I just soft-launched the PC Gaming Alliance (PCGA) 'Gaming Certified' Certification Program a few months ago; and thought I'd share some over-arching themes behind why we took the approach that we did on several fronts. For those of you that'd like to dive into the details of that program feel free to visit the PC Gaming Alliance website here: http://pcgamingalliance.org/certification If you do take a peek I'd recommend taking a look at both the FAQ and whitepaper.
First off, why do we even need a Certification Program for PC Gaming in the first place? (Or as one person put it "What gives us the right?"). There are actually many reasons starting with raising the quality bar of PC Games themselves. Since the PCGA's program is opt-in; no one has to participate if they don't want to. However; for those that do, it means that they are holding their games to a higher quality standard that will in fact reduce Product Support Services (PSS) calls, returns, and so forth. So why wouldn't you want to do that? As for the 'what gives us the right' it boils down to the fact that there is no one on the PC Gaming front willing or able to take a leadership position to help better the PC Gaming experience for end users. Unfortunately the Games for Windows (G4W) program was deprecated a few years ago. Even then, that only addressed PC Games that are shipping on a Windows OS. What about Mac OSX, SteamOS, Android, and so forth? As a result of these gaps, the charter that the PCGA has always had for its members, and the industry, is to strive for doing anything necessary to keep PC Gaming on an open platform and improving the quality of PC games themselves.
Second, so now the next bit is intentionally meant to be a little thought provoking. The PCGA could, if it had wanted to, created a completely different kind of "CERT" program that would have defined far more parameters than it did. For example; we could have said, you need to have at least this x-processor, that y-graphics solution, and this much z-RAM, and so forth in order to get some particular bench score or rating. Technically speaking this would make it very easy for Game Devs to be able to have a design target that they could rely on. However; it becomes restrictive, when Game Devs want to take ~10 year old PC Games and port them to something like Android OS based platforms. They're still technically under the umbrella of being a PC Game. So instead; the PCGA's CERT program opted for the path of doing a more 'Experience-based' CERT program. We still had to put some bare-bones parameters in place such as the 720 monitor, the 30 fps, and medium settings requirements. We chose 720p since that's still the most ubiquitous screen resolution on the planet. The 30 fps keeps us at parity with the various Console Cert Programs. We don't want to position ourselves as being a less than platform if it can be helped. The Medium Settings is very nebulous and will be Game ISV defined. Settings are such a moving target; but yes, there are some basic common sense settings that should be in-game and can be discussed with the PCGA's Cert Program Admin as appropriate.
Third, so what expertise or subject matter experts had inputs into this program? The Cert Program originally started off nearly five years ago when the PCGA was being formed. Back then the direction was to establish a defined hardware target for Game Devs; and it was called the Game Canon. After several years of meetings and deliberation we opted for the more "experience-based" direction and simply called it what it was; which is the PCGA Gaming Certified Program. Externally speaking we have socialized this with pretty much all the key Publishers in the Western Hemisphere in a webinar holiday of 2011, & 2012. The Game ISVs straight across the board loved it; which at the end the day are the primary customers of such a program. Internally speaking; yours truly has kept tabs on the Xbox TCR program in the early days of Xbox when I was in the Microsoft Game Studios (MGS) group. A few years later it was my research that was leveraged for a presentation by a Windows Marketing team to help kick off the Games for Windows (G4W) Program. While the intentions were well placed to make Gaming on Windows better; they unfortunately got re-orged into what was effectively the Xbox Group (IEB/HED) and that pretty much sealed the fate of that program. Aside from my contributions, Rick Carini, (Formely of Dell & now a Tech Dir at Razer) was the original brain-child of the program. The PCGA also had almost every member at some point do some major contribution to the program.
So what does the "Future Hold In Store?"
The PCGA's CERT program is pretty well future proofed. Since PC's continue to take many different shapes and sizes (e.g. Tablets to SteamMachines to SmartTVs in the future), and ship with pretty much any OS on it. At the end of the day the PCGA doesn't really care what OS a PC game ships on, or what the device/form-factor looks like. One thing we can bank on is that device capabilities continue to get better, they get smaller, faster, lighter, thinner, & so forth. What we care about is if PC Gaming stays open. Open as in - royalty free. As a result of this the PCGA's program isn't picking any winners. If a Games ISV publishes their game on Steam OS, Mac OSX, Windows, Ubuntu, Android/Chrome, et al in the future; then our program is still relevant. I also believe that Consoles are pretty much done after this current generation. They are ripe for convergence. We're already seeing Microsoft and Sony both try to position them as ultimate "Entertainment" devices. Sadly; I think that's myopic. Long term it also means that their CERT Programs (E.g. TCR, TRC) will also have to broaden their horizons. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if they ended up taking a more PCGA-esque approach to their CERT programs in the future. They'll likely end up looking like glorified TV-Channels for various forms of entertainment such as Games, Movies/TV/Video, Music, etc; and they'll have to tier their programs for participants to accommodate various form-factors. We're already seeing the beginnings of this with tighter Xbox 'branding' integration into Windows. However; I caution anyone that takes that approach as it is functionality that consumers have come to expect; and they don't want to be charged extra for it in the future.
I'll close with this. In terms of the PCGA's CERT program we won't know until we've at least tried it. We know that the CERT programs for Consoles work pretty well and as a result they've vacuumed up about ~50% of all the gaming revenues generated in any given year across 3 major platforms: PlayStation, Xbox, & Wii. They're doing some things right; and now it's time to try reversing that trend. We don't want PC Gaming being relegated to the dustbin of being positioned as shovel-ware. The "Real" Premium Gaming Experience is truly only on a PC. Let's help keep it that way.
So there it is. A quick introduction on the PCGA's "Gaming Certified" program. Would love to hear anyone's thoughts on the matter.