Upon further review this really should have been titled “Graphics are a barrier to gameplay”.
There has been a lot of discussion lately in the comment sections of our blog about stylized graphics vs. realistic graphics and graphics vs. gameplay in general. People seem to be split into two camps on the issues.
- The people who feel that stylized graphics are “cartoony crap”: These people don’t like WoW’s graphics or anything that looks remotely similar. They prefer realistic graphics and don’t mind having their games drive the hardware in their system.
- Those who like stylized and realistic graphics: They don’t mind the “cartoony” graphics at all because they see them as stylized and recognize the art direction. These same people also don’t mind realistic graphics but do not believe that games should drive the hardware in their system, rather the games should run well on reasonably up to date rigs.
I fall into the 2nd category. I actually LOVE stylized graphics because the art direction really allows the design team to take the game places it could not go in a more realistic environment. But I also don’t mind realistic graphics and can appreciate their style as well. There was a time when PC gaming drove the hardware market but I really believe those days are on their way out. Let’s look at a few very obvious indications that the PC gaming industry is beginning to change:
DICE – The guys behind Battlefield. They are now developing Battlefield Heroes and taking the franchise, for the first time, out of the realistic graphics and into a stylized “cartoony” direction that allows for insanely low comp specs.
EA Mythic – Although the decision on art direction here is strictly controlled by Games Workshop and the Warhammer IP, it can’t go unnoticed that a blockbuster mmorpg (WAR) is on the way that won’t be utilizing bleeding-edge tech or “realistic” graphics to achieve that goal.
Blizzard – duh. I don’t need to go into details here for the sake of details. WoW and likely Blizzard’s next-gen mmorpg in development will use stylized graphics aimed at allowing “everyone” to enjoy their game.
It’s time to face the facts group #1. Although your opinion still matters, you’re the minority by a HUGE margin.
By designing AoC to run on high-end specs Funcom has limited themselves from the start to a niche market. Compounding that fact with the lack of optimization and performance issues that still plague their engine it’s going to be a rough ride right out of the gate. We’ve seen something like this before. Age of Conan and Everquest 2 have a lot in common. Here’s a quick time line and comparison to illustrate a point:
-EQ2 Launched Before WoW
-AoC launches before WAR
-EQ2 went bleeding-edge tech, WoW went mainstream stylized graphics for gameplay over graphics.
-AoC is going to the hardware extremes and WAR is playing it safe by taking a more middle of the road approach.
-EQ2 took 2.5+ years to recover and remains a smaller playerbase, WoW has 10 million subscribers and topped all the charts.
-AoC’s future is untold right now as is WAR’s… but let’s face it, this story isn’t going to end happily ever after.
It is a fact and whole truth in the gaming market that betters graphics do not sell more copies. It’s also been proven and illustrated time and time again that better graphics actually decrease sales. The graphic whoring developers are starting to turn to the console market now where it’s easier to develop a game that runs well and even there they find themselves thwarted by gameplay trumping graphics! The Wii is outselling the Xbox360 and PS3. It’s poor business to design for tomorrow’s graphics on games meant to be played today.
You’ve heard this one before right? “I’ll play a crappy looking game that plays well before I play a good looking game that plays crappy”. Ready for a super secret tip? The key is to make a great game that runs great. Why is that so hard for some people? @Developers like Funcom still stuck on this one: Stop pushing graphics over gameplay potential. You’re pushing players out in the process! You’re creating very traditional and basic mmorpgs with a few innovations here and there while touting your game as the next graphical messiah. You should be focusing less on the graphics and more on the gameplay. You’re setting yourselves up for failure by ignoring history and the facts. When the appeal of the shiny graphics wears off and all you’re left with are the folks with 8800gtx’s and uber rigs don’t be surprised when they turn their attention to your gameplay and start jumping ship for “the next best thing”. It will happen.