AMD, What Are You Doing?

The past few months haven’t been kind to AMD. First Lisa Su, the first female CEO, ousted Rory Read. Now three leaders have left including the General Manager John Byrnes, CMO Colette LaForce and Chief Strategist Rajan Naik. Furthermore, it’s pretty clear that the remaining two leaders long term leaders, Mark Papermaster CTO and Devindar Kumar were sort of bribed to stay with restricted stock. This is on top of delays in their desktop, graphics, and mobile chipset and layoffs.

I think it’s pretty clear that AMD no longer has a clear strategy. AMD, while I was working there, was starting to put out some cool stuff that could really define the future of computing. Their APUs were best in class and could have been deployed in a lot of really cool applications. However, those never appeared to have materialized and now Intel is starting to attack the SoC market. While Intel’s Iris graphic chipset is way behind AMD in pure power, I think it’s going to play a serious role in the up coming years especially since Intel is leveraging a similar enough design that they are able to use the Open Compute Language that AMD championed.

Another area of concern for AMD fans is that John Byrne, shortly before his departure, announced at CES that AMD was steering clear of the IoT phenomenon. Which I found surprising considering that their strategy, only a year and a half ago, was to conquer the embedded computing space. Since they restructured again, that’s about 4 times in the past 4 years, they have clearly decided to forego that space. The IoT chipsets are likely going to be a disruptive technology to computing. For instance, this computer you can dock and upgrade every year for about $200, while Intel released a full Windows computer on an HDMI stick for $150. In the past I wrote that I thought that the dockable phone that would turn into a full computer would be the long term future, but these are the incremental steps to get us there.

AMD clearly doesn’t see these spaces the future. They are currently looking at where the market is now and not truly planning for the future. I was excited whenever AMD announced the partnership with Gizmosphere hoping it could compete head to head with the Raspberry Pi, but AMD is clearly failing to embrace that movement, since those devices would be powering the IoT and the maker movement. On the otherhand Intel is rushing to embrace these groups and sees these people as the way into attacking Qualcomm, Samsung, ARM, and Apple’s designs.

Low power is going to be vital for the future expecting a smaller and smaller niche of applications. In these applications, excepting graphics chips, AMD is getting crushed. Even in the graphics space AMD is starting to flounder with poor quality, as @NipnopsTV reported with his year old or so 7970 card.

All of these should be a concern for AMD fans. The company is not investing in the disruptive technology hitting their industry, their market cap is only $2.06B and their shares are at $2.66. They may be positioning themselves to get bought or could be at risk for a hostile take over for their IP or pushed into bankruptcy since their IP might be worth more than the company operating as it is. Look at Nortel to as an example where it’s IP was sold for $4.5B while everything else was just ditched.

Could we eventually see a Samsung R290 and a Samsung Kaveri processor? They gobbled up a ton of AMD’s engineers in 2013 definitely could happen.

Video Games, not just for Kids

So, today was one of those days where I had a few different topics that I wanted to write about. I had a request to write about video games. I’ve written one or two blogs about video games in the past. However, I think that there’s always more to be said about them.

I think it’s fair to say that video games are a bit of the red headed step child in the entertainment industry. They aren’t taken as seriously as movies and it’s not as culturally acceptable to geek out over video games as it is to geek out over movies (some movies) or television shows. However, I think that this is going to change and it’s not because of the video game designers and publishers.

I think that Twitch is going to drive to make video games more acceptable and shift video games location in culture. Through events like Intel’s championship series or DreamHack which is a collection of tournaments for games like DOTA 2, League of Legends, Star Craft, and many more, I believe that there is an opportunity for video games to reach an acceptance level akin to golf. For the most part these games are multiplayer and very team based. There are leagues, trading of players and everything else you would expect in a major league “sport.”

It’s not just these events, it’s the personalities that drive watching live streaming. As I’ve mentioned in the past I have a few friends that stream and there is a community that has sprung up around watching these guys play. It’s pretty awesome.

Through these streamers, I’ve been able to experience many more interesting games than I can actually play or even afford to play. This allows me to keep abreast of the video game landscape without having to really play (I play Civ V, Binding of Isaac, Super Meat Boy mostly). In the case where the streamers are playing single player games it’s similar to watching a movie with someone guiding the movie. It’s a lot of fun, especially since you’re able to have a conversation with the star and his fans all at the same time.

Furthermore, I think that video games have not been given enough credit for pushing the boundaries of technology. Game designers and players for PC together drive companies like Intel, AMD, and Nvidia to keep designing newer and more powerful products. Intel is able to make a massive profit on their platforms designed for gaming – they know it, they’ve changed their strategy a few times in regard to selling stand alone chips because of gamer’s demands. We should be praising the hardcore gamer because they are helping us continue to advance in one of the few bright spots in our economy.

Each video game community has it’s own quirks and idiosyncrasies, which can be seen in how new games are developed as well as in business practices for the developer. For example, Valve has several economists studying the naturally occurring economy around trading in games like TF2, I believe that through controlled economic settings like TF2 where there is no central control (Blizzard I’m looking at you!) unique economic conditions can emerge that will shape how the designers develop future releases in the game. This has been clearly shown in how Valve continually releases new hats (yes, hats).

Compared to Eve (a massive multiplayer online role playing space video game) TF2’s economic system is rudementary. In Eve you can buy, build, trade and develop true economic systems. Furthermore, it’s possible to see the effect of war and diplomatic missteps on the economy. Recently nearly $200k worth of money was wiped out because someone missed a monthly payment. It’s possible to see how various factions have recovered after a serious economic, material, and military shock hit the entire game.

Games are vital to our culture. We’ve always had both physical (sports) and mental (chess) games. I believe that video games are simply a new extension to both of those. Many games require you to think quickly and have quick moving fingers (Star Craft) while others are almost as passive as watching TV. Understanding the value of video games and the culture about them is important to understand how our culture can grow and develop in new ways.

PS4 may not be as bad as everyone thinks

The PS4 was announced yesterday, 2/20/2013, it was immediately pummeled by the media and on social networks. I think that this might be a touch premature. Why? I’ll list out a few different reasons and let the reader decide if I’m off my rocker.

First, streaming to the PS Vita. Commentators have already compared this to the Nvidia shield, while I think this is accurate, I think that misses part of the point behind this capability. The true purpose is to get people used to the idea of streaming a video game from one system onto another system. We are used to doing this with video already, but we aren’t used to truly playing something that is entirely run on a different system than the one we’re interacting with.

Second, play while downloading. This feature is again to help us get used to the idea of streaming a game from a server. Sony acquired Gaikai a while back which enables playing a game on the server. Initially offering only server side play while downloading is a very safe way for Sony to test system requirements on the server side, manage capacity needs by limiting the amount of concurrent users, and developing an understanding how game play feels when thousands of people are playing the same game over an internet connection.

Third, console gaming systems have always had lower specs than the bleeding edge PC games. However, the platform is stable and encourages developers to figure out new ways of exploiting the technology. They don’t have to worry about continually changing systems. On top of that, the developers will eventually begin to exploit the combination of the CPU and GPU using OpenCL and figure out new ways to eek more out of less using that technology.

Fourth, in 5 years it won’t matter what is underneath the hood of the PS4. Not because no one will be playing it, but because Sony will have acclimated users to streaming over the Vita. Sony will have acclimated users to streaming from a server through downloads. Sony will have determined server requirements to host all games and stream the game to the PS4. It’s likely that there will be some experimental games that will allow playing both client side or server side, but eventually there will be a game that will only be server side. It will be a big game and it will begin to push all other games to the server. At this point Sony will have optimized the hardware for the PS4 to display higher quality game play coming over the internet.

The PS4 is not the next console for Sony, it likely could be the “last” console for Sony as it develops new ways for users to access games and continually “upgrade” their console as the server side technology for game streaming continually matures. This of course eliminates the need to sync a disc to a specific system and even removes the need to download any content. You buy a short cut and you can play immediately.

So, is the PS4’s hardware going to be kill the PS4? No, the hardware on this system isn’t the point. The goal is to allow access to games that will be streamed from the cloud.