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Big Download Interview: PC Gaming Alliance President Randy Stude

Is the PC gaming industry dying? According to a recently revealed new non-profit organization, the answer is a resounding "No!". The PC Gaming Alliance was first announced last February at a press conference at GDC with companies that normally compete with each other. Hardware companies like Intel, Nvidia, AMD, Acer, Dell and Antec are full members and game software developer/publishers like Microsoft, Epic Games and Activision are also members of the group (contributors include Capcom, Razer, Logitech, the Guildhall at SMU, Wildtangent, and the Entertainment Merchants Association).

So what is this diverse group doing to promote PC gaming? The organization is aiming to come up with ways to improve marketing for PC gaming, trying to fight new ways to combat PC game piracy and looking to do research into PC game revenues beyond the normal retail sales. Perhaps their most important mission is to establish a minimal hardware requirement for a PC to run most games and to create guidelines for game developers to have their games run well on that minimal platform.

While the PC Gaming Alliance is still working on these matters (they are planning to announced their first study results in August), Big Download wanted to get an update on the organization and its progress. We sent some questions to the group's president Randy Stude (who in his day job is the director of the Gaming Program Office for Intel) to see if we can get a sense of what the organization is doing and how they feel about recent criticism from game developer Valve Software.

First, it's been a few months since the PC Gaming Alliance has announced their presence. What has the board been doing since the first GDC announcement?

The PC Gaming Alliance has been hard at work forming working committees, initiating market research, recruiting additional members and getting ready to test pc gaming minimum requirements.

There have been a number of interviews with industry insiders and many take up your viewpoint that the PC gaming industry is not dying but it is changing. How does it make the board feel that there have been a lot of people inside the industry who believe that gaming on the PC is still viable?

We (the PCGA members) all know that PC gaming has never ceased to be viable. One of the reasons we formed this consortium was to help make certain that the PC game industry had a public voice and a pulpit for accurately communicating the size, growth and overall popularity of the single largest gaming platform worldwide. I believe that the board of the PC Gaming Alliance is very pleased that the health of PC Gaming is being debated more fairly lately and we believe that our efforts will help this to continue.

Recently the NPD Group released its first finding of online game revenues and it found that there was $1 billion in revenues between October 2006 and October 2007. Have you looked over the full report to see how much of those revenues actually came from the PC platform and if so what did you find?

The PC Gaming Alliance is not in a position to certify that research. I have read the data and am personally impressed that NPD is "on the right track". The PC Gaming Alliance will publish detailed research reports for its membership and make high level results public. Any organization wishing access to PC Gaming Alliance research need only join our consortium to have access to our research when published later this year.

Besides game subscriptions, more and more PC games are being downloaded directly to hard drives. How hard is it to find out how much of that is replacing retail purchase of PC games, especially since some outlets, like Valve's Steam, are privately owned and therefore don't reveal specific numbers?

We are hoping that our research will uncover as much of these revenues as possible whilst not breaking the confidentiality of our members who will assist in creating this research. At the end of the day non-public companies are not compelled to share their revenues so ahead of our efforts to "self report" these types of figures as an industry group I doubt that any research will be able to accurately forecast this part of the market.

Do you agree with a recent Valve interview that downloads of PC games will eventually overtake retail sales?

The PC Gaming Alliance membership has many opinions on this. Some agree and some don't.

Piracy remains a huge factor in PC gaming, far more so than in console sales. What do you think is the best way to combat piracy? Is it using a DRM like Mass Effect or dumping DRM in favor of people registering their game to get updates like Stardock has done with their titles?

Part of our research includes uncovering the size and scope of PC game piracy (as best possible). We have formed a working committee on piracy, however the charter for that group has yet to be determined. Basically, we are awaiting research results prior to coming out with a position or suggestions...

How do you feel about ISPs starting to think about metering their Internet service and if they decide to do that on a mass scale how will that affect PC gaming?

I don't believe that this is a PC Video Game exclusive topic. It is also counter to the notion that consumers will chose a broadband solution based on price and performance. Weird concept for the ISP's. I am glad my ISP isn't doing this. My household has six PC gamers and we stress our broadband to the limit. If my ISP were to cut back on our performance we would see that same day.

When the PC Gaming Alliance was formed, you talked about creating some kind of baseline of minimal system requirements for PCs to run most game titles. How is that effort progressing?

It is progressing nicely. As of this point in time the efforts of this committee are confidential (in other words for members only :)...). The work being done there is amazing. The best minds from all of our collective companies are coming together to set that baseline and this team's testing framework and output is some of the best I have ever seen. Companies that are not in the PC Gaming Alliance should seriously consider joining. The output from this team should establish stability for the entire industry.

How hard do you believe it will be to get all of the hardware companies in the PC Gaming Alliance to come to some sort of agreement to arrange a common set of hardware standards for games to run using their components and systems?

I am certain that this is going to come as a surprise to all the rumor hounds out there, but this team is working really nicely. There are debates, but the team is aligned in purpose and that is motivating cooperation to get results.

AMD has already launched a marketing push of their own with AMD Game. How did you feel about this when it was first announced? Did you feel it undercut what the PC Gaming Alliance was trying to do with all of these companies working together?

AMD is one of many companies that belong to the PC Gaming Alliance. All members market their products to gamers (that's why we are here). Microsoft has Games for Windows. NVIDIA has The Way it's meant to be played & SLi. Intel has Play to Win. AMD's program shouldn't be perceived any differently than any of these other marketing programs. The PC Gaming Alliance is not the position to comment on any perceived undercutting of member marketing programs or vice versa.

Microsoft has tried to push their Games for Windows Live system to PC developers for online matchmaking but most have not jumped on it and most recently Valve has pushed their own Steamworks system into play. Do you think eventually there will be just one system for online matchmaking that nearly developer will use?

At this time the PC Gaming Alliance is not considering backing a single company's approach to social game networks, achievement systems, multiplayer matchmaking, etc... There are other companies in this space that have been around a lot longer than either Valve or Microsoft. The PC is an open platform that doesn't need a single solution to win mass market appeal. MMO's and Casual Games also have massive online matchmaking destinations.

Valve recently was somewhat critical of the PC Gaming Alliance. How did you feel about their comments and have there been any kind of movements to have their join the organization?

I didn't read the articles and interviews the same way. We are hopeful that Valve will lend their voice to our talented group at some point in the not so distant future.

When will the PC Gaming Alliance make their next major announcements and what will they entail?

We plan to make some announcements about our research in August.

Finally is there anything else you wish to say about the PC Gaming Alliance's mission and your role in making their goals come true?

This is the most amazing and diverse team I have had the pleasure of working with and the future of PC Gaming is being worked on every day on our committees. Sign up and be a part of the future for the best gaming platform in the world. If you are a PC Gamer, share our message with other gamers. Play online, compete and have fun! We got your back...

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