ecosystem at large and use the data we’ve accumulated to make informed decisions to help ship better games.

So what’s next? The way I’m going to characterize this is that the PCGA is now heading into a second phase in our life cycle. What I also call taking us from ‘crawl’ to ‘walk’. For 2011 I expect there to be quite a few changes as we update our mission, and goals. Over the next three years I’m going to do my best to keep things relatively simple.

The Vision: Is pretty straightforward. We’d like to explore ways to try to make PC Gaming better than it is today.

What does Leadership look like for the PCGA? Simply put we’d like to take a more visible and vocal stance on key issues we’re being faced with in the PC Gaming Ecosystem. The PCGA has some amazing resources and sub-committees to participate in; but we don’t currently publish or release much. So moving forward we’ll start seeing the PCGA being more transparent. Another key thing we’ll be doing is creating a more technical based advisory board that you’ll all be hearing more about very soon. We’re doing this to flesh out the PCGA’s technical expertise while simultaneously addressing perceived gaps in membership. Moving forward this will enable the PCGA to have not only world class research and analysis on its side; but also provides additional technical expertise by adding additional key industry leaders and veterans.

What core agenda or objectives are we going to tackle? Right now it’s premature to speculate on this as we haven’t really solidified anything. Our core agenda and objectives are primarily driven by PCGA constituents. However; there do seem to be three to four core issues that crop up over & over again that I believe will likely define our next three year phase that we’ll be attempting to provide more guidance on. (Note: these are not stack ranked)

1) Updating PC Definitions. Quite frankly the ‘Personal Computer’ has changed and evolved dramatically over the past few decades but the definitions haven’t kept pace with the innovation. PC definitions, at least in my mind should include Smart/iPhones, to proprietary PC’s such as Consoles, to even SmartTV’s; and likely other ‘smart’ devices. Technically anything that can be personalized to: communicate, interact, or be used for accessing software-like experiences.

2) Recommended Configurations or performance guidelines. This will vary based on the device. However; what I’ve been hearing first hand from Games ISVs for the past fifteen or more years is that the #1 key thing they really like about the Console is that it’s a known design target. While they like being able to innovate on the PC, Consoles have become more PC-like over the years and are simply more predictable. There’s no reason PC’s can’t match and exceed any future iterations of Consoles when it comes to being a design target. The really hard part is going to be getting alignment on what this looks like on per form factor basis.

3) Piracy/DRM. Piracy has been a key forcing function in our industry; not just for Games, but also Music, & Movies. Several things are evolving in the PC Ecosystem space that definitely warrant very close scrutiny and consideration. Certain Game Designs and Business models have emerged that are altering the entire landscape to a point where past approaches and mechanisms may simply not make sense anymore. Moving forward we’ll be leaning very heavily on our research data to help divine what those key trends are to make more informed and formal recommendations in this space. (It’s guaranteed that anytime you mention DRM anywhere that 'Godwin's law' is soon to follow; typically in a slash-dot forum or another blog!)

4) Ease of Use. This is a bit of a sleeper and a very open concept. What it means for PC Gaming though is that a game should just simply work. This can include a wide array of things ranging from: the 1’ to 10’ user experience, input standards, game updates/patching, and so on. Again; this is a very broad topic but not to be underestimated in its importance. Games should be fun, simple, and easy to use. Once something breaks down in that process it’s literally game over & you tend to lose the consumers trust. Consoles for example have done a very good job here in my opinion.

What does success look like, the End State or goal in mind? I personally feel this phrase is a bit overused. However; I’ll attempt to answer it anyway. First; given the dynamic and ever evolving nature of PC’s changing over time, I believe that the success metrics and end goals also have to evolve in tandem with those evolutions. In going back to the Vision we simply want to ship better games, which are more fun, more profitable to the ISVs so they can hopefully keep feeding us more games, but also providing more value back to the consumers. There are lots of ways that this could manifest itself. My overly idealistic end goal would be to get things to a point where you buy the game once and it just works on any device of my choosing. (Experience mileage would vary & scale device to device) Realistically though I think we’ll be lucky to not get sucked down more proprietary rabbit holes. So we’ll continue doing our best in the PCGA to mitigate this and provide as viable an alternative to the proprietary ecosystems I see emerging. Wish us luck!

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