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Valve looking to OpenGL means Microsoft should be worried

Posted on 15th Mar 2010 at 10:09 by Alex Watson with 23 comments

Alex Watson
Valve has been on a bit of a roll recently, with its beautifully executed Portal mystery and smart re-working of Apple adverts to announce Steam coming to Mac OS X.

The approachable, inclusive nature of Valve’s marketing – and the thoughtfulness of features such as SteamCloud, where you won’t need to repurchase games – means gamers love the company, but we shouldn’t be blind to the interesting political movements that Valve’s recent actions hint at.

While most of the press focussed on saying it was Steam that was coming to the Mac (and rightly, that’s what consumers care about), Valve was careful to point out that both Steam and the Source game engine were headed to OS X.

Valve is able to do this because it has incorporated OpenGL into Steam – making it perhaps the biggest game engine at the moment that’s not solely DirectX. Valve’s move will be – or should be – extremely interesting to Microsoft, because it represents the first serious challenge to DirectX in years.
John Carmack and id software might talk a good game about how keen they are on OpenGL, but the slow pace of releases from id, lack of licensing wins and lack of multiplayer success means that it’s not really a concern to DirectX’s dominance. Source however, while it’s not widely licensed, is in regular use by millions of gamers and by incorporating OpenGL into it, Valve is enabling millions of gamers to imagine gaming on a PC that’s not running Windows.

You can argue that no serious gamer would want to buy a Mac – the graphics cards on offer in the Macs that any indivudual would be buying (ie not the Mac Pro) run the gamut from terrible to depressing to deeply average – but Source isn’t demanding in terms of hardware, and many people will find their Mac does just fine, especially if they’re occasional gamers.

Valve looking to OpenGL means Microsoft should be worried Valve looking to OpenGL means Microsoft be worried

What should be really worrying for Microsoft is that Source doesn’t yet incorporate any DirectX 10 or 11 features – and Valve has shown little interest in doing so. The addition of OpenGL means they’ve now got another option about pushing the engine forward, especially as the recently announced OpenGL 4.0 includes DX11 comparable features such as Compute Shaders and Tesselation.

In addition to this, adding OpenGL means Valve can now extend support to Linux – whether they’ll do this officially, or whether enterprising Linux users will just manage to hack the OpenGL libraries inside Source, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Valve games running well on Ubuntu et al within a few months of the Mac launch.

Why Valve is doing this is an interesting question and it comes down to whether they’ve added OpenGL in so that they can go after the Mac market – or, more intriguingly, perhaps the Mac market is a natural benefit of them deciding to explore OpenGL more fully. This latter scenario would imply Valve being dissatisfied with being tied solely to DirectX. Either way, the disappointing rate of adoption of DX10 and 11 looks set to continue, and there are likely some stormy seas ahead for DirectX.

23 Comments

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Hg 15th March 2010, 10:33 Quote
nice little read and very true, this has been a great move by valve and I welcome it and hope this will lead to native steam/source on linux :p

There is a slight typo in the blog.
Quote:
and the thoughtfulness of features such as SteamCloud, where you won’t need to repurchase games
Steamplay is the feature which means you won't have to repurchase games.
SteamCloud is the feature which saves game data and configs remotely.
Therefore I think it should read
Quote:
and the thoughtfulness of features such as SteamPlay, where you won’t need to repurchase games
UncertainGod 15th March 2010, 10:34 Quote
OpenGL has been able to do tessellation for ages, it's not a new thing being added. Other than that good article, I am of the belief that the mac market is just a happy bonus of Valve separating itself from being tied to Microsoft as a technology provider.
Centy-face 15th March 2010, 10:36 Quote
Well I for one would love to cast aside windows and for OpenGL to really replace DX it needs companies like Valve to jump in even if it is only in the shallow end with armbands on.

Wolfire did a blog post a while back pointing out the great advantages Opengl has over DirectX since they are building Overgrowth to work on Mac Windows and Linux they must know what they are talking about.

I think that PC gamings future could be in OpenGL without windows but we need more companies to give it a go.
mi1ez 15th March 2010, 10:43 Quote
I'd love to run an incredibly trimmed down linux distro dedicated to gaming.

Are we getting closer to that dream?
Mentai 15th March 2010, 10:57 Quote
It's kinda funny to me that this is happening now. I mean, I haven't been more happy with MS. Windows 7 has never caused me a single problem and I'm at the point where software is lagging behind hardware enough that any performance gains I'd get from a linux distro would be negligible.

If this had been 5 years ago I'd have been extremely happy but now... Good for Valve, I guess?

I suppose it's also good for people with lower spec hardware.
StoneyMahoney 15th March 2010, 11:40 Quote
It's certainly good that OpenGL will be running a widely-used gaming platform. However, I'm interested in seeing what kind of performance hit will be involved.

WoW, one of the few games that runs natively on both Windows and OS X, runs noticeably slower under OS X than Windows/Boot Camp. FPS drops about 20% and there are a few notable drops in image quality - ground vegetation popping up instead of fading for example. How much of this is down to the graphics library or Blizzard's programming is tough to say, but MS can't be too worried when all the graphics hardware/drivers currently available is specifically tuned for DirectX performance, with OpenGL being something of an afterthought.
blood69 15th March 2010, 11:42 Quote
If openGL begins to gain terrain to DirectX, its about time Microsoft check the recent technology behind openGL. If it came just a little close to DirectX, Microsoft should Sue the Suck3r5 like every big corporation this days. Microsoft gets sued all the time for stupid things. If companies like Apple can sue every one because someone drops a Fart that smelled the same, why not Microsoft.
barndoor101 15th March 2010, 11:44 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mi1ez
I'd love to run an incredibly trimmed down linux distro dedicated to gaming.

Are we getting closer to that dream?

graphics drivers for linux are pretty terrible though, but if there is demand like this then i can imagine AMD/Nvidia pulling their collective fingers out.
wuyanxu 15th March 2010, 12:11 Quote
is it true that OpenGL 4.0 isn't supported on those Dx11 Raedon cards?
UncertainGod 15th March 2010, 12:14 Quote
OpenGL 4 isn't supported on any hardware yet, it was only announced on the 12th.
wuyanxu 15th March 2010, 12:45 Quote
nVidia's Fermi apparently will be supporting it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by source
NVIDIA's next-generation GeForce 400-series graphics cards, codenamed Fermi, are thought to offer full support for the OpenGL 4.0 specification. AMD, meanwhile, has commented on the release by calling it "another major accomplishment for the OpenGL ARB".

but then, by the time Fermi is available to buy, 6870 will also be on the shelf.
NikoBellic 15th March 2010, 13:48 Quote
I imagine that many devs will see the move to OpenGL as the next logical step since the PS3 is based on OpenGL, so the move to OpenGL would mean compatability with Windows, Mac, Linux and the PS3, where as DX is only a Windows and XB360 thing And many devs have recently said that the PS3 is soon to become the market leader (out of the consoles), So the move to OpenGL looks like a win win decision for the devs now. And who knows, this might just be the kick up the rear that MS need to start improving the experience for the PC Gamers on the Windows platform, and it might force them to bring Alan Wake to PC in DX11 since most decent games may start using OpenGL and work better on a light weight (Gaming) Linux OS
Shagbag 15th March 2010, 15:36 Quote
More choice = good news for consumers.
Cyberpower-UK 15th March 2010, 15:47 Quote
You've all got it wrong. Steam on Mac's will get the iTunes effect and become the default location for buying digitally distributed games (as I'm sure it is for many other PC gamers).
Thedarkrage 15th March 2010, 16:06 Quote
I did point this out when valve said it was putting there games on the mac. Microsoft need a kick up the ass in fact i would love to stop using it if i could but I'm not getting a mac would love more games on Linux OS
Furymouse 15th March 2010, 16:57 Quote
Good on Valve for pushing for OpenGL, however I see no real benefit to this. If it is only Source games that get the Open GL treatment, then Im still going to need windows for all my other games.
bodkin 15th March 2010, 20:04 Quote
The fact that steam uses real currency puts it miles ahead of the buggy GFWL and its toy money. I hope they do become market dominant because of this, bollocks to dvds
gavomatic57 16th March 2010, 08:42 Quote
Quote:
Valve is able to do this because it has incorporated OpenGL into Steam – making it perhaps the biggest game engine at the moment that’s not solely DirectX

Last time I checked, Steam wasn't a game engine. Don't you mean Source?

Encouraging article though!
Elledan 16th March 2010, 11:52 Quote
Few people realize apparently that OpenGL is already the main graphics API by a few metric light years, as it is used everywhere where DirectX doesn't go: all gameconsoles, handhelds, smartphones and much more.

OpenGL 4 will run on all videocards we already know to be DX11-compatible. OpenGL 3.3 will be the version supported by cards prior to these.

My company's in-house game engine also uses OpenGL. We decided early in the development process to use this API because it's the most open, non-proprietary (ever read the DX SDK EULA?) and runs virtually everywhere. It's good to see that this API is getting more love from large studios like Valve.
TTmodder 17th March 2010, 10:18 Quote
I'm still awaiting Native Linux support
speedfreek 17th March 2010, 15:02 Quote
Now I will be able to finally play source games on PS3 Ubuntu, or just on the PS3 os itself. (oh wait, ppc)
metarinka 26th March 2010, 19:54 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by StoneyMahoney
It's certainly good that OpenGL will be running a widely-used gaming platform. However, I'm interested in seeing what kind of performance hit will be involved.

WoW, one of the few games that runs natively on both Windows and OS X, runs noticeably slower under OS X than Windows/Boot Camp. FPS drops about 20% and there are a few notable drops in image quality - ground vegetation popping up instead of fading for example. How much of this is down to the graphics library or Blizzard's programming is tough to say, but MS can't be too worried when all the graphics hardware/drivers currently available is specifically tuned for DirectX performance, with OpenGL being something of an afterthought.

what are you smoking? I have a MBP laptop running both Windows and OSX, I have WoW installed on both and the frame rate is much higher under OSX running identical settings. I was under the impression that apple intentionally doesn't release highly optimized drivers so that things run faster natively in OSX
wuyanxu 26th March 2010, 20:12 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by metarinka
what are you smoking? I have a MBP laptop running both Windows and OSX, I have WoW installed on both and the frame rate is much higher under OSX running identical settings. I was under the impression that apple intentionally doesn't release highly optimized drivers so that things run faster natively in OSX
that is indeed the case. my housemate's MBP is even having trouble setting external monitor as primary under Apple's windows drivers.
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