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Thought Leaders: Matt Ployhar

By Stu Horvath

Here at DIG, we’re interested in innovation in all its forms. Within the gaming space, innovation often begins with insight and inspiration from a single person, be they a game developer, an engineer, a sociologist or anything else within the industry. That’s why we’re tracking down these thought leaders: to give you a sneak peek of the digital arts future through their eyes.

In this installment, we sit down with Matt Ployhar, president of the PC Gaming Alliance, a nonprofit industry alliance dedicated to the growth of PC gaming. Ployhar talks to us about a future built on more efficient hardware, cloud technology and ubiquitous gaming.

DIG: What do you do and how long have you been in the game industry?

Matt Ployhar: Currently, I’m a strategic product planner primarily focused on the graphics and gaming entertainment ecosystems. My other role is president of the PC Gaming Alliance (PCGA). In both roles, most of what I do revolves around bringing various parties to the table, both internally and externally, to comprehend what actions need to be taken in order to do what’s necessary to better the graphics or gaming experience for consumers. I’ve never encountered an industry as dynamic and challenging as the games industry, and I’ve now been at this for 15 1/2 years.

DIG: Tell us about the PCGA.

M.P.: The PCGA was formed a little over three years ago. It is a 501c organization with the mission of bettering the PC gaming experience and ecosystem for industry partners and consumers. The PCGA provides thought leadership, industry-leading research, and forums to facilitate how to make PC gaming better, and it’s on track to begin publicly releasing some of its guidelines and recommendations to help the PC gaming ecosystem.

DIG: Where do you think the video game industry is going?

M.P.: The video game industry is currently undergoing some massive upheavals, convergences, transitions, inflection points and so forth, all simultaneously. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this much going on before all at once.

On the platforms side, there’s been an accelerated shift toward mobile form factors. There’s also the whole persistent/ubiquitous gaming experience phenomenon occurring. Then, on the business model side, traditional retail appears to be capsizing, creating an exodus toward digital delivery solutions bolstered by micro-transactions and advertising. Lastly, several former emerging markets are coming into their own and transitioning toward being maturing markets.

With this many moving parts, it’s become very difficult to ascertain what the far future holds. I conjecture that video games will largely become a services model. Whether or not they can be consumed or subscribed to -- like what we see today by flipping through TV channels -- remains to be seen. I know personally, as a gamer, that I’d like to buy the game once and have it play on any of my devices. I also want fewer devices that do more to help me simplify and streamline my life and my game playing.

DIG: What kind of technical innovation do you see spurring these developments on?

M.P.: There’s a couple of ways of viewing this. For hardware, the big standouts for me are advances in all of the processing units (PUs) of any flavor. Smaller nanometer processes, more performance-per-watt efficiencies, and so on, all equate to smaller and thinner packages with longer battery life, potentially less cooling, less noise, and so forth. The PUs of the future will also have enhanced graphics capabilities. After this, any high-definition wireless display interface advancements with no noticeable latency rates become very interesting.

On the software side, the big question is what happens to graphics APIs as we know and love them today? Just how performant can WebGL, Chrome, HTML5.0 and beyond become? Early results are pretty impressive, and I have to wonder what the impact here will be on the casual and mainstream games markets.

I also believe that video game solutions that allow for the ability to be played on any device will be key. The more proprietary the device or format, the less appealing it becomes to me as a gaming consumer. To pull off this ubiquitous or persistent gaming experience requires a fair amount of magic on the back end for things. But it’s not impossible, and we’re already on the verge of it today.

DIG: The last two years have led to increased interest in casual and social gaming. What kind of impact do you see that having on the industry?

M.P.: There’s definitely been a large impact for casual- and social-style games. Not least of which is how to even define those terms.

What seems to be apparent is that games that are more casual or social in nature are reaching previously untapped gaming audiences. So we’re seeing the TAM (Total Available Market) expanding. Some of this growth can likely be attributed to social and casual games being able to play on emerging market PCs; some of it can also likely be attributed to some of these newer games simply having broader appeal.

My take is that there will be a fast ramp-up period where this segment continues to grow for a few more years, and then starts to taper off and normalize. I believe this is mainly because casual and social games, from what I can tell, play on a wider range of formats and form factors due to the very low system requirements and demands placed on the hardware and software. Higher-end premium style games tend to not be as forgiving in terms of being able to scale.

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