PCs and Smartphones Duke it Out for Gaming Champion

Everyone knows that gaming continues to be a very hot category, drawing more eyeballs, hours, and dollars than virtually any other activity that most people engage in on their digital devices. The growing popularity of this week’s Gaming Developer’s Conference (GDC) and the range of new gaming-related announcements expected from that event further confirms it. From the runaway popularity of games like FortNite, to the billions in revenue generated by Pokemon Go, to the staggeringly large audiences for eSports competitions and game streaming services like Twitch, gaming continues to have an outsized impact on the devices we buy and the services we use. In fact, Netflix recently summed things up nicely when they noted that the biggest competition for their video streaming services weren’t its direct competitors, but games like Fortnite.

What isn’t quite as clear…which type of gaming devices and platforms are taking the lion’s share of people’s attention and activity? A new online survey of over 2,000 consumer gamers in both the US and China conducted by TECHnalysis Research shines some light on these critical questions. As it turns out, the top device categories are dependent on where you live, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Fig. 1
Survey respondents were asked to select which devices they owned and which ones they gamed on from 17 different device categories (ranging from Windows 10-based desktop PCs, to iPhones, to Android tablets, etc.). In addition, they were asked how much time they spent gaming on each device they owned. The combined results highlight that, in the US, PCs and smartphones were essentially tied (PCs had a fraction of a percentage lead), in terms of amount of total gaming time spent on each device. In China, on the other hand, PCs had a significant lead over smartphones, highlighting the importance that gaming PCs continue to have there. It’s also interesting to note that game consoles still command about 18% of overall gaming time in the US and were the third most common category, but only about 8% and fourth place in China. (This stems in part from the fact that sales of gaming consoles were banned in China for many years.)

Interestingly, on an individual basis, Android phones were the top gaming device in both countries in terms of frequency of ownership, percentage that were used for gaming, and hours spent gaming. In the US, iPhones were second in terms of time spent gaming, barely edging out Windows 10-based desktops, whereas in China, Windows 10-based desktops had a clear lead over iPhones.

Fig. 2
The results split by platform show that Android is the clear platform leader in the US at about 28% share, but barely edged Windows 10 in China. iOS is the second most common gaming platform in the US, just ahead of Windows 10, but is in third place in China (though at a relatively similar 20% share).

In addition to the individual device and platform results, a key takeaway from this new research study is that gaming has become very much of a multi-device and multi-platform phenomenon. On average, US respondents said they owned 5.5 devices and gamed on 4.4 of them, while Chinese survey takers reported owning 5.1 devices and gaming on 4.1 on average. Clearly, gamers are eager to extend their gaming experiences across a wide range of devices and wide range of platforms.

This has important implications for game developers, game networks, and those companies looking to develop and offer game-streaming services (including Google, Microsoft, and many other major players). Because gamers own and use multiple devices for gaming, it’s only logical that they would want to be able to run their games on as diverse a range of devices as possible—even across those with very different screen sizes, as well as computing and graphics power.

We’ve already seen the gaming industry start to adjust their development plans to this new reality, and the multi-platform, multi-device support for games like FortNite are clearly a sign of more that is to come. In addition, because of this move, most consumers are going to expect higher and higher graphics quality and gaming performance from all their devices. This will likely lead to increased focus both on the built-in graphics and gaming capabilities of devices, as well as demand for more cloud-based solutions that can leverage the increasing number of powerful GPUs from Nvidia and AMD now making their way onto servers. In addition, the low-latency potential of upcoming 5G networks could prove to be very important (and in demand) for gamers who want to extend a high-quality gaming experience to more devices and more places.

Interest in gaming shows no signs of slowing down, and the devices, technology, games, and services that power it are likely going to enjoy many years of robust growth. It’s an exciting time for the gaming world, and it’s certainly going to be a fun industry to track and watch.

(Look for additional details on the TECHnalysis Research Multi-Platform Gaming Report in future columns.)

Podcast: PC Shipments, PlayStation VR

In this week’s Tech.pinions podcast Tim Bajarin, Jan Dawson and Bob O’Donnell discuss the recent PC shipment and forecast numbers from IDC and Gartner, and analyze the impact of Sony’s PlayStation VR on the overall virtual reality device market.

If you happen to use a podcast aggregator or want to add it to iTunes manually the feed to our podcast is: techpinions.com/feed/podcast

Bad Web Sites Can Be Silly, Ultimately Dangerous

There’s little doubt that our new web distribution systems often fail to do the best job in protecting information. Sometimes, as in the case of the massive loss of federal government information and the theft of retail credit card info, the problems are desperately in need of improvement.

But sometimes problems turn out to be downright miserable in ways that can cause ridiculous amounts of trouble. This week, I was looking for additional examples of information theft as I am trying to build suggestions for more protection. Good approaches are often being used especially for new services and eventually even the government will be forced to make things better. Others are another story.

I came across an interesting account from Master Herald with the headline “Accounts Hacked!” It may not have been terribly important, but it shows how screwed a company can be. A report claimed intruders found an opportunity to steal a “forgotten password” for access to Valve’s Steam, a service that makes a variety of online games available on the internet. There was a published account found through a Google search of considerable detail on the alleged attack. Usually when something like this occurs, there are multiple internet reports but here the detail seemed only to repeat the text from Master Herald. I’m not going to link to it because the link has some very nasty components; search on you own if you want to risk it.

Master Herald declares itself a news service based in Muscat by Al-Mashroot Akhbar Co., unrelated, as best I can tell, to any other network service. The one thing we can be grateful for is the Steam report did not get much coverage. The only secondary report was on Y Hacker News and it was a bunch of comments that referred back to the Master Herald report–with dozens of suggestions that turned out to have little to do with the alleged Steam issue.

Still, the Y Hacker News report is very safe compared to the Master Herald web page. The Master Herald page looks very confusing, filled with non-working links. DO NOT click on the links; you won’t get what you want and what you get may cause trouble.An example of the text (links delinked):

Valve’s Steam is the biggest platform in the PC gaming market, with Valve themselves being one of the most prominent companies in the gaming industry as a whole. Steam has millions of accounts all over the world, and in some cases people have invested literally thousands of dollars into their own accounts. Which is why a security breach like the one that just occurred a few days ago is something to take very seriously.

Click on any of those links and you generally get an ad totally unrelated. It brings a box—uncopyable—that takes you to a new screen of something. Mostly the web screen you get is pointless but harmless. But sometimes it will lock your browser with a blue screen that cannot be copied. Then you get one of several boxes like:


This then locks up your browser, if you are lucky, or freezes the system. As best I can tell, the ultimate goal of all this junk is to get you to call the “toll free helpline” for assistance. I wasn’t willing to go that far.

What is this sort of thing all about? I found it essentially impossible to make sense. But I guess there must be enough uninformed silly users that they will actually try. Still, it is troubling that what begins as a report on a somewhat scary (if false) Valse Steam problem ends up doing a good job of messing up your system temporarily.

The proof that it’s possible to put up really dreadful web sites. It’s your job to be careful.

How Is It Possible That Google Is So Bad At What It Should Be Great At?

Mark Zuckerberg cooly plunked down $19 large last week for a SMS-like app that most Americans had never used, probably never will. The move was labelled bold, brilliant, strategic. Zuckerberg branded a badass, a visionary, the next Steve Jobs. I suspect had Zuckerberg offered, say, a mere $5 billion, the echo chamber would have suggested he foolishly overpaid.

One particularly interesting aspect about Facebook’s WhatsApp acquisition, beyond the fact that it generates roughly 0.001 the revenues of Apple’s iTunes group, is that it’s ad-free, unlike seemingly everything else in our expansive digital world. Which begs the question: how will Facebook ever make back that $19 billion?

A better question: how has Google already made so many billions from advertising? Or, better still: who are all these people making Google so much money by clicking on Google ads?

Maybe WhatsApp and Zuckerberg are ahead of the curve. After all, do you ever click on an ad? Ever? Do you know anyone who does? Haven’t you long since trained your mind, your eyes, to not even see the ads? Don’t you count down the seconds until you can SKIP AD on YouTube?

An interstitial takes control of your screen and you immediately click it shut. For those ads that make you watch before you can access your desired content, you sheepishly, guiltily, countdown a second or two, hoping the site owner can make a penny, then click again to get to the actual site. It’s only after shutting down your computer do you realize there were pop-under ads, which you hastily close. You open several tabs in your browser, then frantically search for the one tab where some automatic ad is playing, annoying you to no end.

It’s worse than spam.

This is how we fund the Internet? Still? Perhaps WhatsApp, should it ever come close to returning its investment, will lead us toward some grand new method of funding our digital lives.

Even if Google ads are better than every other ad network — a debatable position — the fact is that almost every single Google-based ad is of zero relevance to my life, an assault on my eyes and ears, a clear barrier to what I actually want. Yet the company continues to generate billions in profits off this digital flotsam.


Is it you? Who are the people still viewing these ads? Who are clicking on these ads? And how is it even remotely possible that after 15 years of gathering every scrap of information about everything I do online, plus many of my activities off-line, that Google ads are still so wildly untargeted to every single thing about me?

I buy a plane ticket to Atlanta, say, and for the following week after that I’m shown offers for plane tickets to Atlanta. They’re worse than the colleague who discovers you just bought a car and tells you he could have got you a deal.

I fly to Atlanta, dine out, meet colleagues, conduct business, take in a few sights, return home. Go online. Where I’m then inundated with display ads, served by Google, for things to do in Atlanta. This lasts for days, at least.

While writing this article — fact — I was blasted with Google ads advertising Google ads.

What more of ourselves — our personal information, our likes, our shares, our time, our attention, our eyes, our ears — can we give so that Google et al finally get digital advertising to be merely remotely useful to us? Google knows us, our location, our friendships, our searches. They know our intent, allegedly, yet ad after ad after interminable ad is rarely anything more than digital trash.

Last week — true story — I searched for an app that might help me find and pay for parking in San Francisco, for that day only. Gmail now insists on showing me ads for “parking deals.” This all seems rather inexcusable. All that money, all those brains, all those machines, a billion smartphones, a billion plus web users, and nearing the mid-point of the second decade of the 21st century and Google advertising doesn’t understand that I needed that parking spot last week despite my explicit intent.

How can a company worth over $400 billion, that inspires so much awe and fear not only in Silicon Valley but in China, Europe and beyond, be so bad at what it should be great at?

To be fair, when I go to Google.com to search for a very specific item, the topper most ad and the first five or so non-ad results are usually, though not always, sufficient for my needs. As for Gmail and YouTube, ads there are so consistently irrelevant as to be comical — some sort of meta-joke the Google singularity squad are playing at our expense, I imagine.

Maybe getting advertising right is like finding the cure for cancer. The more money we spend, the more time and resources we devote, the more we realize just how far away we are from the end goal.

I haven’t seen much of an improvement in ads now that most of America and a good portion of the world has migrated to smartphones. These devices know where we are. They know what we are doing, what we are searching for, what we are seeking on a map, what we are texting our friends, where we are checking in to — yet I am at a loss to recall even a single instance when a tiny Google-served ad at the bottom of my smartphone screen was even remotely worthy of clicking on.

What is Google doing with all our information?

Forget for just this moment any privacy implications surrounding what Google does and instead think of this: someone else, a complete stranger, has full access to your photo library, your entire search history, your movements and locations throughout the day, everyday, a record of all your app purchases, book downloads, pirated television programs. Don’t you think they would have a near-100% better idea of what you’re interested in than Google does?

Almost never right but at scale has magically made Google king of the Internet.

When I search on Google Maps on my desktop — the smartphone screen is too small for this — and when using a generic term, such as pizza, that ad, to be fair, is typically semi-relevant, though has yet to ever be my first choice. That’s the very best I can say about Google’s ads.

Nonetheless, in 2013, Google had an astounding $60 billion in revenues and a profit of just under $13 billion. They had a per-employee profit of $270,000.

I have no answers for this.

I do my best to stay abreast of high-tech, including, grudgingly so, ad tech. Not just pop-ups, pop-unders, banner ads, etc., but the actual technologies and platforms powering these. There is contextual advertising, native advertising, search ads, mobile search advertising, platforms that enable spot-buys in near real-time, technologies that seek to integrate our interests, our location, our friendships across all our screens, all in the hopes of offering better, higher-margin ads. I follow how Google is aggressively pushing Google+ to ensure that all the various services of theirs we use, Gmail and search, maps and more, can all be linked back to us, individually. That Google is making less per ad on mobile than on desktop is a topic I’ve become quite familiar with. I read that Yahoo is trying desperately to re-take control over its search and advertising functions.

But the big question remains: how is it these all work so very badly?

Somebody, anybody, please disrupt this industry.

Is this why Larry Page is spending so much money on Nest, on robots, driverless cars, Internet balloons, fiber and so much more — he knows the whole web advertising ecosphere is ultimately doomed? It can never be right enough, timely enough, personal enough to make any appreciable difference in our lives? Unfair? Ask yourself: Did anyone really believe even for a moment that digital advertising would be so bad come 2014?

Despite my keen awareness of the breadth and scale of the global Internet I am simply amazed each and every quarter to re-discover that so many people around the world are clicking on ads. Yet Google’s earning statement confirm just this. Google even continues to lead the industry in limiting ad fraud. The company recently purchased Spider.io, a start-up that seeks to limit fraudulent clicks. Per Google:

Advertising helps fund the digital world we love today — inspiring videos, informative websites, entertaining apps and services that connect us with friends around the world. But this vibrant ecosystem only flourishes if marketers can buy media online with the confidence that their ads are reaching real people.

Sounds well and good, but such acquisitions mostly only fuel my suspicions that digital advertising is a convoluted, confusing and inexplicable mess, the web equivalent of America’s healthcare system. Probably why at times, and despite how super-rich Google has become, I confess I think of digital ads as a con, a grift pulled not just on content creators, but on us users as well. We are bombarded with ads, companies base their business plan upon ad revenue dreams, ads litter nearly every public website on the planet, and yet in almost every single case and for nearly everyone I know they are a nuisance, an eyesore, almost always irrelevant, rarely of value, and quite possibly a calculated means of ensuring no other business models can thrive on the web.

Information wants to be monetized. Ads are middling succor. Funding the Internet went down the wrong path many years ago and we attempt to right it now simply by throwing in still more ads. Our shared loss.

Perhaps I should say nothing. Fact is, thanks to those billions of clicks and the billions of ad dollars they generate, we now have YouTube, the best search ever, free and accessible maps, a mobile operating system ready to power the world, even Gmail is probably still the best email service for most people. Nonetheless, I can’t help but take note that this is the year 2014 and we are still buried in meaningless, useless, annoying advertising and it doesn’t seem like it’s getting better, despite everything Google, Yahoo, Facebook and others have tried.  Perhaps our best minds, our brightest engineers, should focus their talents elsewhere. 

Nvidia’s Shield Was Built for Folks Like Me

I’m right in the sweet spot of Nvidia’s target demographic for Shield. I’m a hard core gamer, I play mainly console games and not as much PC games. Life and career have taken more time and its been harder to find the time to play video games like I once did. This is why the promise of a true mobile console experience has always interested me.

This is why I was very interested when Nvidia announced Shield. I was skeptical I’ll be honest, and a bit surprised. But I remained optimistic because of what I know about Nvidia and how hopeful I am that someone will actually deliver on the mobile console promise.

I’ve been playing with Shield for a while now and I have to say I am impressed.

Some Thoughts on the Hardware

First off the hardware is excellent. The controller feels very much like an XBOX controller, which I would argue is the best controller around. ((This is subjective of course, but the overall feel in my hand and the “just right” stiffness of the joysticks is perfect for me)). If you have spent many hours gaming with the XBOX controller, you will feel right at home with the Shield controls.

Second, the screen is fantastic. I’ve used all the latest and greatest Android devices and the screen on the Shield and although its resolution and PPI isn’t has high as devices like the Galaxy S4, to the naked eye it feels extremely close. Which means the games and whole visual experience are top notch.

Android Gaming

The biggest question here is games on Android. Nvidia chose the Android operating system to run Shield because of Androids open nature. There is no question in my mind that more immersive games will come to mobile devices, but I’ve felt for some time that a controller experience was necessary for this to fully happen. Now that Nvidia has released Shield and that Shield delivers a truly mobile console experience in my opinion, the ingredients are there for console game developers to start taking mobile more seriously.

There are already a handful of Shield Optimized Android games, and like all new console launches I anticipate this number to grow and because Shield is built on Android, I expect the amount of Shield optimized games to grow faster than any other mobile gaming console to this point.

Interestingly, although there are about two dozen Shield optimized games already there are many more in the Android market that work already given their support for third party game controllers.

One last point. In using Shield, I have had the most positive expereince with Android yet. Not only is it a pure implementation running stock Jelly Bean, but In the many of the entertainment use cases Shield is focused on brings to light some of the best of Android. Android is great on Smartphones and tablets, but in my opinion, its even better on Shield.

A Bit of Nostalgia

Although, there is a fair amount of content already available to play on Shield, being built on Android has its advantages. Namely that given its open nature there are very good Nintendo and Super Nintendo Emulators for Android. I downloaded my favorite, SuperGNES, and loaded up the games I have been using on the Galaxy S4 I have. Namely, Super Punchout, Street Fighter II, Mario Kart, and Super Mario World. Low and behold, right out the gate every one worked with the Shield controller with no modification or customization. So here I am now playing Street Fighter II and Super Punchout with the glory of using a game controller.

Having access to all the Nintendo games I know and love, and grew up with, and being able to use a game controller with them, was perhaps the most eye opening experience for me in using Shield.

Powerful Accessories

Beyond the games, there are other benefits for being built on Android that showcase a device like Shield’s advantage over a more closed mobile console gaming experience. Being built on Android opens the door for other unique hardware accessory expereinces to benefit Shield. One in particular I want to highlight. And that is using Shield to fly my Parott AR Drone.

Yes, I have one of those drones, and it is one of my favorite gadgets / toys. You may not know this but the AR Drone has a number of augmented reality games available for it. Games where you use the camera to shoot digital objects in the air or the ground. Or games where you race through a digital course in the physical world. All of these experiences through a touch screen are possible but made all the better using a physcical game controller. To say that Shield has profoundly impacted my flying ability with my AR Drone would be an understatement.

This brings up a broader point. We are seeing a number of electronics like this, whether RC cars, planes, etc., come with software for smart phones. Being able to use Shield as a game controller with some of hardware expereinces like these may open up some doors that were not possible before.

Things to Consider

For us gaming enthusiasts we are faced with a difficult holiday season. This is the first time in a while when the holiday season will feature simultaneous avaialablity of the two top gaming consoles in their launch year. Most of us can’t afford them all this holiday season.

However, if a mobile console gaming experience is a priority for you then strongly consider Shield. It is the best mobile gaming console experience I have encountered. And as I stated there is a big potential upside being built on Android. I strongly believe it is only a matter of time before console first game developers shift to a mobile first development focus. This does not mean they will only develop for mobile device, only that they will embrace the mobile first strategy. Android will clearly benefit from this move and inevitably so will Shield.

Shield may be the most future proof mobile gaming console to hit the market yet. And as I pointed out, playing Nintendo games, using to fly drones, etc., are all icing on the cake.

AMD SurRoundhouse Concept: Future Cure for the CE Industry Woes?

For a run of at least 30 years, the “classic” consumer electronics industry successfully transitioned from one technologyWP_20130110_037 to another.  TVs are a good example.  TVs went from big color tubes to rear projection to flat panels and HD projection to HD panels.  We can’t forget laser disc to Beta to VHS to DVD either.  Consumers ate it up, too, and were pleased to roll the old iron out of the living room into another room and roll the new gear in.

Then things changed with 3D TVs, which were an unmitigated disaster for the industry.  I call it a disaster because for the most part, consumers were not willing to pay more for 3D and in some cases flat out didn’t want it.  HDTV margins collapsed and are still in a funk for many CE markets.  4K TV and Smart TV is NOT the solution either as research I have seen indicates general consumers won’t pay a premium.  There are a few things going on here.  First, already-installed generic 1080P flat panels at 10” will be a very good solution for many years to come.  No one quite knows how long the installed base of displays will last, but it could be 10 years.

Smart TV’s, while valued more than 3D by consumers, isn’t valued at a lot either.  Consumers are getting conditioned, too, to know you can add “smarts” for as low as $50 with the external add-on of a Roku, Apple TV, or DVD player.  So what is the answer to revitalize the “classic” CE industry?  You really need to understand the problem, and the problem is lack of immersiveness and too many constraints.

Certainly,  3D HDTV was more immersive than HDTV, but not enough so for us to spend hundreds more to replace our current 1080P TVs.  Also, 3DTV had too many constraints, or what I like to call “if-thens”. Everyone in the room had to wear 3D glasses to enjoy the content and without it, the content is a blur.  3D glasses aren’t cheap, either, as active glasses were $50-$100 a pair.  Then there is the hassle of charging and making sure every one of them is ready for the big movie. Then there is the nausea some people feel when watching 3D videos.  There are 2.6M results from a Google search result from “3D” and “nausea.”  Passive 3D like LG showed at this and last year’s CES will significantly lower the glasses cost and a few manufacturers showed prototypes of glasses-less 3D TVs, but are many years off and are not very high quality.  3D may not the answer, but what is?

Consumers are looking for immersiveness without constraints which is affordable.  One example of this is a concept AMD showed off at CES.  AMD showed off its “SurRoundhouse” proof of concept which is quite expensive and complex now, but takes the industry in the correct, general direction.  The SurRound house is a “theater” room with 10, 55” HDTVs looking like windows in a house, 32 speakers, and four subwoofers.  The ten LG 1080P HDTVs displayed more than 600 Mp per second at 10,800 x 1,920 resolution, which is 3X the resolution of 4K (UltraHD), albeit spread around the room.  Driving the video and audio was one PC with an AMD FX 8150 8-core Black Edition processor with three FirePro 8000 graphics cards with Digital Multipoint Audio which was amplified by eight AV receivers.

AMD plays what looks like a hostage rescue scene from a video game and shifts audio from stereo to 32 speakers to show the value of high quality, multi-channel, positional audio. Each shift of the audio takes your eye to different windows of the house and as helicopters are flying, crashing, and as multiple machine gun melees erupt, you really feel like you are in a different and very real place.  The content was entirely custom and to it takes work to get games and movies to take advantage of a setup like this.   This is a different class of entertainment, one that could actually motivate to invest, maybe over-invest in new CE gear.

Here is a smartphone video I took of AMD’s SurRoundhouse.  Of course you don’t get the same experience as as the real thing, but you can get somewhat of a sense of the experience below.  Make sure you select 1080P and full screen:

AMD could have improved the experience even more by improving the quality of the graphics in the scenes.  They looked more cartoony than life-like.  AMD says that the goal of the demonstration was to show the experiential difference in the audio, but I’d still like to see max graphics to turn it into a reality show.

So how is a $35,000, 10 display, 8 receiver, 36 speaker setup requiring custom content “without constraints” and “affordable”?  It’s not right now, but if you look ahead to new technologies, the cost curve, and need for CE and entertainment businesses to create radically different experiences, it could very well become affordable and relatively simple.  Let me explain.

First challenge is content.  The entertainment industry has shown that it will make changes if it sees potential extinction or at least a major depression in business.  The film industry started shooting in 4K well before 1080P had mass adoption so the big question would be “if” they see the opportunity to shoot in multi-“frame” and multi-“angle” dimensions to be surround or at least convex.  The next challenge is cabling, but possibly already has a video solution with multi-channel, 60Ghz wireless display technology.  Lower frequency wireless speakers are already available, but the challenge would be to solve amplification at the current frequencies.  The great thing about wireless audio is that you wouldn’t need eight receivers to send the right audio to the right speaker.  Theoretically, you would only need one with a bunch of broadcast antennas.

Then there are the displays…. The current monitor sweet spot this year will be at around 30,” priced around $300.  I can imagine in 5 years that that $300 display becomes 40-50” for a full room display build out around $3,000.  This seems reasonable when you think that LG sells their 89” 4K TV today for $22,000.   Yes, 4K displays will lower in price, but how many years before it gets down to $3,000?

AMD’s SurRoundhouse gives the industry a potential scenario for the entertainment or theater room of the future.  While it doesn’t pass the tests for mass industry adoption today in media rooms, it could, and is certainly more interesting than the same boring, flat experience.  Neither 4K or SmartTV is the solution to the woes of the traditional CE market and I hope they are looking at AMD’s glimpse of the future.

NVIDIA’s Project SHIELD Connects Disparate Gaming Worlds

Even before CES 2013 officially began, NVIDIA announced a new product that rocked the gaming world.  NVIDIA announced Project SHIELD, an NVIDIA-branded mobile gaming device that connects different world of gaming, across modes, displays and content.

My first visual impression of SHIELD when I saw it was that it looked like a high end portable game controller used with an XBOX with a 5”, fold out display. The user holds it with both hands, pistol-grip style, with access to all the different kinds of buttons you would expect.  While the controller does look very cool, what is most interesting is the gaming flexibility it provides.

Connects Small and Large Display Gaming

Gamers can display their games on two displays, the integrated display and to an HDTV.  The integrated display is 5”, 1,280×720 resolution, and is adjustable for optimal viewing angle.  When not gaming, it folds down to protect itself.  Gamers can also display on the big screen, too, up to a 4K display.  This can be done wirelessly or via an HDMI cable.  Wireless display is accomplished via a dongle that connects into the HDMI port of the HDTV.  Essentially, the gameplay is encoded into a an H.264 video stream and sent to the TV in a similar fashion as Apple  AirPlay.

Connects Android and Windows PC Gaming

One of the biggest differentiators in gaming is that players can play Android and Windows PC games.  Android gaming is very straight-forward.  Just download a game from Google Play and you play it.  If you ever had an Android device like a Nexus 7 or HTC One X+ Android phone and purchased a game there, you can also play that same game on SHIELD.

SHIELD also plays Windows PC games, too, which is very distinct, something no other portable game device can do.  NVIDIA’s desired PC experience is straight-forward, while the technology behind the scenes is complex. In SHIELD-mode, the gamer slides the carousel to “PC” games where they are presented with a list of PC games.  They click the game and they play it, it’s that simple. The user never sees Windows Metro or the start screen or anything that resembles a PC.

Behind the scenes, the game is actually being played on a remote PC in the house and images are being transmitted to SHIELD or the HDTV.  It uses technology similar to that used on remote desktop applications, where the image is encoded into an H.264 video. The games are screened by Nvidia to make sure that they work well on the HDTV so the quality of service is better.  Small text could be a bit of a challenge in some games, but as devs realize they can expand their gameplay to SHIELD, they will accomodate by scaling the text to be used on the 5″ display.

I very much hope that the experience is as smoothe as NVIDIA desires, because if there are a few hiccups, gamers will stop using the Windows PC gaming function, one of SHIELD’s biggest differentiators.

Connects Portable and Console Gaming   

Finally, when you add up the fact that SHIELD can operate on the small screen, big screen, can be used as comfortably in the living room as it is in the car, it really is as, as NVIDIA’s Jen-Hsung says, a “portable console.”  While first designed as a portable gaming device, it really does beg the question on why you would need a gaming console as long as SHIELD works as planned and has access to the best titles.  Many hard core gamers will have both SHIELD and a gaming console, but where money is tight or consumers want just one device, they may choose SHIELD.

NVIDIA’s SHIELD a Success?

SHIELD is undoubtedly a major disruptor, but there are many things we don’t know yet, like price and distribution, to yield a market verdict.  What I can say is that if the experience is as good as presented, there will be very high levels of interest across “gamers” and consumers who really like to play games.  Nvidia plans to ship SHIELD in Q2 of this year and as soon as I get my hands on one, I will let you know about the quality of the experience.

NVIDIA GeForce Grid: Killing off Game Consoles?

Yesterday, NVIDIA launched VGX and the GeForce Grid, which, among many things, could render future game consoles obsolete.  This may sound very far-fetched right now, but as I dig into the details of the capability of the GeForce Grid and map that against consumer future needs, unless future consoles can demonstrably deliver something unique and different, they will just be an unnecessary expense and a hassle to the end consumer.

Problems with Cloud Gaming Today

Services exist today for cloud gaming like OnLive and Gaikai.  They have received a lot of press, but it’s uncertain if their business models and experiences would exist years from now if they stay with their current approaches and implementations.

Scalability is one issue.  Services need to directly match one cloud game session with one graphics card, so if you have 1,000 gamers, you need 1,000 graphics cards.  You can just imagine the challenges in scaling that experience out to millions of users.  You would need millions of graphics cards, which in a data center environment doesn’t make a lot of sense logistically or financially.

Latency is another issue.  Cloud game services need to maintain severs 100s of miles away to maintain an appropriate latency in game-play.  Latency is the lag time between when a user does something and they get a response. Imagine if there were a one second delay between the time you pull the trigger in Battlefield 3 and the time which something happens.  This would render the cloud game absolutely unplayable. Latency in social media apps like Facebook is acceptable, but not with games. Having to provide “edge servers” close to end users like the industry does today is completely unproductive as you cannot leverage these same servers during off-times and it’s difficult to even leverage servers across different time zones.  Therefore, servers are sitting around idle with nothing to do. This places another immense financial burden on the cloud game provider.  NVIDIA and their partners are attempting to solve these problems.

Nvidia VGX and the GeForce Grid

NVIDIA, with VGX and the GeForce Grid is attempting to solve the scalability and latency problems associated with today’s cloud gaming services like Gaikai and OnLive.  NVIDIA VGX are the technologies addressing the current virtual display issues and the GeForce Grid is the specific implementation to attack issues in cloud gaming.  They are addressing the problems with two very distinct, but related technologies: GPU virtualization and low latency remote display.

Virtualization of the GPU enables more than one user to share the resources of a graphics card.  Therefore, the one to one ratio between user gaming sessions and graphics card goes away.  With NVDIA VGX, multiple users can share a single, monster-sized graphics card.  This provides much better scalability for the cloud game data center and correspondingly reduces costs and increases flexibility.

Lower latency remote displays enable a significant improvement in the speed at which the remote image is sent to the end client device.  In this cloud gaming scenario, the gaming frames are actually converted into an H.264 movie and sent to the user.  NVIDIA has enabled improvements in the process by eliminating many steps in the process.  The frame of the game no longer needs to touch the CPU or main memory and is encoded directly on the NVIDIA VGX card and sent directly over PCI Express to the network card.  By bypassing many of the previous components and removing steps, this speeds up the process immensely.  This delivers a few benefits.  First, all things equal, it can deliver a much faster experience to the gamer that they never experienced before.  The experience just feels more like it is happening locally.  Combined with GPU virtualization, the reduced latency also enables cloud gaming data centers to be located farther away from users, which increases data center utilization and efficiency.  It also enables entire geographies to be served that could never be served before as “edge servers” can be consolidated.

Wither Future Game Consoles?

If NVIDIA and its partners can execute on the technology and the experience, it would essentially enable any device that could currently playback YouTube video well to be a virtual game device. Gamers could play any game, any time, and immediately.  What kinds of devices do that today?  They are all around us.  They are smartphones, Smart TVs, and even tablets.  There’s no loading games off of a disc, no downloading 500MB onto a PC; its just pick the game and play.  Once the gamer is done playing on the TV, they can just take their tablet and pick up in their bedroom where they left off.

This kind of usage model is quite common when you think of it.  Many consumer books, movies and even music in this same way, so why not games?  For many consumers, convenience trumps quality and that’s one of the issues I can see with future consoles.  There is no doubt that the visual detail and user interfaces will be much more sophisticated than cloud gaming. As I look to how well the iPod did with its “inferior” music quality, consumers chose convenience over quality.  Look at Netflix on a phone or tablet.  Consumers can get much higher quality on the local cable service, but a growing number of consumers choose convenience over quality.

Device makers and service providers who don’t see any monetization currently off of games today will very aggressively adopt this approach.  TV makers, for instance, see no revenue from any game played on their devices.  Gaikai, as an example, is cutting deals with TV manufacturers like LG to provide this service built into every Smart TV in the future.  Telcos and cable companies are also very motivated to tap into the huge gaming revenue stream.

I believe that consoles will adopt cloud gaming capabilities in addition to physical media or they will be viewed as lacking the features gamers want.  I also believe that cloud gaming will seriously cannibalize future game consoles.  Many who would have purchased a new game console if cloud gaming with NVIDIA VGX and GeForce Grid had not existed will not buy game consoles.  With that premise, it begs the question if future game consoles have a bright future.  If game console makers don’t do something aggressive, their future is looking dim.

If you would like a deeper dive on NVIDIA VGX and the GeForce Grid, you can download my whitepaper here.

Immersive Social Games Bringing Families Together

The big discussion on social games recently is centered around games like Farmville and companies like Zynga, whose recent IPO generated a lot of attention. I see a much more interesting phenomenon taking place where new, cross-generational and immersive social games are bringing families like mine closer together. It’s an interesting phenomenon that goes back to family baseball and Monopoly. KingsIsle Entertainment, developer for the successful Wizard101 game launched Pirate101 this week. This is the second in cross-generational and social game which puts an exclamation point on the growth and value these kinds of games provide to families, including mine.

My Personal Experience

My son, his five cousins, his uncles and I all play KingsIsle’s Wizard101 MMO game. Most times my son plays and initiates a conference call. Sometimes he even uses Skype. Did I mention he was ten years old too? I really enjoy Wizard101’s ability to cater to my needs as well as my son’s. The characters and situations even harken back to 70’s comedies I grew up on. There are typically two levels to the dialogue, one for adults and one for my son. The game is deep, and according to KingsIsle, there are about 30 hours of spoken audio and hundreds of hours of gameplay in the main quest lines alone.

My son talks to me about Wizard101 at least twice a day about new levels, characters, spells, minions, and even new houses and furniture. He is fully vested. It’s even to the point where I pay him his weekly allowance in Wizard101’s virtual currency called crowns. Is my and my son’s story unique and different? Maybe fanatical but not unique when you look at the numbers.

The Country of Wizard101

My son is not alone in his fanaticism for the game. Wizard101 has 25M registered users, which, if it were a country, would be larger than population of Australia or replace Texas as the second largest state in the US. That is a large reach. Frequency is impressive, too with 14M monthly unique visitors to Wizard101. That’s larger than Sony Online Entertainment’s Freerealms.com, Nickelodeon’s nick.com, EA.com and popcam.com. According to KingsIsle, users have racked up 22.3B minutes of gameplay and have acquired 2B items in their quests. Independent research gives us an insight into why the game is so popular.

Trinity University Research Study

Trinity University surveyed 30,000 Wizard101 players last year and came back with some very interesting results. The study hasn’t been officially released, but I wanted to share a few things I thought were most interesting:

  • 60% of responding children play Wizard101 with other family members. One-third of those children play with their parents or grandparents.
  • 68% of responding adults play Wizard101 with other family members. Approximately two-thirds of those adults play with their children or grandchildren.

KingsIsle gets feedback all the time from its players about how families are experiencing the game together. Players tell stories about grandparents playing with their grandchildren, distant relatives playing with each other, Dads playing with their kids on business trips. There are also stories of older gamers finally finding a sense of community they had always longed for. Gaming can be more than just about having fun, it can be about the core of relationships and life

Jedi Lessons at Hogwarts

The research-based fact that kids and adults can enjoy the same kind of entertainment together makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Look at some of the biggest entertainment phenomenons of our time and it starts to gel. Cross-generational movies music and games are big. Look at Star Wars, Harry Potter, and most of the Pixar movies. Kids, adults and families all enjoy and watch these movies together as the content pleases different generations. KingsIsle isn’t done at Wizard101. There’s more.

Second KingsIsle Cross-Gen Game This Week

KingsIsle announced a new cross generational MMO game this week, called Pirate101. It’s all about pirate adventures and while similar in some ways to Wizard101, it’s quite different, too. I got early access to Pirate 101 and played with my son. He took right to the controls and I enjoyed it even more as the combat is more mature and quite frankly I enjoy the better visual effects. OK, I also enjoyed flying pirate ships around space too.

The game is more mature, but not too mature, to keep my son in the game as he gets older. Pirate101 will be a winner in the Moorhead household and I’m sure in the marketplace as it takes the winning Wizard101 formula and adds more mature themes and gameplay.


Social games are huge in numbers right now, but cross generational games that are very social could be even bigger. I have personally seen it, the reach and usage stats show it, and research tells us why this is the case. The new Pirate101 will tell all of us just how big it can actually get. Between now and then, I will continue to pay my son’s allowance with crowns!