Intel Puts a Focus on Gamers at IDF

The number of gamers and amount of money involved is proliferating, and Intel wants its products to be the technological foundation for the industry.


SAN FRANCISCO—Intel officials are throwing a lot of money and technology at the PC gaming market, and it's among the central themes at this year's Intel Developer Forum here.

During the opening address at the show Aug. 18, CEO Brian Krzanich talked about the use of the company's RealSense 3D camera technology in upcoming gaming systems from the likes of Razer—the product will be able to scan in images of the user and digitally insert them into the games—and he showed off a racing game developed by iRacing.

He noted that RealSense is now supporting a broader range of platforms, including scratch, Unity, XSplit, Structure SDK, OSVR, OBS and Unreal Engine 4, and he and other executives talked about the improvements in performance and graphics that are in the upcoming "Skylake" processors and follow-on chips that will give a boost to gamers. The company earlier this month released the first of the 14-nanometer Skylake chips—the unlocked Core i7-6700K and i5-6600K desktop processors aimed at gamers and PC enthusiasts—at the Gamescon 2015 show.

Technology for gaming systems can be found throughout the show floor at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), and two top Intel officials—Kirk Skaugen, senior vice president and general manager of the company's Client Computing Group, and Doug Fisher, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Software and Services Group—spent an hour onstage talking about how the company is leveraging its hardware and software capabilities to help OEMs build high-end gaming systems.

Skaugen said that four or five years ago, Intel pulled back from the gaming industry. Now the company is back at it, he said.

It's not difficult to understand why. More than $34 billion will be spent this year on PC games, part of a $92 billion gaming industry in 2015, according to Skaugen and Fisher. There are 1.8 billion gamers around the globe, and about 711 million of them say they are active PC gamers, which means they pay for games at least once a month. The average age of a gamer is 35, 48 percent are women, and about 74 percent of kids play games.

About 125 million people are active users of Valve's Steam PC game distribution service.

In addition, the eSports industry—where people come to watch people play games either live or online, and gamers can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars—is a $612 million market with about 134 million spectators. Intel runs its own Extreme Masters competitions.

So it's a significant market into which Intel—and other tech vendors—are pushing. In addition, the two officials noted that gamers tend to buy new systems every two to three years, as opposed to every six years for average PC users. The gaming industry also drives innovation in a PC market that has seen declining shipments and revenues over the past few years, Skaugen said.

"This is the most demanding marketplace," Skaugen said. "It pushes the performance envelope."

That innovation eventually makes its way into mainstream PCs, similar to how a lot of data center technologies first pass through the high-performance computing (HPC) space. Technologies like 4K video that initially is found in expensive, high-performance systems will become commonplace in mainstream PCs within five years, Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, told eWEEK.

"The gaming industry has always been the proving ground for technology and all that will trickle down," Moorhead said. "What you'll pay $3,000 for today in five years will be something you'll pay $699 for."

PC gaming has changed significantly over the past five years, he said. The rise of eSports not only is generating excitement and interest in gaming, but it also doesn't require that gamers have the most expensive, highest-end systems to participate. That has helped enable more people to play games and has enabled vendors to more easily offer a wider range of systems that can address more of the market segments between the $699 and $3,000 systems.

Whether that will help bolster the flagging global PC market remains to be seen. A challenge the market faces is that hardware, software and services vendors several years ago essentially stopped innovating on PCs, helping to give rise to other devices like tablets, Moorhead said. Now those tech companies are having to drive new technologies into PCs—with technologies like RealSense—in order to make them more attractive to buyers, he said.