Like a beleaguered tabloid columnist, the PC desktop tower has been under threat to its life for years. No, decades. Sony’s Phil Harrison had sounded the death knell since 2006, telling Spiegel that the “PlayStation 3 is a computer. We don’t need the PC.” And while we probably didn’t, the PC still held up.
The case has changed from beige to black. Disk drives are gone. We spent less time traveling the Information Highway and more time mining Bitcoin. But despite its changing face and use, the concept of a PC – a box full of powerful components for gaming, work, and entertainment – has prevailed.
And then, in 2021, cloud gaming and laptop hardware caught up.
Nvidia’s GeForce Now quietly achieved something big in 2021, delivering on streaming service promises over the past decade and delivering a premium PC gaming experience to any device. Gaikai and OnLive were the first top-tier services to pump their chests up and promise high-end PC performance on any device using cloud magic, and the technology behind those brags was impressive. The games took place locally in the data centers, your inputs went from your machine to that data center, and then the cloud saved it and sent a frame back.
However, anyone who has actually tried playing a game on Onlive or Gaikai could have told you right away why these services weren’t going to impact the gaming climate. It felt less like playing a game at 1080p than it is. ‘to watch a YouTube video in 480p. And while you could figure out what was going on, the latency was correct high enough to shoot something or time a jump … a bit miserable. The misconception at the heart of their proposition was that we would accept a trade-off between playability and convenience.
Nvidia, knowing full well that this is a market where some consumers will be happy to replace their 144Hz monitor with a 320Hz monitor, isn’t asking you to compromise with GeForce Now. You have to focus to notice the latency and fidelity of the 1080p images it sends back to you from gaming PC farms in God knows where are crisp enough that you can actually enjoy the game running at maximum settings.
Plus, this year it upgraded its data centers to RTX 3080s, making GeForce Now by far the easiest and cheapest – and for most of us, the only – to. use the new generation of GPUs for games. For all the ways the global hardware shortage has stung Nvidia and its customers, it certainly hasn’t hurt GeForce Now.
Not content with dissuading us from buying a new desktop graphics card with GeForce Now, the company’s own Ampere mobile GPUs also argue against it. The smaller 3080 laptops may not quite match the performance of their desktop counterparts, but they are way ahead of the RTX 2080 desktops. At 1080p in particular, the standard laptop resolution of 15 inches is enough to run any game you’re likely to throw at it with the highest fidelity settings. The most attractive aspect of the datasheet is the bit that says “in stock”, however. Gaming laptops remained available as desktop rooms dried up, tempting gamers to move away from the more traditional big box machine.
Valve wants to take this idea to the extreme with the Steam Deck. Pre-orders for its Switch-type pocket PC topped 110,000 systems in 90 minutes, and AMD’s Zen 2 + RDNA 2 APU has enough in its locker to dynamically run blockbuster games on this portable display. . You can’t have one for ages, of course. We’re in 2021. But you want one, and that’s important.
Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass also wants to get in on the action from the desktop PC, adding streaming functionality to its members’ “Ultimate” level. Instead of the RTX 3080 rigs that could possibly beat Shodan in a game of chess, Game Pass Ultimate streaming uses Xbox Series X hardware, so its on-screen results are more modest. But the responsiveness and quality of the streaming image is there.
And users have voted on this loyalty and user experience with their feet. Free and paid GeForce Now “founder” member account for 12 million total users. Xbox Game Pass has nearly 40 million subscribers, although Microsoft doesn’t detail that figure, so it’s unclear how many Ultimate subscribers with streaming access are.
How do these numbers compare to PC gamers? A recent report from DFC Intelligence (via PCGamesN) has a total of 3 billion gamers worldwide, around half of them playing on PC. While doctrinal acolytes Phil Harrison will have to wait a little longer before denouncing the demise of the consecrated tower, in 2021, cloud gaming has matured to the point where it is starting to look like a realistic future.
And it might have more to do with access to games than access to top performing components. “Netflix for games” has become the new “esport is getting really big now, actually” for entrepreneurs in the industry, an endlessly repeated mantra that Nvidia itself relied on when GeForce launched. Now in 2015. “Our target market is similar to Netflix,” said Phil Eisler, general manager of cloud gaming at Nvidia, on release day (via Washington post).
This has also been at the heart of Xbox messaging around Game Pass. “Play it from day one with Game Pass,” the service’s E3 storefront layout tells you, as a familiar tiled layout of game titles appears onscreen.
Ultimately, having access to hundreds of games for a monthly fee rather than one-off game purchases is the big draw, and playing those games on smartphones and Chromebooks is an added convenience that lowers the barrier to gaming. Entrance.
Sooner or later the cloud-based Netflix gaming market will rival consoles and the traditional PC. What we consider to be a PC game will take on a broader definition, and that’s great news for anyone with a Core i9, a custom cooler, and an encyclopedic knowledge of anti-aliasing techniques. This means there are suddenly more people playing PC games at maximum settings – and a greater incentive for developers to push the boundaries of loyalty. It will be high-poly grapes all around.
In a world where everyone is playing their games on an RTX 3080, no developer needs to hamper a PC port to match the console’s specs.
We could even all ditch the i9 and the custom cooler we overlock it with and just play on a TV screen. We could buy a Steam deck or a gaming laptop. But some never would. Because the PC gaming enthusiast is never really been about convenience. Materials and numbers are important, as are games. It is a market where gaming chairs bloomed.
If the gaming desktop PC was going to die, it would have done so long before streaming and mobile technology hit.