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Interview: Mobile tech developer Qualcomm's reliance on game players

Qualcomm hasn't historically been a game-centric company, but that is changing. At CES 2013, Gamasutra spoke to two key Qualcomm execs about why mobile games -- and courting mobile game developers -- is key to Snapdragon's success.

Patrick Miller, Blogger

January 11, 2013

4 Min Read

Mobile tech developer Qualcomm may not have the core games cachet of an Nvidia or an Intel, but mobile is its turf -- and it's inclined to defend that turf. At this year's CES in Las Vegas, we spoke to two Qualcomm marketing executives who are key in the company's efforts to promote its recently-announced Snapdragon 800 flagship chipset by strengthening its play towards the mobile games market.

On the role of games in the mobile market:

Jim Merrick, Director, Marketing: Games are the lens through which many of us perceive the power of our devices. It's not about updating my Facebook page faster. If I can see 1080p video on this smartphone, my games will look phenomenal. That's something everybody can understand. It's a big criteria in the purchase process for how people choose handsets today. Michelle Leyden Li, Senior Director, Marketing: People who weren't 'Gamers', once they have a mobile device in their hands, they become gamers, and I think that's really exciting for the industry. We look at gaming as part of the larger multimedia bucket that comprises what people do with their devices.

On establishing partnerships with game developers:

MLL: We have, at last count, more than 500 devices commercially available with Snapdragon worldwide. If you look at the amount of people with Snapdragon devices, it's huge, particularly in smartphones. Ask our competitors how many smartphones they're in. Just from a momentum standpoint, our GPU is millions of peoples' hands for smartphone gaming. We need to enable the ecosystem and the developers, so we have incredibly robust tools for our GPU, we have an SDK, one of the only mobile profiler tools in the industry for graphics, and we're increasingly working with not only game developers, but game engine providers, the Unity engine is ported to Snapdragon...that's critical to what we're doing with our processor. JM: Nvidia has this tremendous pedigree...but they're not driving the power profiling the way they need to, and that's one of the barriers for them getting into mobile devices, and they don't have the connectivity piece either. It is new to the game industry to be working directly with Qualcomm and see what we have to offer, and middleware is the developer's gateway drug, if you will, for the developer...We're working very closely with Unity, that relationship is key, and obviously Epic and Unreal is key, Unigen has their own engine, and a lot of companies have their own middleware abstraction layers anyway, so we talk to them and try and optimize their mobile development experience.

On the future of traditional consoles:

MLL: I don't think fixed-function devices will go away. I've been in this industry for 20 years, nothing ever goes away. There's still ISA in a PC somewhere.

On mobile games for emerging markets:

MLL: In mature markets, people are additive -- they have multiple devices they can play on. When you look at emerging markets, though, most people can only afford one device, and that'll be their smartphone, and that's the first device they'll have a gaming experience on that they own. One of the things we do with our Adreno GPU is we take the high-end version and do a waterfall version of it, the 305, so we can bring a really nice game experience for smartphones in emerging markets...We've seen great pickup in the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India, China] markets, and we've seen great pickup working with mobile game developers to bring more games to those markets.

On Snapdragon 800's gesture/human interaction capabilities:

MLL: We provide software stacks -- firmware, middleware -- that actually enable a lot of our gestures. We have 5-mic support so you can do ultrasound, and do a whole range of gestures around ultrasound. If you don't have good software, it doesn't matter if you have good hardware, you're not going to have a good experience, especially with gestures. JM: It's a system's approach -- you have the CPU, GPU, and a DSP, which is an important part of Snapdragon and one of the achilles heel's of the Kinect. Originally, the Newton had a DSP, and that was going to take care of a lot of the processing that Kinect is doing without having a huge memory impact or bandwidth implications on the CPU. That didn't really happen. Snapdragon has a DSP that runs on extremely low power, can run all the edge detection if you're doing recognition, speech codecs, audio codecs, that sort of thing.

On mobile app store overpopulation:

MLL: It's like that whenever you see a paradigm shift in the industry, and over the next few years you'll see a lot of that shake out. You won't see a massive amount of applications, you'll see a few that stick.

On cloud streaming games services:

MLL: We think anything connected is great, particularly for connectivity -- in order to make cloud gaming work, you have to have really robust connectivity, you can't have latency, so for Qualcomm, that's our bailiwick, we love that. I remember when Sun was pushing the 'thin client', and it didn't really work. There was this dream that thin client would be everywhere and it was all about the backend -- and people hated it, especially with games.

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