Naysayers have been ringing the PC gaming death knell for years, but take a closer look at the data and a different picture emerges. Since 2012, global PC gaming revenue has been growing almost every year, hitting a peak of $31.3bn (£23.3bn) in 2015, according to data from Newzoo. That’s a growth of 18 per cent since 2012.
Admittedly, Newzoo’s projected revenue figure for 2017 is currently just $29.4bn – down two per cent from 2016’s $30.15bn – due to the ongoing shift from browser-based PC gaming toward mobile, but the hardware manufacturers we’ve spoken to couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of the platform. Indeed, Intel and Nvidia have both just reported record Q2 revenue figures for 2017, while Dell has just had its biggest Q2 since 2015.
“PC gaming has more momentum than it’s ever had,” Dell’s global product marketing director for Dell Gaming and Alienware Chris Sutphen tells MCV. “The number of innovations coming in is phenomenal – it’s no longer a niche. The market is extremely diverse; the range of PC hardware and peripherals available is better than ever.”
Nvidia’s sales director for GeForce EMEAI Richard Lee agrees, saying the PC gaming hardware market is currently “in great health.”
He continues: “The growth is simply incredible. Over 3,500 PC games were released last year, more than three times any other platform. With the explosion in MOBAs and esports, it’s the platform that everyone is looking to get into.”
PC gaming has more momentum than it has ever had.
Chris Sutphen, Dell
Intel’s EMEA retail sales director Steve Shakespeare shares a similar opinion: “Not only are people really excited about PC gaming and growing their interest there, but they’re also increasingly looking to invest in the best platforms they can afford to give them the best gaming experience. As games get more demanding and immersive, people will want to get a high-performing system to support that.”
LAP OF LUXURY
The humble desktop tower may have been where PC gaming started, but now these high-performance systems are available all shapes and sizes, with recent advancements in laptop technology making modern day notebooks an equally viable platform for serious gamers.
“Laptops are incredibly important for Nvidia,” says Lee. “There were more than 10 million gaming laptops sold in 2016, making it the fastest growing gaming platform. With GeForce GTX 10-series GPUs, there is now no compromise required; desktop graphics performance is available in a laptop and as a result, we’re seeing more and more people choose a laptop as their main gaming machine.”
Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is the current top-dog in the company’s 10-series lineup, costing around £700 at UK retail
Of course, a powerful GPU is just one part of what makes a great gaming laptop, as Intel’s Shakespeare explains: “You want a system that delivers high performance processing with high performance graphics delivery, so you need a balanced system to do both. Our H-series of processor parts for notebooks give really high performance in a gaming notebook system. Pair that with a discrete graphics card, and it gives you a great mobile, portable gaming experience.”
That doesn’t mean desktop PCs aren’t also on the rise, though: “We’ve seen incredible demand for our Pascal GPUs – the GTX 10-series,” Lee continues. “Developers are really hitting their stride now with the latest hardware and pushing the graphical level even higher. Just take a look at titles such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which just looks beautiful; genuinely stunning with Hollywood levels of motion capture.”
Dell’s Sutphen (pictured left) is also upbeat about desktops: “What’s exciting to see is the rejuvenation of the desktop market, specifically for PC gaming, which was sparked first by VR. Therefore, we expect significant growth to continue for both desktops and laptops.
“We know that some gamers prefer to have a more portable system for both work and home use, while some customers like the highest performing desktop systems such as the Alienware Area 51. These impressive systems are extremely simple to update and customise, and can be used for ‘mega-tasking’ – powerful enough for content creation, streaming, 4K game playing and everything in between.”
Not everyone needs such a system, of course, which is why Dell is also diversifying its range with ‘gaming capable’ systems in its Inspiron lineup.
“This category defines any PC with an Nvidia GTX or AMD R9 or better graphics,” Sutphen continues. “While Alienware caters to the high-end, premium gamers, we recognised that there are more price-conscious gamers. So we created a new team under the Inspiron brand to build products for this customer set. With Inspiron Gaming, we have a new line of game-ready systems that prioritise what PC gamers care most about, such as processor and graphic card units to push the latest PC games, dual-fan cooling for extended play, a high quality visual/audio experience – all at a modest price.”
Esports, in particular, have been a huge factor behind this growth in sales, especially titles with lower technical specifications that allow a wider range of PC owners to get in on the action.
“Esports is an important business segment for Nvidia, and GeForce GTX is the defacto gaming platform of choice for esports professionals worldwide,” says Lee. “GeForce GTX and [ultra-low motion blur] G-Sync monitors are also the official graphics platform of choice for [Dota 2 esports tournament] The International. If you include both the onstage and the backstage warm-up PCs, over 150 GTX 1080-based systems were used.
“Many games may not be technically demanding with regards to minimum specs, making it a great way for many gamers to get started, but when you demand refresh rates of over 144Hz, G-Sync monitors and the latest peripherals, you can see how important esports can be for the high-end.”
Intel’s Core series of CPUs are vital to a balance gaming PC, says Shakespeare
Shakespeare agrees: “We’re seeing [esports] drive high-end gaming. Like any hobby, people like to buy the best and give themselves the flexibility to do whatever they want. I think that’s why we’re seeing a big sell-up to i7.”
Individual streamers have also been a positive force for Intel. “Consumers love to have celebrities in their sport. In a way, they’re a representative voice of what the industry wants, so we try to respond and explain how our products support those interests. But they also feed into us about what we need to do in future products. So for me, it’s a symbiotic relationship. We both benefit from that mutual collaboration.”
Dell’s Alienware business has also been involved in esports as far back as the Championship Gaming Series in 2007. “Today, we sponsor two of the oldest, most established professional teams in the competitive scene – Team Dignitas and Team Liquid – and provide more than 500 systems to various leagues, events and players across the globe,” says Sutphen.
Likewise, Alienware’s recently announced partnership with Eleague is yet further evidence of its commitment to esports. “We’ve really liked how Eleague has helped bring the love of gaming to more people, as it is the same thing we are trying to do with the introduction of our Inspiron gaming line. For this reason, the partnership makes a lot of sense.”
In 2017, a gaming PC is no more complicated than a console.
Richard Lee, Nvidia
Virtual reality is another top priority for these firms, with Sutphen saying he’s “confident there’s good appetite from gamers to continue engaging with the current generation of VR-enabled games.”
For Nvidia’s Lee, however, the biggest problem is actually getting users to engage with VR in the first place. “The largest hurdle right now is actually neither pricing, nor content, nor hardware requirements – all of those are looking better than ever,” he says.
“It’s more down to the fact that you really have to try VR to understand the value that it brings to gaming and entertainment, but also to a broad range of industries, like architecture, design or education. Per a recent study from Newzoo, 70 per cent of all gamers have never actually tried VR, so there’s a lot of potential for growth. We believe this growth will happen throughout 2018 and beyond, so we’re fully committed to a long-term engagement in the VR industry.”
As with any hardware platform, however, there are still many hurdles that need to be overcome if the industry wants to keep moving forward at the same pace. For Nvidia’s Lee (pictured below), “the challenge is always education,” he says.
“The perception has always been that hardware and PC gaming is ‘complicated’, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In 2017, a gaming PC is no more complicated than a console. We’ve worked hard to make our GeForce Experience app take the complication out of PC gaming by providing automatic driver updates, one-click optimised settings and easy to use share options.
“No one wants to buy a new component only to find the game they have been eagerly waiting for doesn’t have driver support on launch day. That’s why we put so much time into our Game Ready Drivers. Nvidia actually has more software than hardware engineers and many of those are devoted to making sure our graphics cards support all games on the day of launch.”
Intel’s Shakespeare (pictured below), on the other hand, sees VR as the next big challenge: “To support VR, you need a strong processor that can do all the physics, the AI, and all of the sound rendering to emulate the three-dimensional sound space, and you need a strong graphics card to render all of that, so you need a balanced system to do both. Over time, we see this as a spiral of growth. We deliver the platform, the software developers deliver better games, and it all walks up over time.”
Accommodating gamers’ increasing multi-tasking tendencies is also important, says Shakespeare: “If you think about what it takes to do all that – to play a game, stream it and have other messaging systems and apps going at the same time – all of that is compute intensive, so you’ve got to have the processor head room to do it. We certainly see a good demand for that and we’re seeing a growth in demand for Core i7 worldwide.”
That said, manufacturers must also make sure users don’t get priced-out of these platforms, says Dell’s Sutphen: “Customers want options, whether it’s more mobility, higher screen resolutions or just more features. The biggest change we’ve seen is the ability to offer increased performance in smaller and smaller form factors. All gamers are important, whether they’re gaming on a rig that’s worth over £5,000 or a gaming laptop they picked up for £800. It is crucial manufacturers bear this in mind and make sure nobody is left behind, while still innovating at the highest level.”
PC gaming clearly isn’t going anywhere, then, and as Lee puts it, “there’s so much to look forward to,” including continued innovations in VR and HDR.
Shakespeare, too, is excited about what’s coming from Intel: “We are absolutely committed to the PC category,” he says. “Soon we’re going to ship our first 10nm technology part – we’re currently on 14nm – so that will bring even more performance, even lower power consumption and longer battery life.”
The same goes for Sutphen: “We’re constantly increasing our investment in research and development, leveraging our 17 global research and development centres worldwide. We’re delivering products that inspire creativity and productivity, make our customers’ lives easier, and give them the choice they desire. This applies to the products they buy from us today, and the concepts like VR, AR and AI that will shape their tomorrows.”