New paradigms need early adopters and innovators

Sorry, Xbox 360 again.

In the aftermath of Microsoft’s u-turn after the backlash against the Xbox 360’s new features, some things start becoming apparent.

Microsoft had the right idea, but it got executed poorly, and handled worse. They wanted to go for a delivery model for gaming that’s like the current delivery models for apps, and like some movies and books (Netflix, Kindle, etc) – the core idea being that if the audience can switch over to digital-only, or at least a form of digital that might need the multiple-GB game disks acting as the first component of a game that would eventually be much  more embedded in a larger virtual ecosystem, allowing for easier, automated updates, upgrades, integrated mod purchases, portability, etc.

Having a game existing entirely and independently on a single DVD opens up the possibility of it being resold, exchanged, gifted, regifted, and yes, copied. Over time, they might have looked at a vision of a world where all purchases and ownership is virtual and linked to identity, and thus cut down on the resale, trade, and exchange markets, turning them into a new customer base. A purely virtual ownership would also allow for more opportunities to cross-sell, upsell, trigger in-game marketing (maybe based on the complex, detailed profile built up of the player).

The vision, it seems, didn’t get completely understood as it moved down the line from strategy to marketing to PR; end result, bad handling of the questions asked and the public’s assumptions made.

But why did the public react the way it did? Look at the expectations going in. The current 360-playing audience expects the next-gen console to be better, more powerful, faster, able to deliver a better gaming experience. And by that, they mean less latency, faster and better graphics, more realism, hardware support for more complex, realistic games, and maybe integration into a virtual ecosystem of add-on content, DLCs, demos, etc.

What they don’t expect, is a new paradigm of gaming delivery. Especially if the competition is delivering exactly what they are expecting. Nothing new, just better old.

What is a new gaming delivery paradigm? Google Play. Steam. Nexus Mods. Stuff the PC Master Race has been playing around with for years, and getting better, more organized. The biggest grouse I have, as a member of this community, is the amount of demand modern gaming places on my system. Hard disk space. RAM. Processor speeds. Graphics accelerators. Gamepads and adapters. Monitor size. Cabinet space. Installation issues. Viruses, trojans, malware. The living room has a good, large TV, sound system, and a nice couch, and it’s where I relax, not work. The computer is secluded, has a smaller screen and an upright chair, and it’s where I work. The living room has wifi, and the TV/console is online. Why should gaming not happen here?

That’s the main reason I bought a console. Easy plug-and-play, no dependency on system resources for work / downloads with a dedicated piece of hardware, and beautifully rendered graphics deserve a beautiful, big screen.

The Valve box is stepping in exactly here. Dedicated hardware that frees up your PC, makes gaming social and relaxed, and gives most of the PC gamer advantages… and console ones. It’s a new paradigm, so it won’t replace either the PC or the console – it’ll be an add-on. And over time, if it delivers on capabilities, it can replace consoles.

You need early adopters for a new paradigm, but console players are not early adopters. They’re followers, and they don’t like disruption, don’t want innovation. They want what they have, but better. Microsoft made the mistake of giving them something new – the mistake of confusing the huge market of 360 users as potential purchasers of the new system. Sorry, they aren’t. The audience you want is not playing the 360, or the PS3, or planning for the PS4. They’re using PCs, running mods, cracked games, constantly upgrading hardware and trying out new concepts. The Oculus Rift will come to PC first, as will Star Citizen. Consoles are a finished, polished product, and expected to perform as such.

Could Microsoft have done this better? Maybe by sticking the equivalent of a Valve box on top of a more powerful, flexible console. Give the masses something to be happy about and also experiment with, until they start using it more, getting used to it… then deliver the actual console. You’ll have a frankenstein console for a while straddling two paradigms, but it’s the only way. You’re trying to compete with both the PS4 (performance) and PC (innovation) – you have to deliver both.

Now it’s up to the Valve box equivalents. Hopefully with usable VR, solid-state drives, fast and easy but optional connectivity, and massively expanded storage coming up very soon, the PC can go ahead into innovation while the consoles follow for the mass audience.

Hardware

This one is slightly off-topic compared to the rest, but felt it’s a better fit here than any other blogs.

Last month, my fairly ancient Nvidia 9400 burnt out, unable to bear the pressure of several hundred hours over the last year of high-end games, days-on-end downloads, and varied voltage fluctuations. Having had some pretty pathetic customer service from my regular dealer, I decided to skip the middleman this time and go straight to the source. So, I present –

How to research and upgrade your GPU. 

  1. Step 1: You need to know your system in exquisite detail. Assuming you’ve lost the original packaging, open up the cabinet and start googling all the product codes you can find. The make should be fairly prominent, but the exact version number will be printed somewhere around the PCI slot. You’ll also need to know exactly what slot you were using – is it an older AGP or a PCI / PCI-e, and which version. Google these as well, sometimes newer cards will have problem with older slots. www.hardwaresecrets.com, www.tomshardware.com will be useful.
  2. Step 2: Once you know the slot used, start looking up the options for a GPU. Don’t worry about GPU RAM – it’s independent from your system RAM, so you can use DDR3 even your motherboard has DDR2.
  3. Step 3: Check your power supply. Older systems had 300W, so some of the newer cards – especially the high-performance ones – will have issues. 400W is ok, 450W is good, but allow for a decent margin, especially if you’ve got a lot of stuff running off a single power supply – multiple internal HDDs, DVD drives, and multiple peripherals running off the USBs.
  4. Step 4: Software compatibility. While most systems have a Windows OS, which will work, you need to check for known issues among your shortlist if you have any other OS – for example, I had a Ubuntu 10.4 which has issues with the ATI/AMD Radeon 6xxx series (and I mention that explicitly is because that’s what I discovered after purchase and installation)
  5. Step 5: Purchase. First of all, look up the current prices to have an approximate idea. You already know your budget, and you have a shortlist of the models you want – Flipkart and eBay both are good sources for current prices, and knowing the base price here will stop you from getting ripped off. If you’re buying on your own – and I recommend you do – head down to Lamington Road in Mumbai. Google for the good stores before you go, or you’ll be lost – there’s hundred of them everywhere. You won’t find much difference in the prices shop to shop, they’re all networked and don’t undercut each other, but the better ones will be able to help you decide and replace if there’s any issues with the product. This is also where you’ll get the lowest prices. There are other distributors across the city, but prices will be higher, and range smaller. Around (within a 5-minute bike ride) the distributors there’ll be lots of small retail computer stores – these will have the poorest range, the highest prices, will push old stock on you and are probably the most familiar face of your hardware experience, but it’s time to move on, isn’t it?
  6. Step 6: Actual replacement. Again, just google what you’re about to do (and make sure you have the page open on a laptop / second computer / printed out beforehand) and shut down, open up, remove old card, insert new card, do not force or struggle, tighten the screws, and you’re done. GPU replacements are probably the easiest to do, other than RAM – no cables to manage, as most GPUs run direct off the PCI slot. If it needs an external power supply, make sure you’ve identified where that goes. I’m not going to talk about crossfiring, I don’t know enough about that – try it on your own.
  7. Restart and let the system detect the new hardware, run the manufacturer disk, and you’re set.
  8. Emergencies – in case there’s any issues, you can always get a working (non-gaming) system by simply using the motherboard’s own VGA slot for the monitor instead of the GPU slot. You can also use this when your GPU’s about to fail / has failed, leaving you with a blank monitor.
Next post – since I messed around too much with Linux’ graphic driver settings, I’ll be wiping that and upgrading to Oneiric Ocelot; review coming soon.
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