Last month, news broke of a new GeForce Partner Program, put in place by Nvidia to corner the market on high-end GPUs by requiring GPU manufacturers to “align” their brands with Nvidia if they wanted to receive GPU allocations or be considered for various marketing funds. GPUs manufactured by AMD were effectively kicked out of the NV-aligned tiers — something we factually saw evidence of when we investigated the impact of the GPP on partner brands, though the details of how the program was implemented remained contested. Nvidia insisted that the entire affair was a helpful program to assist manufacturers. Now, Nvidia has announced that it has canceled the program altogether.
Nvidia’s John Teeple writes:
A lot has been said recently about our GeForce Partner Program. The rumors, conjecture and mistruths go far beyond its intent. Rather than battling misinformation, we have decided to cancel the program.
GPP had a simple goal – ensuring that gamers know what they are buying and can make a clear choice… With GPP, we asked our partners to brand their products in a way that would be crystal clear. The choice of GPU greatly defines a gaming platform. So, the GPU brand should be clearly transparent – no substitute GPUs hidden behind a pile of techno-jargon.
Most partners agreed. They own their brands and GPP didn’t change that. They decide how they want to convey their product promise to gamers. Still, today we are pulling the plug on GPP to avoid any distraction from the super exciting work we’re doing to bring amazing advances to PC gaming.
As explanations go, this one explains nothing. There are no “substitute GPUs hidden behind a pile of technojargon.” There never have been. Nvidia does not allow you to brand a GTX 1080 Ti as a GTX 1080, and brand names from companies follow regular naming conventions that haven’t changed in decades. But part of what makes this entire affair odd is the fact that Nvidia is killing the program in the first place.
Nvidia is no particular stranger to controversy, nor one to back away from a fight. Its GameWorks program, for example, has been controversial since its inception. Nvidia didn’t back away from it. Patrick Moorehead, writing for Forbes, makes the point that he thinks NV killed the program for the right reason, because the negativity around the program constituted a distraction. He states, however, that he had absolutely no reason to believe that Nvidia had engaged in any kind of illegal activity. This may be true. But it doesn’t explain the difference between Nvidia’s typically pugnacious attitude and willingness to engage in behaviors the community finds controversial (GameWorks) and its willingness to cancel the GPP after a much smaller period of time.
It’s possible that the GPU manufacturers themselves were sensitive to appearing to prioritize Nvidia over AMD, based on the way companies like MSI and Asus had stripped AMD cards of prominent branding and relegated them to second-class brands instead. But right now, Nvidia likely does dominate the high end of the market, which also makes this a bit less potent as far as an explanation.
I don’t like ending on a lame note, but as of right now, that’s where we are. Nvidia has never been a company to back down from a fight. It’s never been one to shy away from strong competition or from aggressively positioning its products. It’s not prima facie evident that any such arrangement with GPU manufacturers was illegal (what strikes someone as playing dirty and what’s actually illegal aren’t the same thing), and the idea that it just kinda quit a program it undoubtedly spent months designing and deploying seems an incomplete explanation at best. Nonetheless, for now, that’s what we’ve got.