NVidia’s GPP, is it Really Anti-consumer?
There has been a lot of talk among the tech news community lately about NVidia’s GPP (GeForce Partner Program) and whether or not it’s actually bad for consumers. The short truth is, without more data and without reading the actual terms, it’s impossible to know. But the long answer, well it’s a bit more complicated than that. And I certainly am skeptical about the entire program.
The original report surrounding all this GPP business was by HardOCP, who did a huge investigation into the new program and came to the conclusion they are not happy with it. Keep in mind HardOCP has a lot of contacts in the PC hardware realm as they’ve been in this business for an incredibly long time, and are generally a really solid source for information.
First, let’s start with what GPP is claimed to be by NVidia themselves from a blog post they made back on March 1st. NVidia is claiming the entire reason GPP was made was for better transparency to consumers, as well as more simple branding for consumers. NVidia states:
“The GeForce Partner Program is designed to ensure that gamers have full transparency into the GPU platform and software they’re being sold, and can confidently select products that carry the NVIDIA GeForce promise.”
Although it is never clearly stated what NVidia means by “transparency,” something I feel is important to keep in mind. Especially considering how not transparent AIBs and NVidia seem to be about this (more on that later). We can, of course, assume what NVidia means by this, likely “transparency” here means simpler marketing allowing consumers to more easily know when a product has a GeForce branded chip in it. So, this is not so much about letting consumers know inside details, but more so about marketing, at least that’s how I see it. NVidia wants consumers to know they’re buying a GeForce product, and want to make it simpler to know what products have GeForce chips in them. But the means by which NVidia is doing this is the part in question.
Another important note, NVidia directly states:
“…GPP partners will get early access to our latest innovations, and work closely with our engineering team to bring the newest technologies to gamers.”
It’s again not clear what NVidia means with some terminology, such as “technologies.” But we can assume this means the latest GPUs as well as NVidia exclusive software features such as HairWorks. This means AIBs are significantly disadvantages vs others if they don’t sign up for GPP. Now we get to the juicy bits, what are the requirements of being part of GPP?
You see, according to HardOCP, in order for an AIB to be part of the GPP program they have to have their gaming brands be NVidia exclusive. Sure this doesn’t mean companies can’t sell AMD (or Intel in the future) cards for gaming, but they can’t brand them as such. However, some speculate this may be specific lines of cards and not gaming branded ones in general. The common example used in articles is ROG, or Republic-of-Gamers, if HardOCP is to be believed ROG would be exclusive to NVidia if Asus wanted to be part of the GPP. But, some believe it would be specific lineups of ROG cards, such as the Mars series for example, which in some ways would be more understanding.
In my mind, both of these are bad, AIBs should be able to do whatever they like with their branding. But of course, the former HardOCP report would be the worst, no gaming branded cards from other companies would be a huge deal and IS hugely anti-competitive. With all the incentives (requirements?) to be part of GPP, it would be hard to say no as an AIB. So the terms of GPP can affect the entire market negatively.
HardOCP specifically interviewed 7 different AIBs, none of which would actually go on record for fear of losing their jobs or creating issues between their company and NVidia. But, the conclusion from these anonymous contacts seems to be summed up in 3 main points.
- They think that it has terms that are likely illegal.
- GPP is likely going to tremendously hurt consumers’ choices.
- It will disrupt business with the companies that they are currently doing business with, namely AMD and Intel.
Keep in mind NVidia has always operated in a sort of exclusive manner, with things like HairWorks in play, which caused enormous controversy among gamers. Exclusive features, like HairWorks, with pressure put on developers to implement them, hurts the other side of the market. And not in a “our product is better way”, but in a forceful way. You see AMD had something similar to HairWorks called TresFX, which was better in the majority of ways, open source, and even outperformed HairWorks on most NVidia hardware. Leading some to think HairWorks was designed to hurt AMD GPU performance simply by amping up tesselation to unnecessary amounts.
It’s sad to see companies having such huge market share doing anti-competitive tactics. Attacking the opposition, sometimes illegally, at their worst moments in what are mostly unfair tactics. NVidia is not the only company in the PC world to do these sorts of things, not by a long shot. But the GPP certainly seems sketchy.
In summary, GPP is more of a requirement than an option for AIBs, and it’s likely the prerequisites for GPP are anti-competitive and anti-consumer. But, without actually reading the GPP documentation ourselves we cannot know for sure. I personally consider HardOCP a good source for this though and am under the impression what NVidia is doing is unacceptable if not illegal.
One final note, HardOCP is likely going to lose early access to NVidia products due to this article. So, it is unlikely they are publishing this simply for clicks and gives us yet another reason to believe they have done their research thoroughly.