Hardwired: The NVIDIA GeForce Partner Program, and why context matters
NVIDIA’s GeForce Partner program, or GPP if you prefer, has recently been making waves on tech sites and their respective forums. Almost everywhere it’s discussed in exactly the same manner: articles are written from the same information, citing the same anonymous sources, and it’s created an echo chamber that only reinforces the rumoured information that’s circulating.
This isn’t anything new. It’s just that this time there are many more voices than before, and as such, these discussions – despite the fact that they’re not exactly centred on a known quantity – are taking place in more and more spaces as time goes on. Insofar as it’s getting people to engage with the technology they use and the industry surrounding it, it’s fantastic, and this should not only continue, but be actively encouraged. After all, many vendors in the PC DIY and PC gaming space are supposedly making these peripherals and components for us. For you and I. For the so-called PC gamers, whatever that may mean.
Still, as with all things on the internet, we must exercise caution by questioning everything first, rather than automatically standing with whichever side is shouting the loudest. We must analyse what’s being said, and the merits of the argument put before us.
The idea (which, bear in mind, comes from anonymous sources) that NVIDIA is forcing vendors to change their branding is questionable at best.
In the time I’ve spent travelling between Taiwan and South Africa (I currently live in Taiwan, but I often visit family back home in SA), I have to say that I’ve come to understand and know things about various PC DIY vendors that I couldn’t have possibly known before. These experiences and relationships I’ve had have inevitably brought about another side of the conversation that previously I wasn’t even aware of, a side which stands in contrast to what many of us believe to be true from the outside looking in.
Part of this conversation includes understanding how and why so many things that take place in the background are obviously never going to be revealed to the public, but more importantly (especially within this context), why they’re sometimes poorly communicated.
For instance, a key factor of the narrative that’s being perpetuated is that there’s some insidious motive by NVIDIA to marginalize AMD in some way. Now, there’s no real way for us to know whether or not this is actually true until we examine what’s being said and what the numbers suggest, and until we’re open to the possibility that we lack any sort of concrete information or context that may oppose this narrative. After all, how many writers from any one of these sites or publications (including NAG) can say they‘ve been spending any meaningful time talking to the people who make this sort of decision for hardware vendors? And I don’t mean talking to the staff at regional offices around the world – but to those who actually work in the headquarters of any given vendor. You may be surprised to find it’s a very small number, if any of them have done it at all.
The reason this is important goes back to why I mentioned the time I spend moving between South Africa and Taipei, given that Taipei is where virtually all the headquarters of all the world’s motherboard and VGA card vendors are located, barring the Chinese mainland and Chinese Hong Kong companies. Companies like BIOSTAR, ASRock, ASUS, GIGABYTE, MSI and EVGA are all located here in Taiwan. This matters, because important decisions (like signing up for any partner program like the GPP) are made here, and not in regional offices.
Moreover, I’ve learned during my time in Taiwan that Taiwanese people are particularly conservative and tight-lipped when it comes to discussing internal company structures, partnerships and how programs are shaped. Given that this is the culture of Taiwanese companies, the idea (which, bear in mind, comes from anonymous sources) that NVIDIA is forcing vendors to change their branding is questionable at best. Based on my experience, I can say with relative certainty that things like the contracts these partners have with companies like NVIDIA is something they’d not feel the need to discuss in a press release. I’ve spoken to people who work at the various vendors that’ve come under fire, some of whom are employed solely because contracts like these exist.
The point here is not to say I know their secrets, or that I know something others don’t. The point I’m making is that before we jump to any conclusions, we must first consider if we have the entire story. How credible is the claim being made, and where’s the evidence? NVIDIA’s partners may very well be changing the naming schemes for some of their product lines, as we’ve seen them doing. But the reason they’re doing it may have nothing to do with what’s being suggested and rumoured, and their possible motivations are not being discussed in an honest, healthy, sceptical manner.
The point here is not to say I know their secrets, or that I know something others don’t. The point I’m making is that before we jump to any conclusions, we must first consider if we have the entire story. How credible is the claim being made, and where’s the evidence?
That we, so far removed from where these decisions take place, can so reflexively attribute certain actions and changes to a conspiracy we’ve pulled out of thin air is dangerously myopic. To say or write it with such powerful conviction is part of why tech writers and their ilk are becoming increasingly less relevant. If we, as tech writers, are armed with anything at all, it should be that we’re capable of having a little more objectivity than the average person on the street, reacting to the latest “shocking news” being fed to them by irresponsible writers.
If nothing else, we should always ask ourselves if the opinion we’ve formulated is reflected in the numbers. We can point out as many transgressions by NVIDIA and Intel as we’d like, but the sales numbers for their products suggest that they’re clearly doing the right thing, and are also acting in their best interests. Almost everyone I speak to is tired of there being RGB lighting on everything. And yet the sales figures are on the rise for products featuring RGB LEDs. If the sentiment of the voices shouting the loudest is a reflection of the reality of the situation, why is it that the numbers paint a different picture?
The same principle applies here with NVIDIA’s GeForce Partner Program. Their partners had (and still have) the option of foregoing the product name changes, and in that case nothing would change across their line-ups. However, clearly there must be an incentive in place, and a powerful, highly valuable one at that (not direct payment of course, but perhaps a favourable sharing of marketing costs), which convinced several of these vendors to sign up for the GPP. There was no ultimatum given to them. It was purely based on incentive.
You’d have to be in relatively close proximity to these organisations and the people within them to truly understand that. I’m aware that, for example, if ROG signed up for the GPP and AORUS did not, it would technically force AORUS to do so as well, because ROG would’ve suddenly gained a clear and obvious advantage over them. But again, that’s competition between the vendors and is a natural result of the relationship they have. It’s not something NVIDIA is forcing on them – or, at the very least, you shouldn’t be coming to that conclusion based on what is essentially hearsay.
As with everything we read and see on the internet, do keep in mind that context really does matter.