Ubisoft’s latest trailer showing off Rainbow Six: Siege looks nice. Very nice, in fact, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the camera angles, panning and various cinematic shots they’re deploying for what is supposed to be an intense first-person competitive shooter. But there’s a problem: it’s got NVIDIA all over the shop. And while that’s handy if you own a flashy GeForce GTX graphics card, it’s not something gamers should be thrilled about.
It’s not that Gameworks in principle is terrible, or the kind of efforts that we shouldn’t expect GPU manufacturers to pursue. And it’s not as if the game is in dire need of it: NVIDIA’s own blog notes that the GPU for Siege’s minimum system requirements, a GTX 460, will be able to run the game at 720p and 60fps on low settings, while a GTX 960 is recommended for buttery smooth 1080p fun.
That’s a particularly achievable benchmark for the majority of gaming PCs; according to the latest hardware stats from Steam’s monthly surveys, the GTX 970, GTX 760 and the GTX 750 Ti are the most common discrete GPUs in use inside gaming PCs. (The most common AMD card is a HD 7900 series chip, by 2.21 per cent of respondents.)
So most of those should be able to take advantage of NVIDIA’s special occlusion and anti-aliasing features — which Ubisoft was only too happy to show off in the trailer below.
But is it genuinely good for PC gamers to have major releases tied in so heavily to one graphics card manufacturer?
It’s caused problems before. AMD users had an immense amount of trouble with the launch of The Witcher 3 and Project CARS earlier this year. It’s not simply that AMD cards can’t run NVIDIA’s proprietary tricks like HairWorks or HBAO+ (the latter of which is advertised in the new trailer), but that the performance is so unoptimised that it’s simply not worth the effort.
AMD has blamed NVIDIA in the past for not sharing the source code to its graphics APIs, although that’s not an argument that plays out well in the real world. This is a business, after all, and there are more performance gains to be made by AMD better working alongside developers to improve the baseline performance of games. That’s especially the case with more and more users targeting 2K and 4K resolutions, which improves the overall fidelity so much that the need for special anti-aliasing techniques is lessened.
Developers can be partly to blame too — they don’t have to license proprietary technologies such as Hairworks, to use an example — but the real damage done at the end of the day is to competition.
When games proudly advertise their affiliation with one GPU manufacturer over another, it highlights the very antithesis of PC gaming. It’s meant to be an open, accessible platform, a platform that has always relied upon competition. That is how users get the best performance; that is how users get the best value.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that Rainbow Six: Siege’s performance will crumble the millisecond the game detects the presence of AMD’s Catalyst drivers. Considering the game’s low minimum requirements, it’s highly likely you could get a satisfactory frame rate on a potato (to use the parlance). And it’s not unusual for Ubisoft to do this either: the studio has had a long affiliation with NVIDIA, with the GPU manufacturer debuting its HBAO+ technology in Splinter Cell: Blacklist.
But gamers shouldn’t be proud about it. They shouldn’t welcome the sight of trailers above. In an age where DirectX 12 is promising multi-GPU setups with cards from rival manufacturers, and all the performance gains that that brings, the gaming public should be demanding more competition.
The above trailer doesn’t advertise that. The platform needs the two major GPU manufacturers to be fighting tooth and nail. Gamers need the two to be dropping prices left and right. Implementing brand-specific technologies doesn’t help that one iota, and PC gamers should be angry.