The folks at TG Daily have had a little chat with Epic Games big daddy Tim Sweeney about the current state of the PC as a gaming platform. As the founder of Epic Games and the mind behind the Unreal Engine, Sweeney is well-placed to discuss the situation, and he has some interesting insight.
According to Sweeney, the hardware industry's fascination with outrageously expensive solutions like three-way SLI is a "terrible mistake," and industry marketing people are misguided in believing that PC gamers are a small population with lots of disposable income. He adds that "it is very important not to leave the masses behind," especially since PCs are more popular today than they've ever been in the past.
With that said, Sweeney thinks the true problem affecting the PC industry today is scaling:
You cannot go and design a game for a high end PC and downscale it to mainstream PCs. The performance difference between high-end and low-end PC is something like 100x. . . . If we go back 10 years ago, the difference between the high end and the lowest end may have been a factor of 10. We could have scaled games between those two.
60% of PCs around today don't have a game-worthy graphics processor, Sweeney explains, which puts PC gaming in a "weird position." He believes Intel integrated graphics have never worked and will never work for games, but that the blurring line between graphics processors and general-purpose processors could be the answer:
If you look into the past, CPU makers are learning more and more how to take advantage of GPU-like architectures. Internally, they accept larger data and they have wider vector units: CPUs went from a single-threaded product to multiple cores. And who knows, we might find the way to get the software rendering back into fashion.
Then, every PC, even the lowest performing ones will have excellent CPUs. If we could get software rendering going again, that might be just the solution we all need.
AMD plans to integrate a graphics processor core into its next-generation "Fusion" processor in 2009, and Intel's next-gen Nehalem architecture due to show up later this year will also feature a built-in GPU. Of course, Intel is expected to break into the discrete graphics market with its "Larrabee" product in 2009, too, which could see it produce some more potent integrated graphics solutions. Meanwhile, the newly formed PC Gaming Alliance wants to push for the democratization of game-worthy hardware, and its members include both AMD and Intel.