Expensive Physics

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The AGEIA PhysX unit is going to be priced at between $250-$300.

Mind you, $300 is more than is spent for the average video card.

It’s pretty rough telling somebody, “Well, that $500 or $1,000 you spent on a video card or two really isn’t quite good enough. You need to spend another $300.”

Mind you, I’m not faulting the company and product per se. From a sheerly practical level, I would say that this is an early product for early adopters, and we’ll see the equivalent functionality of this product for less than $50 (maybe much less) within two years.

However, what I think is more important about this product is that it’s another sign of the times, a sign of how the PC entertainment industry wants to change itself.

From Hotrodding To Golf?

You look at the trends in pricing for gaming, project it out a few more years, and it seems like the manufacturers want to turn what used to be the equivalent of hotrodding into the new golf.

It’s pretty obvious the gaming hardware industry, like some young women, has become mostly attracted in older men, and for pretty much the same reason. They have the money to spend on them.

Money of course is a relative term, but it’s becoming clear that the ideal gaming customer these days is someone willing to spend thousands and thousands of dollars each year for entertainment. Just like golf.

Maybe we’re downmarket, but I really don’t think the average gamer regularly asks himself, “Hmmm, do I play Doom 3 tonight, or do I take the Mercedes out for a spin?” I think most of those making heavy investments are pretty much focusing their entertainment dollars on this.

Such focus is difficult to keep throughout a lifetime. If my emails indicate anything, the biggest enemy a gamer has is not anything on the screen or anyone acting through it. Wives have drained and eventually killed more gamers than any demon, and rebooting the system doesn’t help.

It may be unfair to some degree, but it seems like the gaming industry wants to toss out the teens and college kids and turn gaming into a place composed of twenty-somethings who don’t have a life, and even older ones who never got one.

One has to ask, “Just how big is the pool?” There’s no doubt there’s some out there who fit the bill, but are there enough to sustain a luxury gaming industry through and through?

Killing The Gaming Goose?

Whether you spend $500 or $5,000 on a system, as of now, you’re all playing the same game.

Video games are no longer a couple guys in a garage anymore; it’s closer to Hollywood these days. They have multimillion budgets, a sizable chunk of which includes marketing.

Such big budgets mean that a big=budget game title needs to sell something like high hundreds of thousands/low millions to make money.

That means no game developer had better count on every person buying the game to have this little co-processor already installed, indeed, relatively few will.

Nonetheless, game developers will have to do at least some additional programming for this co-processor to do its thing, maybe quite a lot if they want to get everything they can out of it.

That adds to game costs with little corresponding increase in revenue (after all, anybody willing to lay out tons of money for hardware is certainly not going to be shy about fueling the beast).

But that’s not the core issue here.

It seems to me, though, that the hardware and software companies are working at cross-purposes. The hardware people may find luxury video subsystem more profitable, but the game developers need mass unit sales to make money.

What happens when/if those with a fairly frugal box can no longer compete (or maybe even play) against a gold-plated one? What happens when luxury improvements are not just eye candy anymore, but affect the functionality of the game? What happens to sales (especially that of software) then?

If the PC gaming industry essentially tells teens and college students to go away and play on their consoles until they grow up and have money, are there enough desirables left to fund a smaller niche, especially on the software side? Will the young and poor continue to come once they become “worthy?”

I have my doubts. It seems to me some people want to get upmarket profits out of an inherently downmarket activity, and I don’t think you can do it without wrecking at least the extent of the activity.

Sure, it would be more profitable to have just rich people buy your products and pay you lots for it. However, this ignores two rather basic facts of life about gaming and people with lots of money. Successful gaming takes a lot of time, and that’s just what most rich people don’t have, time. Imagine Donald Trump sitting at home playing Doom 3 for hours a day. Can’t? Get the picture?

No, it is the fairly young and relatively poor with comparatively few responsibilities who have loads of time to play, and if you price them out, you don’t have many left.

Ed

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