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Why Nvidia’s GPP Is Anti-Consumer And A Concern For Gamers

Major market share is a powerful thing

Every industry is not without its villains and unfortunately the biggest players are often the most villainous, this holds especially true in regards to the current public stigma against one of gaming’s biggest. EA’s egregious abuse of the Star Wars IP is a prime example of villainous behaviour, and similarly the PC hardware industry does not escape this trap with its two biggest – Intel and Nvidia.

Intel is the big and loud one. They have had an endless string of lawsuits by competitors and multiple international governments brought against them as they have a history of wilfully and repeatedly breaking the law, resulting in the largest ever fine by the European Union Commission at the time, a gargantuan USD $1.45 billion (AUD $1.61 billion Dec 2009) for anti-competitive behaviour.

Nvidia on the other hand act quietly. Nvidia have a history of acting in the interest of only themselves, not their consumers. Some may remember the 970, advertised with 4GB of memory with only for 3.5GB to be effectively useful for gaming, this left many consumers annoyed, concluding in a successful class action lawsuit. Others may remember how excellent a partner XFX was with Nvidia, but when it came to it, Nvidia gave XFX a chilling cold shoulder when their competitor also had access to XFX’s top tier service.

This type of behaviour, as one should expect, is mainly prevalent with companies that hold a majority of the market share. With thanks to Kyle Bennett from HardOCP, Nvidia have recently been under fire for the GeForce Partner Program (GPP), his extensive article on the GPP detailed the anti-competitive nature of the program.

Geforce

If you currently either don’t know what the GPP is or why it is anti-competitive and (by natural extension) anti-consumer that is fine, perfectly fine in fact as you can’t know everything. However, voluntarily retaining ignorance is not and can end up doing more harm than good. While probably not strictly illegal, the GPP is certainly unethical, and will eventuate in long-term harm to the industry and consumers alike. Below I unpack the components of the GPP showcasing, the needlessness of its existence and why this behaviour should not be tolerated by anyone invested in the future of games.

So here is what we know about Nvidia’s GPP: By Nvidia’s own words to the public: “gamers have full transparency into the GPU platform,” but in the contract  they demand the partner’s “Gaming Brand Aligned Exclusively with GeForce”, and in return they will have “high-effort engineering engagements — early tech engagement — launch partner status — game bundling – sales rebate programs — social media and PR support — marketing reports – Marketing Development Funds (MDF)” supplied by Nvidia. They will also be “promoting GPP partner brands across the web, on social media, at events and more.”

Nvidia said “that the gamers have full transparency into the GPU platform”, well they have already failed on that front. The press had to dig into the GPP to inform ‘gamers’ (the public) what the GPP actually involved – Nvidia have still said nothing since the HardOCP article. But just what purpose does having a board partner’s “Gaming Brand Aligned Exclusively With GeForce” serve? There is little to no confusion about the separation between Nvidia and AMD or GeForce and Radeon, respectively these are Nvidia’s and AMD’s identifying gaming brand. I am fairly certain consumers have a hard time mistaking those as is clearly evidenced by Nvidia’s 85% market share.

Strangely enough, the partners of the GPP aren’t so much as gaining benefits, just that they are not necessarily losing them. Launch partner status (I would think) should include engineering engagements and early tech engagement for the ability for partner products to be present at launch, there is well established precedent from Nvidia (the GTX 970) in this regard. Game bundling supplied by Nvidia is also not anything new, they have done this before, in fact they did this recently and do it frequently, for example: Middle Earth: Shadow of War (26 Sep 2017; 1080 & 1080 Ti) and Rocket League (29 May 2017; 1050, 1050 Ti, & 1060).

I must admit I don’t know what the marketing reports contain and if the partners would have had access to this previously, nor the value of it to the partners, so I shall leave that to the side and move on.

Here is how the partners work – the partners buy the GPU chip from Nvidia, and in turn, populate the rest of the board with their own design. One thing is clear: the more GPUs the partners sell, the more chips the partners buy, which in turn is more chips sold by Nvidia. The success of Nvidia’s GPUs is directly tied to the success of their board partners; if they did not assist in the marketing of their partners’ products (which by extension is marketing their own product) and provide marketing support, then what kind of partnership did Nvidia previously have with the board partners? It would not have been one interested in either party’s success, surely that is certain.

I have repeatedly heard the argument that AMD/Nvidia/Intel are just companies and that they only care about getting your money. This is true of course, as companies want to make a profit, but how ethical they choose to operate and how they go about ‘deserving’ your money matters; this behaviour can be forced by not supporting them when they act poorly. If how a company went about getting your money doesn’t matter to you, that would mean that you don’t care if a company breaks the law, nor about pay-to-win loot boxes in games.

I’m not denying that Nvidia’s chips are great chips, but the way Nvidia is operating with the GPP is something to worry even the greatest fans. Using their position of power to manipulate those that rely on them is something to concern any person that is pro-competitive and pro-consumer. In the end, Nvidia is just being that thing that nobody likes in school: a bully.

On a side note, I find it strange that Nvidia uses Nikola Tesla’s name in their product stack. Tesla wanted free energy for all, his rival Thomas Edison was the one interested in only himself and repeatedly tried to sabotage his rival. Very much reflective of Nvidia with GameWorks and the GPP, wouldn’t you think?

Written By Adrian Nicol

What Adrian says may lead you to believe that he loves Nvidia and Intel for their ethics and just general attitude towards the consumer, but he actually dislikes them profusely. However, don't try insulting Majora's Mask in front of him, it'll end in an impromptu essay from him and instant regret from you.

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