One of the key parts of any PC “Gamer” is the graphics card. A decade ago there was a good price point between USD $200 and $400, at most. Now, you’re just picking what console to buy instead.
You can call me a mad, crazy, or literally ignorant, but there are many facts that suggest the “PC Gaming” as we knew it is dead, being relegated to an afterthought or a clearly highly enthusiast market. No more sweet-pricing deals, no more games pushing the boundaries, PCs components for games have moved to luxuries.
Graphic cards for games became a niche
The “cryptocurrencies armageddon” made graphic cards higher on demand. Even companies founded themselves on the profit made by buying a GPU and keep it mining cryptocurrencies 24/7.
Escarsity was not the worst part. It was the trend that scalpers and others proved: gamers were happy to pay high prices for their gaming GPU, as long they had one. NVIDIA saw this and didn’t bat an eye to pair their new RTX 2000 series with a price hike. Their justification was very basic, but in the times where a top card was being sold at double the price, it was really easy to take: a premium price for a card with premium features (ray tracing and machine learning) for a now premium market. Radeon already was the cheaper option, but on that day they became the cheaper and featureless option.
Four years now, and we have graphic cards that launch over the USD $500, and not shy to haver versions for USD $1,000. Gamers pay these prices, and they’re happy with it. Mix that with stock shortages from both NVIDIA and AMD, and you have the perfect scenario to ramp up the prices and keep margins high with no rush to make more cards. As long people pay thousands of dollars for their GPU, as long they will push the prices up.
Mobile market first
On the other side of the equation, we have publishers and studios who now prioritize the mobile market. When you have a game like Call of Duty Mobile making millions of dollars, this sends a message downstream: focus on mobile and Games-as-a-Service (Gaas) and you will have a steady stream of revenue. Since everyone has a phone — the guys of Diablo at Blizzcon weren’t joking around — then you have literally millions of players ready to put money on your game. The less people play it, the less revenue it gets.
Going back to the point, the mobile market is dominated by companies that design their own ARM chips, and those who produce them in volume. NVIDIA and AMD have nothing to compete in this space. Jensen saw this and is buying ARM, and AMD just shy of a Samsung deal.
And don’t ask for high-fidelity gaming on mobile. Unless AMD or NVIDIA have the next “big thing”, not gonna happen unless you want to plug your phone to a wall.
At least there is some light for AMD, has there are reports that Samsung will introduce Radeon graphics on their next Exynos chip to compete with Qualcomm. Anyway, graphics on the mobile are not a selling point.
Games as service means potato gaming
One thing that GaaS are known is their low barrier entry. In other words, publishers and developer wants the access most of the market. This makes all users from a low-spec machine to a thousands of dollars PC being able to play a given game. Special features like RTX and whatever are only gimmicks to sell high end cards that NVIDIA and AMD want, but not exclusivities like Halo 2 being only playable on Windows Vista.
Because these kind of titles are tailored to the lowest common denominator, you see games like League of Legends, Minecraft, Fortnite, or any other, running on anything. You don’t require to spend USD$ 500 bucks to play, just your integrated graphic card (IGP) on your Intel or AMD chip, or a decent mid range card.
Pricing screams console gaming
The problem with graphic cards nowadays is not only their pricing, but the most direct comparison for their utility: consoles.
People who buy a PC “just for games” are totally missing the point of modern computing. PC Gaming has become a niche, is not mainstream market anymore. The mainstream is Nintendo, Xbox, PlayStation, tablets and smartphones. The revenue for PC isn’t there anymore, and with the mobile being another market, PC is a third world country.
A decade ago you needed a PC to check your mail or do your homework, making the PC Gaming a better option instead of a console, since you could do both. Mobile devices have come to take away these tasks that now we take for granted. You don’t need a PC anymore, nobody does, except content creators who are able to pay thousands for their work tools.
Today, there is no graphic card that can beat a console like the Xbox Series S that costs around USD $300. Pair that with an iPad and a cheap bluetooth keyboard, and you’ll never need to touch a PC ever again. Hell, there is an Xbox Game Pass you could hook into it.
AMD knew that consoles are the prime market, which explains why they allocated more yields for consoles than consumer grade GPUs. They’re not dumb, they swim to where the treasure island is.
Streaming is the future
Another thing that is becoming more and more mature are the streaming services. Stadia it’s pretty much dead on arrival, but Project xCloud, GeForce Now, PlayStation Now, Shadow, Parsec, and many more, are reaching more people as the Internet infrastructure expands and pricing becomes to make sense.
In these places you don’t need a USD$ 2,000 computer to play a graphically demanding game. You just need a membership and a good Internet connection. That’s a consumer GPU sale lost, but a server GPU sale pitch won for AMD or NVIDIA. These GPU are far most costly and have better margins, since these are bought in terms of thousands or millions, and these kill any OEM middleman. AMD has an advantage to pair their GPUs with EPYC processors.
It’s no surprise that AMD and NVIDIA are focused more on server and professional grade graphics than gaming cards, because inside there the technology leaps can make a deal of millions appear. The volume and stability is not in the gamer market anymore, if it had it once.
Content Creation is the next market
There was numerous signs. First, the NVIDIA Titan cards in 2013. Then Radeon Vega, VII and Instinct. Both companies knew there was a high performance market for content creation and gaming in hand. These cards offered premium gaming and professional workloads performance. These cards had a market where the less time spent working meant more money.
So it’s no surprise that “gaming cards” are being upped up a notch in pricing to push new “prosumer” cards higher up. Well, if you have an RTX 3090 for USD $1,500 then don’t expect a similar NVIDIA Titan card for less. The Titan V costs around double and as long there is people buying it, prices are just gonna ramp up.
No competition, no mainstream cards
AMD graphics division has proved that they are not capable of offering cards that are substantially better than NVIDIA. While performance on classic rasterization-based games is top, don’t have ML cores and RT cores. These was introduced as “gimmicks”, but four years and these are starting to become more like a necessity, specially if you check how the RTX 3090 allows for uncompromised 8K gaming.
Even knowing this, AMD have decided two times in a row to put these cards very close on pricing with their NVIDIA counterparts, like these were their competitors, even when these are not. AMD doesn’t want to be perceived as the “cheaper featureless option”, even if their Radeon products still are, and thus they have to put products at the same price.
In other words, since NVIDIA is still leading, and AMD doesn’t want to compete in price but rather in mindshare, no better pricing exists.
You can see that their strategy is not volume on the mainstream, but pricing on the enthusiast level. There are not updated mid-range versions for the latest Radeon and GeForce cards models anywhere. While there was safe to assume they would hit some months after yields production become stable, now it’s basically a miracle someone decides to dethrone the GeForce 1660 or Radeon RX 580. Why introducing something substantially better, if these cards still sell asn server their purpose?
Oh, yes, there is something substantially better: a console and an iPad. Of course, if you’re a content creator, you may still have to pay thousands for your next PC or just buy the real next big thing.