Nvidia has cancelled a partner program after just two months – just as regulators started taking an interest in complaints of anti-competitiveness.
In a blog post on Friday, the head of marketing for Nv's GeForce gaming brand complained about the "rumors, conjecture and mistruths" that have surrounded the "GeForce Partner Program" since it launched on March 1.
"Rather than battling misinformation, we have decided to cancel the program," wrote John Teeple, claiming that the sole goal of the program was to "ensure that gamers know what they are buying and can make a clear choice."
The companies that make graphics cards and PCs using Nvidia's chips were less sure about that, however, and were particularly unhappy about one part of the program's agreement that appeared to pressure them to only use Nvidia-designed silicon in their gaming products.
In short, the GPP appeared to strong-arm vendors into ditching chips from Nvidia's rivals, such as AMD. If an outfit wanted to use GeForce technology, it had to create a separate brand: Asus, for example, shunted its AMD Radeon cards under a new name last month as a result of the GPP. If vendors refused to play ball, Nvidia would, it is claimed, withdraw engineering and marketing support.
The brand demand would, effectively, clear the way for Nvidia to continue to dominate certain markets, such as discrete high-end gaming hardware.
Those restrictions were immediately noticed by the likes of AMD and Intel – which, it should be noted, do not exactly have squeaky clean reputations when it comes to this sort of thing – and people started complaining about the program's anti-competitive nature.
Last month, some of those who had complained claimed in online forums that they had been contacted by regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and European Commission, and had been told the authorities were looking into the reports.
Then AMD started making noise about it, with the general manager of its Radeon gaming arm, Scott Herkelman, publishing a web post in which he pointedly noted that AMD offered "real partnerships with real consistency" that included "no anti-gamer/anti-competitive strings attached."
Carrot and stick
Following reports that some companies were refusing to sign up to the program over their concerns, and then accounts that Nvidia had refused to ship chips to companies that were not a part of the program – claims that the company denies – the issue started to snowball.
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The gaming market is enormous, with gamers going to some lengths to get the best graphics boards, but the market can also be fickle.
The value of gamers to chip companies was recently underlined by the extra efforts they're making to ensure their products make it into the hands of gamers rather than data centers, artificial intelligence developers and cryptocurrency miners, all of whom crave the extraordinary processing power at a comparatively low cost that such high-end gaming products offer. Competition has caused a shortages.
In short, no chip company can afford to alienate its gamer user base.
Nvidia's GeForce is one of few gaming super-brands so you could forgive the company for imagining it could use that market power to tie companies into its chips. It is an approach that has been used repeatedly by the industry, even though it occasionally results in billion-dollar fines from angry regulators.
But that wasn't it all, Nvidia claims, noting that it does "our work at a crazy intense level – investing billions to invent the future and ensure that amazing Nvidia tech keeps coming." Yeah, bro!
The program was not about trying to control a market, it was "about making sure gamers who want Nvidia tech get Nvidia tech." And all the program did was "ask our partners to brand their products in a way that would be crystal clear."
Poor Nvidia. Just trying to give people what they want, and getting lambasted for it. That's why it is "pulling the plug on GPP to avoid any distraction from the super exciting work we’re doing to bring amazing advances to PC gaming." ®