Last week the entire games industry descended on the LA Convention Center for E3 – the annual industry conference and expo dedicated to everything video games.
You know the score by now – it all kicks of with The Big Press Conferences, in which the hardware and software giants (Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, EA, UbiSoft, etc) showcase their upcoming wares and induce much pant wetting in the fanboy/girl community.
Then the show itself starts and it’s a mad scramble as every man and his dog issue press releases in an attempt to get heard amid the cacophony of noise.
In short, there was a lot going on, and this year was considered a big year in term of the number and importance of the announcements.
But what were the key takeaways from a PC gaming perspective? Well, you’ll notice that the title of this article is ‘What did E3 2015 mean for the future of PC gaming?’.
That’s because there was an awful lot of positioning going on among the major players to set themselves up in emerging areas, where battle lines are only just being drawn.
Take Microsoft, for example. It’s E3 statements show the company is now actively looking to blur the distinction between its Xbox brand and the Windows 10 operating system – when we talk about Xbox, it wants us to be thinking about console, PC, tablet and smartphone.
As such, Microsoft used E3 to put its gaming eggs into the Xbox basket, while simultaneously pushing Windows 10 as a games platform.
It confirmed that Killer Instinct and Gears of War: Ultimate Edition will both be rolled out for PC, while its Elite Controller will be available for both Xbox One and Windows 10.
In terms of the wider ecosystem, Windows 10 comes with DirectX 12, which means developers will be able to ‘easily’ create cross-platform Xbox One-PC games – something that Microsoft was keen to talk up at the show.
The company has also partnered with ValveVR and Oculus to bring VR to Windows 10. In terms of the latter, it will bundle Xbox One controllers with the Oculus Rift headsets, so that games running on the console can be streamed to said headsets via a Windows 10 PC.
It’s all very interesting stuff, but the feeling is that the success of a pervasive Xbox brand across both console and PC will depend greatly on Microsoft throwing more first party titles into the mix, plus the appetite of third party publishers to support the endeavour.
Of course, the ‘PC as games console’ narrative is also being pursued by Valve with its SteamOS initiative – though the company chose not to attend E3, presumably so it could concentrate on getting the software and hardware ready for launch later this year.
In terms of PC hardware, AMD was the other company making the most noise at E3, with reveals for both a compact gaming PC and next-gen GPUs.
The former, Project Quantum, has a form factor just 10 inches wide by 10 inches deep, but enough grunt to run a 4k game at 60 frames per second.
There’s no release date for the device yet, but it’s the kind of product that fits nicely into the ‘under the TV’ zeitgeist that’s fuelling much PC game thinking right now.
In the here and now, the company’s newly unveiled Radeon R9 Fury X GPU boasts some eye-watering memory bandwidth – delivering 60 per cent more memory bandwidth than GDDR5 and a 4096-bit memory interface.
Why does that mean? It means 4K and VR gaming at an affordable price and a nice little contest between plucky GPU underdog AMD and its nemesis Nvida’s 980Ti GPU.
The overall picture post-E3, then, is of a PC games market that’s about to enter a very interesting phase of development, as OS providers battle to ‘own’ the device and hardware vendors lay the groundwork for a rich 4K landscape and immersive VR worlds.
All of this is great news for the channel, as it not’s just the next-gen PC components that will be in demand – those 4K games will require displays capable of rendering at such resolutions, while the peripherals segment is going to see an influx of headsets and specialist controllers to support everything VR has to offer. Exciting times.