Recently the Khronos Group’s Vulkan API, as well as information on how AMD’s #Mantle formed the fundamental #basis of the new standard. Now that some additional information on Vulkan has become available, this new API will form the basis of Valve’s #SteamOS push, while Direct3D 12 remains the default option for Microsoft’s PC and Xbox gaming initiatives. At first glance, this doesn’t seem much different from the current status quo. But there are reasons to think that Vulkan and D3D12 do more than hit reset on the long-standing OpenGL vs. D3D battles of yesteryear. Extremetech captures this point in more detail and probably one of the best explanations available.
One critical distinction between the old API battles and the current situation is that no one seems to be arguing that either Vulkan or Direct3D have any critical, API-specific advantage that the other lacks. All of the features that AMD first debuted with Mantle are baked into Vulkan, and if Direct3D 12 offers any must-have capabilities, Microsoft has yet to say so. The big questions in play here have less to do with which API you feel is technically superior, and what you think the future of computer gaming should look like.
For more than a decade, at least on the PC side, the answer to that question has been simple: It looks like Direct3D. OpenGL support may never have technically gone away, but the overwhelming majority of games for PC have shipped with Direct3D by default, and OpenGL implemented either as a secondary option or not at all. Valve’s SteamOS may have arrived with a great sound and fury before fading away into Valve Time– but developers say that Valve has been very active behind the scenes. A recent report at Ars Technica on the state of Linux gaming underscores this point, noting that Valve’s steady commitment to offering a Linux distro has increased the size of the market and driven interest in Linux as a gaming alternative.
If the Source 2 engine treats Vulkan as a preferred API, or if Valve simply encourages devs to adopt it over D3D for Steam titles, it can drive API adoption without requiring developers to simultaneously support a new operating system — while simultaneously making it much easier to port to a new OS if it decides to go that route.
It’s funny, in a way, to look back at how far we’ve come. SteamOS was reportedly born out of Gabe Newell’s anger and frustration with Microsoft Windows. Back in 2012, Newell told VentureBeat, “I think that Windows 8 is kind of a catastrophe for everybody in the PC space. I think that we’re going to lose some of the top-tier PC [original equipment manufacturers].” Valve’s decision to develop its own operating system was likely driven at least in part by the specter of the Windows Store, which had the power (in theory) to steal Steam’s users and slash its market share. In reality, of course this didn’t happen — but then, SteamOS remains more a phantom and less a shipping product. As the market turns towards Windows 10, Valve continues to have an arguably stronger hold than Microsoft over PC gaming.
One could argue, though, that Microsoft’s failure to capitalize on the Windows Store or to move PC gamers to Windows 8 merely gave Valve an extended window to get its own OS and API implementations right. Windows 10 represents the real battleground, and a fresh potential opportunity for MS to disrupt Valve’s domination of PC game distribution. If you’re Valve — and keep in mind that Steam is a staggering revenue generator for the company, given that Valve gets a cut of every game sold — then a rejuvenated Windows store, with a new API and an OS handed away for free, is a potential threat.
If this seems far-fetched, consider the chain of logic. Valve knows that gaming is a key revenue source in both iOS and Android and that Microsoft, which plans to give away its Windows 10 for free to millions of qualifying customers, is going to be looking for ways to replace that revenue. The Windows Store is the most obvious choice, which also dovetails with Microsoft’s plans to unify PC and Xbox gaming as well as Windows product development. If you’re Valve, the Windows Store is still a threat.
Valve can’t force gamers to adopt SteamOS en masse, but it can at least hedge its bets by encouraging developers to optimize for an API besides Direct3D. Using Vulkan should made cross-platform games easier to develop, which in turn encourages the creation of Linux and OS X versions. The more games are supported under alternative operating systems, the easier it is (in theory) to migrate users towards those OSes, and the bigger the backstop against Direct3D and Microsoft. SteamOS might be a minor project now, but the Steam platform, as a whole, is a juggernaut. Valve’s efforts to create an API specifically for Intel platforms using Vulkan under Steam OS is an example of how it could boost development for its own platform and improve performance across third-party GPUs.
Since Direct3D 12 and Vulkan reportedly perform many of the same tasks and allow for the same types of fine-grained control, which we see adopted more widely may come down to programmer familiarity and the degree to which a developer is dependent on either Microsoft’s good graces or Valve’s. The end results for consumers should still be vastly improved multi-threading, better power consumption, and superior multi-GPU support. But the Vulkan-versus-D3D12 question could easily become a war for the future of PC gaming and its associated revenues depending on whether Valve and Microsoft make nice or not.
Reblogged from: extremetech