NVIDIA is coming off the best year in the company’s history thanks to the growth of AI and NVIDIA’s position in that market. However, if you look at NVIDIA’s latest earnings, over 60% of their revenue still comes from gaming. NVIDIA’s gaming division had a fantastic quarter with 67% growth which I attribute a lot to the transformation of GeForce from a graphics chip to a full-blown gaming platform, competing directly with consoles, handhelds and mobile.
The GeForce platform, combines hardware, software and services and NVIDIA designed it to enable the best PC gaming experience, everywhere. With the Game Developer’s Conference looming large next week it’s a good time to take a closer look at the three pillars of this gaming platform.
When it comes to hardware, I’ve never seen NVIDIA’s GeForce line this competitive. Last year, they introduced the GeForce GTX 10 series and have launched GPUs that range from $100 to $1,200 all using the same Pascal GPU architecture. I’ll admit, I was skeptical early-on that NVIDIA could address all these segments including AI and pro graphics with the same architecture, but they pulled it off. These new GPUs included the GTX 1050, GTX 1060, GTX 1070, GTX 1080 and GTX Titan X and were designed to enable the best gaming experiences for all gamers and all budgets.
While it may have been pushed faster than desired by competition, what’s great about the GTX 10 series is that it brings down the cost of VR to the GTX 1060 level from the GTX 970 level, a full $100 lower than it used to be. What’s even more interesting is that NVIDIA has effectively discontinued creating separate GPUs for gaming laptops and now utilizes desktop GPUs for gaming. This has translated to significantly higher performance gaming laptops, effectively one of the fastest growing gaming platform
NVIDIA is also innovating in display technologies by continuing to accelerate their G-SYNC technology to support better display features. G-SYNC is designed to enable the GPU to connect directly to the display and allow the refresh rate of the display to sync with the framerate of the GPU, reducing tearing and improving gaming smoothness. The new features that come along with the newer versions of G-SYNC include HDR and high frame rates, as high as 240 Hz which makes them very gaming-friendly.
NVIDIA pioneered G-SYNC technology to improve the gaming experience and has helped elevate the GeForce brand to be synonymous with high quality gaming. NVIDIA also launched a brand-new version of their SHIELD TV at CES which allows you to stream your games from your PC as well as play back 4K content like Netflix to your 4K TV and Android games. It also adds capabilities like Google Home and other smart home capabilities which gives the SHIELD brand that lies within GeForce more flexibility.
No discussion about NVIDIA and GeForce would be complete without mentioning all the extensive software that enables NVIDIA’s hardware. One of NVIDIA’s crowning glories has been their high performance and stable drivers, which now include their Game Ready Drivers.
NVIDIA’s Game Ready Drivers are designed to be released at the same time as or before a game launches to allow gamers with NVIDIA GPUs to make the most out of their GPUs for specific games from day one. Part of what makes Game Ready Drivers possible is the fact that NVIDIA has programs that enable the company to work closely with developers to enable features that make games look better and run smoother on GeForce. That program is known as Gameworks and has a sub-segmented program called VRWorks which includes a set of developer tools and software that are designed to make VR more palatable to developers and consumers alike. Overall, I can confidently say that many games simply wouldn’t look the way that they do today if it weren’t for NVIDIA’s Gameworks program which is designed to drive improved visuals and performance across many developers.
One of the biggest commitments NVIDIA made to improving the gaming experience in my opinion is GeForce Experience (GFE), which is fundamentally designed to reduce friction between the user and their gaming PC. I personally don’t like to tinker with my game settings and when I’m using GeForce, I use GFE to drive those settings. NVIDIA accomplishes this by making driver updates virtually seamless as well as finding optimal graphical settings for games based on what’s already installed in a user’s system.
GeForce Experience also makes things like streaming gameplay to Facebook and Twitch extremely easy and once again reduces the friction that users might experience when trying to setup a streaming service. It just works. My 14-year-old son who, constantly plays Overwatch, streams to Twitch and captures all his gameplay, edits it and uploads to YouTube. NVIDIA has also started running giveaways through their GeForce Experience program to encourage more users to use it and to participate in it.
NVIDIA also has an end user software tool called Ansel. This tool is designed to allow users to, in supported games, capture all kinds of images as screenshots, including 360 degree images. Ansel’s flexibility allows it to become a creative art tool within games even though most gamers will simply use it to enable bigger and better screenshots than they ever had before. Ansel also allows these 360 degree images to be viewed in VR, which is honestly the most natural way of consuming 360 content today.
While I’m not entirely sure how many users take up Ansel as their primary game image capture platform, there is still a hurdle that it needs to be enabled by the developer in the game for NVIDIA to even say its supported. Additionally, some games like Skyrim definitely lend better to using something like Ansel rather than a game like CS:GO.
GeForce Cloud Services
Right now, you could consider NVIDIA’s GeForce Experience a type of service since they continually send you updated drivers and push you to install them. However, NVIDIA does actually have a paid service that allows gamers to enjoy PC gaming from virtually anywhere thanks to NVIDIA’s own GPU virtualization technology.
The GeForce NOW platform was previously reserved to being streamed to NVIDIA SHIELD devices but now cloud gaming is being extended to non-NVIDIA devices including Mac and PC. This service effectively rents you a gaming PC in the cloud, which takes care of all the game license issues, driver updates and performance issues. All those things are essentially meaningless and all you want or need is the ability to play the game you like. NVIDIA also added the ability to play your own Steam games as well as the games that they offer which significantly increases the usability of this platform as a complete gaming platform for users that don’t always travel with their gaming notebook. The idea of no waiting, no updates, no hardware cost for some people makes gaming seem much more attainable and interesting than it has ever been before.
NVIDIA has never talked about how many people use GeForce NOW which indicates to me that it’s still new and growing, but it is the ultimate delivery vehicle given enough time.
NVIDIA has gotten a lot of company credit for creating the AI market, deservedly so, but they also deserve credit in driving the booming PC gaming market as well. NVIDIA has had a very successful year in their GeForce division and I believe that with GDC 2017 looming, we may see even more interesting things coming from them.
GeForce graphics currently dominates the discrete gaming card market and therefore, the majority of PC gaming with discrete graphics is GeForce gaming. I think GeForce is a dynamic, friction-reducing, and inclusive gaming platform that has accelerated esports, VR, gaming laptops, and some incredible, cinematic game titles.
I am very much looking forward to the future of what NVIDIA brings next and anticipate some news at GDC.