AMD is in a very interesting position this year. Not only is it pushing the envelope with server, desktop, and mobile APUs, but it also has the console market on lockdown. This week at the Computex Taipei expo, AMD doubled down on its “Unified Gaming Strategy,” promising to work directly with game developers to make PC ports of console games easier going forward.
Last generation, IBM supplied the CPUs for all three major consoles, and Nvidia supplied the GPU for the PS3. Now, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are both running custom AMD APUs, and the Wii U is using an IBM CPU with an AMD GPU. Usage statistics show that Nvidia still has a significant edge in the PC gaming market, but AMD could use its console dominance to turn the tide. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a major upset in the world of GPUs.
The reality of potential sales figures forces game developers to make most AAA titles console-focused. Too often, PC ports get short shrift because of this emphasis on the consoles, but hopefully that’s about to change. Now that the Xbox One, PS4, and PC are all using the same underlying hardware, it should take significantly less work to make a polished version for all three platforms. At least, that’s what AMD keeps telling us.
The PS3 used the oddball Cell processor, and that led to countless problems for third-party developers making multi-platform games. It has more horsepower than the Xbox 360, but the difficult architecture meant developers were often left with a choppy frame rate or egregious texture pop-in. That’s not the case this time around, and we mostly have AMD to thank. The development environments for PC, Xbox One, and PS4 are by no means identical, but ports won’t need nearly as much retooling as they did last generation.
Everyone seems to be benefiting except Nvidia here. The real worry with AMD’s push for unified gaming is that games developers might shirk Nvidia optimisations. If it’s relatively simple to get Xbox One games up and running on PCs with AMD graphics, publishers might not see the need to spend the additional cash optimising for Nvidia cards.
This could be a huge hassle for the majority of PC gamers with existing Nvidia cards, but it would be even worse for Nvidia itself. While AMD has been lagging well behind lately, this PC-console strategy could help it leapfrog the competition in a meaningful way.