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New PC Shipments Down? The Old Ones Still Got Game, Says Raptr CEO.

"This will help people realize they already have a gaming machine -- on their desks."

A souped-up PC is to gaming what an expensive DSLR is to digital photography. Unless Valve’s Steam Machines totally shake things up, those who really want the most out of a game’s visuals will remain one of the last consumer audiences for ever-newer and better desktop PCs, and they’re pretty vocal about it online.

But what about other, older PCs? Like, maybe, the one in your house that has been gathering dust since Apple or Google or Samsung or Amazon lured you away with their shiny touchscreens? Raptr CEO Dennis Fong is interested in those PCs, the ones that aren’t showing up in the increasingly dismal reports of hardware shipments.

“We’re not really about the quadruple-A,” Fong said in a recent interview with Re/code. That’s a bit of industry humor for you there; “triple-A” or “AAA” usually refers to big-budget big-spectacle games from big companies, so “quadruple-A” would be what happens when high-end PC gamers push those titles to the bleeding edge of performance.

Fong was intrigued by a recent SuperData report showing that older free-to-play PC games — some nearly a decade old — still pulled in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue last year. He argues that this is partly because millions of older PCs are still out there that can handle a five-year-old game like League of Legends fine, but won’t be able to match an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 in playing Assassins Creed IV.

“This will help people realize they already have a gaming machine — on their desks,” he said.

By “this,” Fong means Raptr’s recent semi-quiet pivot. For years, the startup has tried to build out social networking features around peoples’ games through a downloadable desktop app. That app is still alive and kicking, but since September, the company has focused more on a spinoff app, the clunkily named AMD Gaming Evolved App Powered By Raptr.

The AMD-branded app, bundled with many of the chip maker’s drivers, combines Raptr’s existing social features with a tool that notifies gamers of driver updates and, more importantly, scans both their hardware and game libraries. Enough of those scans, taken in aggregate, purportedly let it make crowdsourced recommendations for how to push each game to the limits of an individual’s hardware.

Fong said the goal is to make itself “essential” to the PC gamers who don’t play at the highest performance levels. The company has edged away from being only a social networking service because talking about and playing a game simultaneously isn’t an essential part of that playtime.

Offering a helpful utility that wrings the most out of the hardware you have, in theory, will help Raptr extend its reach. And Fong claims it’s working: User growth has accelerated in recent months, he said, from hundreds of thousands of new users per month last year to about 1.5 million new users per month in this quarter.

As of December 2013, the company was claiming more than 19 million users had registered.

Historically, Raptr has partnered with dozens of game companies that want to tap into its social community to market new games and updates. The company plans to push out the graphics-optimizing features from the AMD-branded app into the main Raptr desktop app next month.

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