E3 2012: We chat with the head of the PC Gaming Alliance

The PC Gaming Alliance was formed a number of years ago with a number of different goals, including promoting PC gaming itself. Since its formation the PCGA has both gained and lost members but the organization is still very much active with lots of plans for the future. We got a chance to chat with its president, Matt Ployhar of Intel, about the current and future status of the PCGA as well as his thoughts on PC gaming in general.

First, you have been the president of the PC Gaming Alliance for a little while now. Are you happy with its current status?

Actually I am. We overcame a lot of challenges last year to get things stabilized, and then start moving things back in a positive direction.

When the PCGA was first formed, it seemed like the industry was being eclipsed by consoles. Do you feel that' things have changed?

Absolutely; there’s been a lot of attention coming back to the PC and especially so in the last year. My favorite example I love to draw from is Skyrim PC.  This is an incredible game and I believe even far exceeded Zenimax/Bethesda & Valve-Steam’s expectations on the PC version.  The best part about this though is two-fold. One: Publisher’s & Developers are starting to look at the cost benefit of the PC again as being a royalty free platform that can be far more lucrative than the Consoles.  Two: the PC continues to be by far the best platform to ship “mods” on.  This is extremely important for a variety of reasons & again in the case of Skyrim it’s simply amazing to see the extra life that the community can breathe into a game if they’re given the opportunity. 

One of the PCGA's original goals was to come up with a kind of baseline of hardware specs that most developers and hardware makers would follow. Is that still a goal of the PCGA?

Yes!  We could release our recommendations tomorrow.  However; there are a few loose ends we’re tying up in order to tighten up that story.  There’s really not much in the way of ‘secret-sauce’ behind what we’re doing.  The Spec that we’re pursuing is going to end up being a combination of a recommended baseline spec and our version of a PC Certification process (opt-in).  Before people start rolling their eyes, and believe me, I’m painfully aware of how & why they would, especially given my work history – I want people to fully understand why we have to go down that path. What we have to consider is that Game Developers are going to want to continue making games for Consoles, so our job is to make it easier for Developers to port to/from the PC in the easiest most cost effective ways possible so that they don’t skip the PC port outright.  

Several things have occurred in the past four years in the PC Ecosystem that now make some of the porting issues simply disappear; but getting to this point hasn’t been easy.  There’s so much to say here but most importantly what I want Game Developers & Publishers to understand is that there are more PC Gaming capable PC’s that sell in one year than what most Consoles can in their entire life-cycle.  I’m here to make their Min-Config decisions a few orders of magnitude easier.  The result should be a much better consumer story moving forward once we start picking up momentum & adoption for what we recommend.

Another goal was to try to combat PC game piracy. It's clear that piracy is still a problem but there are multiple possible solutions. What can the PCGA do to help in this area?

The PCGA’s first step here was to first start collecting and gathering as much information on this problem as it could; and then hosting discussions on this sensitive topic.  We’ve now been doing this for nearly five years.  As a result of our research we also felt it very necessary to step back and look at this issue more holistically.  We’ve now since expanded the charter on this to include: Secondary Sales, issues of Account & Identity Theft, etc.  The reason for this mainly boils down to the issues of Piracy simply not being what they used to be.  Several reasons for this which mainly come down to Piracy diminishing when a Game Developer/Publisher adopts something like the Free to Play model.  One can’t really pirate a free to play game. Sure.. you can.. but why?  So the shifts occurring here have to be accounted for.

Yes… Piracy exists.. and it’s still a problem but when you look at say TorrentFreak statistics you’ll notice that there are no Free to Play games, or Subscriptions based games, and interestingly enough no games out of Asia.  (which is largely because they adopted the free to play model a long time ago).  There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes and I’m continually sanity checking this with as many Game Developers as I can.  Some very fascinating things often come out of those conversations such as a few of them are now releasing their games now on BitTorrent, and elsewhere, because the game is Free to Play, it helps create a viral marketing effect, and so on.  The net is that the issue is a lot more complex than most people may realize.  The PCGA’s biggest contribution here though has been in exposing some of these stories to our Game Developer constituents, friends, and the Media.  You’re seeing a much accelerated pickup of the Western Hemisphere’s Games Devs migrating to things such as Free to Play and some other Hybrid approaches that I’d like to think are in some small, or big part, due to the PCGA sticking their necks out on this lightning rod topic.

The PCGA also releases studies on the overall state of the PC gaming industry. Can you summarize what the PCGA's latest report said on this matter?

Sure, PC Gaming is kicking the Consoles @$$’es – all 3 of them combined!  J   Seriously; It has a lot of analysts, fan-boys, etc scratching their heads in N. America and in some parts of Europe; they really don’t have access to the numbers I get to see and take for granted.  If Game Publishers and Developers aren’t paying attention to the #1 Platform to ship their games on, then they should start taking a serious second look.  Let me be dead serious here for a moment.  In the past few months I’ve had some very serious high level discussions with many Game Developers (not in the PCGA) and a lot of them are very concerned about the transition between this Console generation and the next.  The stakes are being raised by another order of magnitude in terms of costs, break even points, etc.  I can’t emphasize this next point enough.  The PC is a royalty free platform.  Target a spec that we (the PCGA) can help you with to hit a market potential that a Console will frankly never be able to match.  Too many people out there unfortunately only getting part of the story when they look at publicly available data; or even data mostly based on Retail SKU sales numbers.  The Digital and Free to Play story numbers are not making the charts and that can miss upwards of 50% or more of the sales numbers.  In a word that’s criminal.  Take the savings you’d make from not paying a royalty & put it back into your company.  The PCGA has, thanks to who we work with, the best games research on the planet.

What other efforts does the PCGA have to help promote PC gaming?

In the past few months we re-launched our new Website, added PC Gamer as a member, have a new management team – Gold Standard Group that also comes with Marketing, and last but not least are getting ready to launch a new section on our Website – a Wiki for PC Gaming Developers.  The next step now is to start curating content and promoting the heck out of it for our members.

E3 2012 is coming up and the retail console industry is currently in a slump, sales wise. Is this an opportunity for PC game developers and publishers to come out and show what PC games can do?

In many ways yes; but I’m a little cautious.  I believe you’re right John in that this presents a great opportunity; however, I’m a little concerned that many Game Publishers/Developers aren’t seizing the moment.  For those that are on the edge; I’d like to come back to my Skyrim example.  Bethesda knocked this one out of the park in my opinion.  Even though the 360 version of the game had something like a one month lead on the PC, I believe that the PC version of this game is going to have a lot more legs, runway, life on the PC than it does on the 360 or PS3.  This is important because really one of the most important things you can do for your customers is establish trust and goodwill.  In turn the Publisher/Developer get that customer’s mindshare.  Without mind share… there is no dollar share.  Hard to keep payroll going and the lights on without either of those things hitting on all cylinders.  So in summary:  Go Digital.  Consider Free to Play or a variation thereof.  (Monetize via microtransactions).  Localize for as many key Geos/Languages as you can on Day 1.  Use Social Media as much as you can to build awareness.  Don’t try going it alone.  The PCGA is here to help you.  Member or not.  There’s no shame in asking for help.

Windows 8 is also due out later this year. What impact will that have on PC games, especially with the integrated Windows Store for downloading PC games?

I’m honestly not sure.  I’m hoping that it’s ultimately positive.  If not it’ll be good for PCGA membership!  The rest becomes highly speculative.  Speaking as a PC Gamer, I personally don’t want to see any Xbox associations whatsoever.  If and when I want to play a game in my Living room I simply pull out the HDMI cable and I’m good to go.  If Windows 8 makes my Couch/TV/Projector setup easier than it already is on Windows 7 great.  If not then we’ll have to take some proactive steps in escalating and getting that fixed asap.

The PCGA has lost a number of well known members over the years. Can you give us a status on the current membership and efforts to bring in more members?

We recently added PC Gamer, and SMU Guildhall came back into the fold.  As for the other members that have come and gone it’s been for a variety of reasons ranging from a few going defunct, some accomplishing what they came on for, and a few that left before I came on board.  Status is good and I’m striving to make it great.  There’s still a lot of work to be done and even more so in attracting some new key members.  One light I view this in that tends to make sense to people when I say it simply this – the Honeymoon phase is over – so the fact that we’ve been relatively stable should speak for itself.  Now the real work begins and internally we’re actually doing a ton to tackle a few other egregious things we’re seeing in the Gaming Ecosystem.  All that said I think the most significant thing to point out here is that we’re actually going to be seeking to expand the PCGA more globally.  IF you can make something like the PCGA work at ground zero in Console centric North America you can make it work anywhere.

Finally is there anything else you wish to say about the PCGA and its future?

Sure thing. Let me unabashedly plug the PCGA to your readers & go like us on our new Facebook page!  This will help your readers stay up to date on what we’re up to.  We read everything – so if people have great ideas, constructive criticism, etc; by all means please share it with us!  https://www.facebook.com/pcgamingalliance  Also; definitely go check out our new website. We’re starting to offer some things for people to download, a lot more recent news, content, articles, and so forth.  http://www.pcgamingalliance.org/  Stay tuned for our PC Gaming Developers Wiki!  2012 is going to be an exciting year for us indeed.  Help us help you!

NeoGamr and Neowin's coverage of E3 2012 is sponsored by War Inc. Battle Zone.

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