Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Digital Entertainment Industry Is Leaving AMD Behind

Hello. Yes. Yet another article about an AMD video game system. Last one... for... the day. I swear.

CES has been a treasure trove of insight and work into the future of digital entertainment, but not in the way that technology companies usually talk about "the future."

In an interview with The Verge, Gabe Newell, CEO of Steam went over many of the points I addressed in my proposition for an AMD Radius video game system. It's amazing. It is obvious that I am not the only person thinking about ways to change the current paradigm of game rendering and delivery.

Newell's most insightful point is that motion controls are, for lack of a better word, crap. They are a gimmick, and considering that the Wii deflated, the Wii U flopped, and both Microsoft's Kinect and Sony's Move have long since been forgotten, this seems like an undeniable assertion.

It's interesting that the failure of this gimmick is being presented in the shadow of another entertainment gimmick being declared dead: 3D. It's doubly interesting because both 3D and the various motion inputs failed to set the world on fire for the exact same reason: they were concepts being bolted onto current paradigms in the hope that they would reignite dying business models.

3D first exploded into theaters with Avatar, even though it had been percolating for years. Movie studios and theaters jumped on it because they saw it as an opportunity to charge more for tickets. Of course, they missed the biggest problem, which was that overall ticket sales have been flat or falling for a decade, and ticket sales per capita have been plunging.

Of course, media companies were ecstatic at the prospect of getting this into homes, since it would make people buy yet another television, media player, and media. But again, this was simply trying to sell more crap within the same business model. Companies love that. They love to pretend like they don't have to actually think or innovate. "The current model is fine!" they say.

It's for this reason that I put "the future" in quotations in the second paragraph. When companies talk about the future, as everyone at CES is doing, they aren't actually talking at all about the future; they are talking about the present with a futuristic sheen over it. There are few technologies more representative of that than 3D, with every company under the sun was babbling about it for four years, then, nothing.

The various motion controllers were hoping to expand the video game industry beyond the 30-million gamers that were, born in the 70's and 80's, simply growing up with the industry. Nintendo explicitly stated this when they were describing the philosophy behind the creation of the original Wii — they wanted to grow the market. Of course, they were ignoring the advent of the Internet, digital distribution, and the rise of cheap games, which was the problem. Nintendo was innovative but blind. The paradigm remained the same, they just changed an element of it.

And much like 3D, every company under the sun was talking about motion control for years. Every company had their own take on the gimmick. Every company did it because it seemed like the future without actually being different.

But gimmicks are never the future. If companies are all talking about it at CES, it's not the future. If the CEO of your company immediately loves it, it's not the future. The future is scary. It is hard to explain. It is hard to grasp.

I'm glad that we have forward thinking companies like Valve talking about the actual future, where old business models are dead, dead, dead. No sugar-coating. No circumlocution. No sticking collective heads in sand. AMD should have been the company at the forefront of this charge, but if they want to ignore this, than fine. Valve will be more than happy to demolish an entire industry on their way into the future.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Nvidia's Project Shield Takes More Opportunity From AMD's Hands

I've been going on about this for quite awhile now. AMD is standing idly by as a great battlefield of technological innovation leaves them behind. My focus on having AMD make a video game system isn't just about games, it's about entertainment. As our entertainment becomes more focused on huge hunks of data, the hardware to decode that data is going to get very valuable. Any hardware that can generate a unique and enjoyable experience will be even more valuable. That's why people are willing to pay extra for Apple products: the hardware creates a unique, powerful experience.

AMD is the only company on the planet with the expertise in architecture, CPU's, and graphics processing to pull together an entire system by itself. They have the hardware available now to build something new and innovative. All they have to do is package it!

That's all just me repeating myself. Nvidia has announced the new Project Shield at CES. It is a portable, Android-based gaming platform powered by Tegra. It seems mostly similar to the recently-Kickstarted Ouya, and it is. It's also ugly, unsexy, bulky, and poorly thought out, but it has many seeds of greatness in them, not the least of which is the Gamestream.

That's the word that I made up to describe the streaming technology that is in my hypothetical AMD game system, Radius. Basically, a powerful system somewhere in the house renders a game, which is then streamed via a wireless connection to a dumb terminal, be it a tablet, cell phone, or lite laptop. I lifted the concept from Dave Perry's game streaming service, Gaikai.

Project Shield will be a failure, but its ideas will not. AMD can still own this. They can still create a new paradigm for entertainment generation and management. But with Steam, Nvidia, Intel, Ouya, and even Nintendo to a degree pushing for new things, AMD doesn't have all the time in the world. They need to hurry the hell up if they have any hope of securing a place in the future of the digital entertainment market.

Because as I've said repeatedly, AMD has lost its other markets. It has lost servers. It has lost desktops. It has lost laptops. It needs to find a market that's still churning.

Get Adobe CS2 For Free

Adobe is giving away copies of Adobe CS2 for free (if the website is down, keep trying). Well, what I should say is that Adobe is giving away serial numbers for free. And even then, the serial doesn't net you much in the way of support and online integration, since CS2 was released in 2005, before Adobe's push into the clooouuuuud.

The offer is obviously aimed at combating the growing threat from open-source software such as GIMP and Inkscape, and to a lesser degree Scribus, Avidemux, and Cinelerra. All the programs have had a long road to usability, but their most recent iterations have achieved a level of speed, reliability, and robustness that make them legitimate options for those doing graphical work. They are no longer toys for geeks. They are tools.

Obviously, for teams of artists, Adobe is still king. The real value of Adobe's products comes in the tight integration with each other and with online services -- things which the free options will likely never have. You can have multiple people simultaneously working on a single file. That's big.

But for individual graphic artists, and indeed even small teams, there is little reason to opt for the newest, most expensive Adobe products. The only Adobe product from which I cannot seem to cut myself is Fireworks, because the way that it handles images is completely unique.

Oh right, speaking of Fireworks, CS2 was also the last version of CS to have only Adobe products in it. CS2.3 had Dreamweaver, and CS3 premiered with the complete integration of the recently-acquired Macromedia. So if you were hoping to get a free copy of Fireworks (which honestly has not changed in nearly a decade) you're out of luck. However, you are in luck if for some weird reason you wanted Adobe ImageReady. What a useless program that was.

For my part, the most significant thing to come out of this is that it indicates that Adobe has finally expressed some degree of awareness. Previously, they seemed to be almost joyously oblivious, blindly tottering on as their business model slowly crumbled underneath them. While releasing a seven-year-old program won't do much to stem this crumble, it is a start. And a start is all Adobe needed.