Is NVIDIA’s GeForce Partner Program Anti-Competitive?

A recent report from Kyle Bennet over at HardOCP has found some very interesting information about NVIDIA’s new GeForce Partner Program. What is the GeForce Partner Program? You can read NVIDIA’s own blog post about the program, but the whole idea behind the program is to, “ensure that gamers have full transparency into the GPU platform and software they’re being sold, and can confidently select products that carry the NVIDIA GeForce promise.” This all sounds great, but when Kyle was approached by AMD to take a closer look into NVIDIA’s GPP he found evidence that this new program aims to push board partners to not release products from other manufacturers, mainly AMD.

nvidia geforce gtx logo artwork

After speaking with NVIDIA add-in board (AIB) partners and OEM partners it seems as if NVIDIA plans to abuse its current dominate market position, by making these partners decided to be part of the program or suffer the consequences. NVIDIA controls around 70% of the discrete GPU market, and with that dominance they are putting partners in a tough spot if they want to be part of the program. This dominance was asserted when not one of the seven companies Bennet contacted would even even go on record, “The ones that did speak to us have done so anonymously, in fear of losing their jobs, or having retribution placed upon them or their companies by NVIDIA,” Bennett says. The people who did speak off the record said that, “They think that it has terms that are likely illegal; GPP is likely going to tremendously hurt consumers’ choices; It will disrupt business with the companies that they are currently doing business with, namely AMD and Intel.”

In their blog post NVIDIA talks about transparency, but many clauses of the GeForce Partner Program are hidden from the public view. One of the big ones is that in order to become part of the program a partner must have its “Gaming Brand Aligned Exclusively With GeForce.” These words come from internal documents meant for NVIDIA partners only, but Bennet has said he’s read the documents, however none of these documents have been made available.

So I’m sure you can guess what “exclusivity” means. If you want to be part of the GeForce Partner Program you’ll have to forego products from other brands (mainly AMD). So what exactly do you get if you are part of the GeForce Partner Program? Well perks include high-effort engineering engagements (likely, aids to custom designs); early tech engagement; launch partner status (as in, being able to sell GeForce-branded products at launch date); game bundling; sales rebate programs; social media and PR support; marketing reports; and the ultimate kicker, Marketing Development Funds (MDF). You can see why OEMs and AIBs would want to be part of the program. The Marketing Development Funds (MDF) is an interesting tidbit here, if you remember this same thing was part of Intel’s “Intel Inside” program which ended up leading to a pretty large anti-trust movement against the company.

Even more upsetting is that if a company does not participate in the GeForce Partner Program, they feel that NVIDIA would hold back allocation of GPUs from their inventories. So you can see why NVIDIA AIB partners are being put in a very hard spot.

With light shed on the details of NVIDIA’s GeForce Partner program we can see how it could be considered “anticompetitive conduct” by the Federal Trade Commision.

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