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Cryptocurrency Mining can destroy PC games as we know it

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According to a recent report, Nvidia is increasing the supply of GTX 1650 cards for the desktop market after prioritizing GPUs for laptops. This is good news. The GPU market is so overheated, we currently recommend readers to look at cards like the eight year old R9 290 or R9 290X if they have to buy one. Any improvement in this situation, including increased availability of low-end cards so that people have something to buy is a positive development.

However, increasing the availability of a bottom of Turing without radiation tracking capability, or a relaunched GTX 1050 Ti, is not exactly what PC gaming should deliver. Supply of Ampere and RDNA2 GPUs remains extremely tight, with recent reports from ODM such as Asus and MSI that the situation has worsened. Some of these problems are reportedly caused by yield problems at Samsung, some of the pandemic-driven semiconductor shortages, and some of new demand in cryptocurrency. It is not clear how much responsibility will be assigned to each, but reports now indicate that the GPU shortage may not improve until 2022.

Deficiency is tolerable in the short term. As long as your GPU does not die directly, it will continue to offer acceptable performance in older titles, and many people have a lag behind older games they have never played. In the short term, cryptocurrency mining is an annoyance. In the long run, it can be an existential threat to PC gaming as we have known it since the invention of the GPU. I’m not arguing that PC games will die – I can not see that happening – but it can change a lot, and not for the better.

When the prices of a product or service rise above what the market can withstand, people look for alternatives. In this case, the alternatives are PC game consoles such as Switch, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, and cloud game services such as Stadia or GeForce Now. The three consoles suffer from their own lack and scalping problems, but the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are now much cheaper than a graphics card on eBay.

An RTX 3070 should be a $ 500 GPU. They currently sell on eBay for between $ 1200 and $ 1700. An Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 gives you $ 750 to $ 850 back based on a survey of recently sold listings on eBay. As long as console prices continue to push down and GPUs do not, the gap will only grow.

This problem is somewhat exacerbated by the radiation tracking problem. Right now, beam tracking on an AMD or Nvidia GPU carries a heavy performance hit that is not always reduced by 1080p. Both Ampere and RDNA2 offer more radiation tracking performance at a lower price than Nvidia debuted with Turing in 2018, but players who specifically want radiation tracking cards must buy at a higher price point if they also want acceptable performance. PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X support beam tracking out of the box, at a much lower price point than you would pay for Ampere or RDNA2.

These results from the 6700 XT review show how heavy a hit can be. If you turn on beam tracking on an RTX 2080 or 6700 XT, you can thank the frame rate depending on the game. Players who want radiation tracking, even in 1080p, need to buy an advanced GPU that can handle it.

What happens when PC gamers cannot buy new GPUs in the long run?

Not all PC gamers build their own hardware and not all gamers. But there is significant overlap between gamers and the DIY market, especially if you include people who may be buying an OEM but upgrading their GPU. If the add-on market for PCs stays that way, we look to a future where payment of OEM prices for component upgrades looks like sane option. This does not bode well for the DIY gaming market or the CPU retail channel. If enough gamers are barred from buying upgrades, developers will respond by targeting the features PCs have, not the ones they do not have.

It is tempting to say that this is a short-term problem that will be fixed, but this is the third cryptocurrency-driven shortfall in seven years. When we reached Pascal’s five-year anniversary in May, the GPU market will have been overheated and overpriced for 29 out of 60 months. AMD and Nvidia may end up launching replacements for RDNA2 and Ampere without the current generation ever being widely and regularly available on MSRP.

High GPU prices will not kill PC games directly, but persistent loss of access to advanced 3D hardware will fundamentally change the types of games we can play. One reason that GTX 1650 desktop cards have a hell of a chance to hold on is that their 4GB of VRAM buffers and small core numbers make them less likely targets for mining. PC gaming has been driving the GPU market for decades, and now gamers are being forced to hunt around the edges for the scratch the cryptocurrency market does not want.

In the worst case, where GPU prices remain high and keep players locked out of the market, we would see changes in the types of games people launched on PC. There would be fewer AAA titles, but most likely a thriving indie scene. One can even imagine that AMD and Intel buffer their integrated GPUs in an attempt to partially compensate.

Persistently high consumer GPU prices can also push players towards cloud services a lot. This will still count as destroying “PC games as we have known it”, but it is not the same as literal destroy PC games. There have been several “as we have known it” in the past, including the invention of the 3D acceleration itself.

I think GPU prices will eventually come down. Lack of pandemic will ease. The crypto market will almost certainly implode again. But if the next five years look like 2016-2021, we’ll write about how GPUs have spent less than half of a full decade available for sale on MSRP, coming 2026. The best case scenario, if cryptocurrency mining is still high and irregular source of demand, is that PC upgrade cycles also become very irregular and start when cryptocurrency is unprofitable, with at least some players switching to different cloud services for AAA titles. The worst case scenario is that people leave the hobby altogether in favor of other entities.

In any case, we are looking at a situation where uncontrolled demand slows the pace of progression in PC games further by stifling new hardware sales to actual players. No one will be left with the bag when the bubble bursts and all the extra capacity is not needed. This makes foundries nervous about expanding to meet the needs of a cryptocurrency market that could shrink 50-75 percent by this time next year or the year after that.

The type of injury I am referring to occurs over several years. It appears over time, and it will be illustrated by people who hang on to the cards much longer than they have done before. The most ominous aspect of our current situation is the implication that GPU prices can remain high for at least 15 months (calculated from Ampere’s launch in September 2020). It is a longer period than any of the previous cryptocurrency bubbles lasted. It’s long enough for people to get tired of waiting and buying something else.

Companies like Nvidia, AMD and Intel all make big bucks thanks to ongoing high demand, but don’t be fooled. AMD reported strong results for its Radeon business when the first cryptocurrency bubble burst, but market share fell like a rock at the same time. When it comes to cryptocurrency, there seem to be two different things that are good for GPU manufacturers and what is good for gamers. None of what’s going on in the market right now is good for PC gaming if you like the way it works now.

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