Monday, June 8, 2009

Next Up: WWDC

With E3 out the door and safely on its way, we can turn our attention to the next industry event. Kicking off this morning in the Bay area is Apple's World Wide Developers Conference. Perhaps I am somewhat unorthodox for listing Apple as a company relevant in any way to gaming, but work with me. I can make you a case that what happens in NorCal this week will have a greater effect on the long term future of gaming than what happened in SoCal last week.

The one gaming sector in which Apple dominates is mobile gaming. The iPhone and the App Store have basically rewritten the rules regarding what is possible for cell phone gaming and beaten all expectations in terms of delivering those games to the player. Any numbers I put here will be outdated later today, but I have no doubt that if you pay attention to the press releases and speeches made at the WWDC, you will hear that a startlingly high percentage of App Store downloads are games. In terms of raw downloads, if Apple is not the largest digital distributor of video games, it has to be near the top.

And yet, that may well be the side show. Also expected at WWDC are more details regarding the future development of OS X, and that means more details on how Apple will continue to leverage OpenGL. Apple is one of the companies that directs the development of this graphics standard, and they have used it to great effect in their operating system. If PC gaming is ever going to become truly platform agnostic and not perpetually tied to Microsoft's DirectX, OpenGL is the platform's best hope.

Now, I'm not expecting to see any major announcements that studios are abandoning DirectX in favor of OpenGL anytime soon. However, if this competition between OpenGL and DirectX runs in like manner to other open source vs proprietary competitions in the past, expect OpenGL to surpass DirectX in capability sometime in the near future. With the ever greater need to push graphics into new levels of realism, it is inevitable that one day OpenGL will be the graphics system of choice, not DirectX. There are just too many major players in the OpenGL camp for it to be otherwise.

So, how far away are we from Ubuntu, or any other non-Windows OS, being a major gaming platform? Far. But keep an eye on the development of OpenGL anyway. Today, it may be a minor player in the gaming space, but it won't stay that way. Long term, the development of OpenGL may have more impact on the of gaming than anything that went down at E3.

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