Should anyone be looking for vindication of AGEIA's efforts in the realm of physics, they need look no further than key game developers. Whether you're referencing Epic's Unreal Engine which will power Unreal Tournament 2007 or speaking of an upcoming Playstation 3 title, physics will surely play a major role in the final look and feel of the game. AGEIA has wisely designed a great deal of flexibility into their business model and have developed a co-dependent relationship between their hardware PPU and their PhysX SDK.
The core of AGEIA's industry push for physics is undoubtedly the PhysX SDK. This development kit spans across gaming consoles and PC's to cover nearly every aspect of consumer gaming. Given the multithreaded nature of this SDK, it can scale efficiently regardless of the platform. Whether looking at a computer system using the PhysX PPU or glancing at the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360, the same SDK is used. This flexibility is an enormous benefit to developers which are trying to port titles across several gaming platforms. Because the PhysX SDK is cross-platform in nature, game developers can use the same kit for all of their development efforts.
Should AGEIA's flexible approach not be appealing enough to capture the interest of a developer, the company has created a unique and aggressive licensing program for their SDK. Realizing that games with rich physics will certainly capture more interest and attention which will ultimately result in selling a discrete PPU, the licensing program is based around some aggressive incentives that effectively push the discrete PPU into the market. For PC games, any developer can receive the PhysX SDK for free should they have accommodations for the PhysX PPU built into their title. For a developer looking to receive the SDK with no support for the hardware PPU, the cost jumps to $50,000. Thus far, AGEIA tells us that no PC title developers have paid a single cent with each agreeing to support the company's new PPU. Gaming consoles are treated in similar fashion, though there are some dramatic differences between Sony and Microsoft's approaches. All Xbox 360 titles are treated on an individual basis and the cost of the SDK is an even $50,000. However, Sony has seemingly raised the bar and has purchased a single massive license which covers any and all PS3 titles for an unknown sum. In short, we are dealing with a very reasonable cost model which should help ensure the presence of spectacular physics effects in many of the latest and greatest titles on the gaming horizon.
Armed with some solid industry support, it is no surprise to see AGEIA charging full speed into the PC market with OEM and retail solutions. Beginning today, consumers can purchase OEM systems from vendors such as Alienware, Dell, and VoodooPC which are equipped with an AGEIA PPU. As previously announced on several occasions throughout the last year, both ASUS and BFG have pledged support for the discrete PPU and will be offering their own solutions. Here, ASUS will largely focus on the OEM aspect of the market with BFG being the sole retail presence for AGEIA's physics card. Immediately, we realize that BFG is in a unique position as they are a premier GPU partner for NVIDIA their newly announced SLI physics. Certainly, it will prove interesting to see how BFG and any other vendor which might find itself in this position will market and distinguish their products. With no solidified benchmarks thus far, time will tell which vendor holds the ideal solution in the eyes of the consumer. However, one cannot deny the fact that AGEIA has done an exceptional job of preparing themselves for battle as they seem poised to dominate this new emerging market.
Walking away from the demos and sample gameplay we witnessed at GDC, it is hard to not be excited about the potential physics processing brings to gameplay. However, it is nearly impossible to not feel as though our excitement is a bit premature. Make no mistake; physics will become a critical aspect of gaming in the future. However, today there is little to no need to get overly excited as there is hardly an influx of physics-rich titles on store shelves. Regardless, much like the GPU paved the way for the stellar graphics we see in today's games, AGEIA's PPU is the first step towards a whole new level of realism. Over the course of the next year, we will see some dramatic new advancements in this arena with additional attention likely falling on areas such as acoustic modeling and notebook PPU's. In this time, the PhysX SDK will become even more refined and entrenched in developer's toolboxes. Once the next generation games begin to show up in the second half of the year, the early adopters of the PhysX PPU will begin to reap the benefits of their investment. Until then however, we are left to contemplate the justification of an additional hardware component and purchase. Although we all hate to see yet another expense in order to play our favorite games, one glimpse at the effects and realism this hardware will provide and we're sure many of you will be digging through the cushions in your couch and counting your pennies, to get your hands on the latest revolution in computer hardware.