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The staff of MMORPG.com gets together to bring you some behind the scenes insights on stories, the industry and the site itself.

Author: staffblog

Contributors: BillMurphy,MikeB,garrett,SBFord,Grakulen,

Community Spotlight: Graphics vs. Gameplay?

Posted by MikeB Sunday May 13 2012 at 2:39PM
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In this week's Community Spotlight we focus on the thread "STOP screaming for better graphics, your killing game play !" by delete5230. In the thread, delete5230 asserts that the clamoring for higher quality graphics in MMOs is to blame for the 'crap' MMOs released over the past few years:

I can't stress this enough.

The population is demanding better and better graphics in mmo's.  This works on single player games but not MMO's. EVERY single player game has loading screens and small zones, yet it's acceptable because it's a single player game.  Were not talking about single player games, but MMO's.

Were getting crap mmo's as of late.  Why ?.....because you people are demanding better graphics and developers are trying to accommodate.

Would you like proof ?......Funcom is a good exaggerated example, they are a an amplified sample of what all other designers are also trying to do.  You can plainly see that a lot of money is put into Age of Conan but it was a released failure. This is because they went full all out graphics.  All time and energy went into graphics, and we were given a shell of a game. YOU ASKED FOR THIS !.....This topic is not about Funcom, it's about graphics.  If your gonna go off on a rant about Funcom your not getting the point.

It all comes down to this. It's like a time spent slide bar :

Community                                                                                                              

Large open world................................................................................/............... Graphics

It all comes down to one side or the other. You can't have both YOU JUST CAN'T. It's only 2012, were not their yet.  Sure we had a few that somewhat gave us both like LOTRO and maybe a few others, but for the most part we get 90% crap game play because of graphics.

To make things worst, now developers are adding Tools and gimmicks, and adding Dungeon finders, Dynamic Events, Personal story lines and worst of all cinematic cut scenes. All this takes away from community, and vast open world. It's where the money is going.

Now we have this slide bar :

Dynamic Events

Dungeon finders

GRAPHICS                                                                                                             Community                                                                                                                                                                                          

Cinematic videos............./....................................................................................Large open world

It's all about slide bars. You can't have it all !!!!

Brainy concurs:

OP is dead on.  Its a matter of resources, and graphics hogs up devs time and money more than anything.  It really doesnt matter what the other stuff in a game is defined as.  The more time spent with graphics, the less time with everything else.  Most of the other stuff takes only a fraction of the time to develop compared to just upgrading graphics a tiny bit.

The real problem is players dont really know what they want, they scream graphics and get it, then after the shiny wears off, they go to games like WoW.  The devs need to just ignore the graphic whine and make a solid game without them.  If the gameplay is there, the players will gravitate to the game.

zyurmgeist adds:

You missed one. The higher the graphics requirements the fewer the characters and mobs can be in a zone without bogging down. So you can choose higher graphics, a more open world, a more populated world. Pick any two.

vee41 feels delete5230 is simplifying things:

So what you are basically saying there is that for example Dynamic Events and gameplay are a tradeoff? As games become prettier, the 'worse' they become? I have to disagree as it really is not a simple tradeoff or slider you can make to simplify things. I do however agree that lot of recent games have been strong on graphical department, less so on 'what actually make games fun'- side. While that does hold true to most recent titles it is still over simplifying things and not taking into account the fact that they are actually excluding each other. You can have a pretty MMO that is fun to play, GW2 does that for me. World is huge, even zones feel massive and I don't feel limited in anyway which is not the case for many other titles.

Open world/graphic quality tradeoff is understandable, there was a lenghty post in the forums about it recently. You did not define what is 'gameplay' to you?

I disagree with the premise of the thread but I feel the basic gist of it is a good discussion to have. You can have high quality graphics while also having a solid MMO, it's just that most developers don't tend to be able to hit the performance marks in general. I can think of many MMOs that suffered massive performance issues with many people on screen at once and most of them do not push the envelope in graphics. At the same time, I can think of games like Age of Conan, which did, and also suffer the same issues. It really has less to do with the graphics and more to do with how the developers tackle the technical issues involved with having many people around at once.

I feel that MMOs, of all video game genres, should aspire to push the graphics envelope in order to create more convincing and believable worlds. Games like TERA or ArcheAge feature high quality graphics but do not appear to exhibit the same issues with having many characters on screen, the latter of which also aims to create the large sandbox world replete with tons of gameplay features. 

Where do you stand on this issue? Share your thoughts in the commons below!

maplestone writes:

Graphics are important for about 30 days when playing a game.  I'm like the reverse of Cipher in the matrix, after about 30 days, I don't see the graphics, just the abstract data.

What bothers me about graphics is that they are a tool by which a large studio can simply outspend its rivals rather than competing with them.  It's far easier to predict the consumer reaction to a dollar spent on art over a dollar spent on simulations and mechanics, so it makes it a safer, more predictable investment when designing a game.  Thus, at a certain point of looking around at the options in the industry, I find it starts to *feel* like art is the enemy.of the worlds underneath it.

Sun May 13 2012 2:54PM Report
adam_nox writes:

uh, considering mmo's have the lowest standards for graphics and fps performance of any PC gaming genre, this seems unlikely.

and in fact, it's shoddy graphics that hurt the sense of immersion that is important in a 'true' mmo experience.  That's where the idea of the mmo was born, not in the wowification we have now.

Sun May 13 2012 3:40PM Report
spookydom writes:

I don't really understand why bad graphics seems to equal lack of immersion for a lot of people. I can still play games like X-Com Enemey Unknown or Planescape or even Fallout 1 and feel a lot immersed than I do in a lot of modern titles that cook the crap out of my graphics card. It would be amazing to have modern mmorpg's with both qualities but surely if there has to be a choice between graphics and gameplay it has to be gameplay. Great gameplay is what makes a legendary game and will keep people coming back. You never hear of anybody loading up a 10 year old game becase they miss the graphics....Do You?

Sun May 13 2012 4:05PM Report
Mike-McQueen writes:

The way they make the games has a lot to do with the average gamers computer too. I bet they shoot low so as not to alienate the lower end systems.

Sun May 13 2012 5:38PM Report
spadge3k00 writes:

my opinion is its a matter of prefrence, some gamers prefer to play gorjus looking games at max settings than other players prefering games with more depth , skill systems, ect. i personally Liked conan loved how it looked an i was "willing" to put aside the fact i wasnt 100% on the combat system to embrace the graphical prowess. therfore not all players would agree that mmo's r geting crap lately its jus player prefrence.

Sun May 13 2012 6:30PM Report
troublmaker writes:

I don't like this view that it is "Graphics vs Gameplay" as if they were too conflicting ideas.  It is however setup as this sort of debate where if you have one you don't have the other.

It's true that a lot of really shiny games have bad gameplay.  It doesn't mean one infers the other though.

Graphics are the building blocks of the game.  Generally speaking when some video game designer is making the game they will have a game design toolkit that usually involves some tool similar to the MOD editor from Skyrim (the Crytek 3 Engine offers free licenses to non-profits projects and it works that way).

So I can already have GREAT looking graphics I just need to work on the gameplay.

When Age of Conan happened and fell I was at first willing to say that the game was all graphics and no real substance/gameplay.  But having the benefit of hindsight on my side I can clearly see that since Age of Conan very few MMOs have done as well as Age of Conan and most (like Age of Conan) have had a 75% sub drop after the first two months.

I don't think the failure of MMO games can be thus blamed on lacking great gameplay and great graphics... but it is sort of just how the market reacts.  World of Warcraft, SWTOR, Rift and Eve all have timely updates and tones of content patches.  Yet World of Warcraft numbers are plumeting, SWTOR is down to 1.3M subs, Rift is sub 500K, and Eve is in constant flux.

The problem might just be the design intent of MMOs being inherently faulty.  They are trying to make a "jack of all trades" game that everyone will enjoy and will suck in tones of people.  What they end up making instead is a "jack of no trades" game in which no one is happy.

The gaming market is developing and The Action 52 Pack would never sell today.  People are no longer generalists, people like specialized gaming markets that do one thing really well.

Sun May 13 2012 6:54PM Report
jtcgs writes:

I would go back to playing Asherons Call and its 13 year old graphics than play Age of Conan which is still the best looking MMORPG on the market.

Graphics is not better than gameplay.

And looking at how Age of Conan had to go free2play...I would say MMORPG players have spoken, graphics dont mean a thing if the game itself sucks.

And yes, a budget can be taken up by graphics design just as it can recording actors doing the voices for the story...SWTOR...

Sun May 13 2012 7:43PM Report
Terranah writes:

SWG launched almost 9 years ago.  Open world game, noninstanced player structures, skill based, good character customization.  Art quality was good enough.

 

Computers have improved a lot in 9 years.  Software tech has improved a lot in 9 years.  

Sun May 13 2012 7:46PM Report
grimfall writes:

I vote that the hightlighted forum topic of the week at least has proper spelling in the title.

Wurm Online has great open world gameplay.  It looks so bad that it's imersion breaking.

Sun May 13 2012 9:26PM Report
kjempff writes:

@troublmaker You are missing the point, which is that graphics (which includes animations, cutscenes, world etc) WILL eat a large percentage of a games resources (funding) and that can only be taken from other areas, such as gameplay amongst others.

 

The toolkit you are talking about is no argument, some use a toolkit make by others (cost money) and some develop their own (cost money), but the real time is spend on using the toolkit, creating 3d objects, creating animations and everything - Toolkit is just a toolkit and is a minor cost in a game production.

 

Sure technology is getting better, easier and cheaper, but at the moment I can't see anything wrong with the logic that focusing on graphics will mean less focus on gameplay.

Sun May 13 2012 10:19PM Report
Invintion writes:

Keeping in mind that likely different sets of individuals develop and design the detail of the game world versus those that ultimately design and create the content, there is still definitely a pie that gets split between a family of greedy, well intentioned children.

I believe games are also largely limited by bandwidth which means if we are to include more content, the cost may need to be a few leaves on the digital tree.  Dinosaur computers limiting availability to potential players might also benenfit from this.  It is difficult to pinpoint the perfect balance, mmorpgs range anywhere from text to graphically detailed expanses where gods make the sun rise and set, and every snowflake is an algorithm.

There are some players still searching for that virtual reality of the Tron daze.. but for me, if giving up some graphics will allow for more pizza pie to fatten the content kids then I am fine with a "3D mario world" with mushrooms on top.  My interest in mmorpgs was found in such places as MUDing, Magic the Gathering, and then Ultima Online until 3D games took over the graphical race where people complain that their Matrix has too many cats.  With my limited creativity.. and terrible vision.. I believe that immersion in a world is more dependant on other variables than intense graphics.  Although I do enjoy shiny things and walks on beaches where the tide moves with the sunset.
 

~V~

Mon May 14 2012 3:59AM Report
UsulDaNeriak writes:

graphics has to be just on a satisfying level for me. more is just nice to have. this level of satisfaction is pretty low in my case. however, i doubt e.g. Salem will reach my minimum level.

gamemechanic is what holds me in the game or let me buy it first.

if the devs would stick with a medium level of graphics, there would be enough budget rest, in order to make a good and well tested game.

 

Mon May 14 2012 4:56AM Report
Jetrpg writes:

That post was wrong, just wrong. higher textures, superior style, and better artist doesn't take more time, it takes more care and skill.  Skill is the defining aspect that nor time or money will solve (both of the designers, coders, and artists).

Now higher graphics..textures, lighting, etc. Things that are more taxing to a system can be an issue. More so in the mmos thast are acctually MASSIVE. Here is a place where you don't want your textures and shaders, etc too detailed/hi rez ot else when you get 200+ people nothing can be done. Most systems and games will sqash any computer at those numbers anyway. But low frames > slideshow > no show.

I don't know of any mmo that failed because its graphics were too good.

Mon May 14 2012 5:09AM Report
Pivotelite writes:

 

"Large open world................................................................................/............... Graphics

It all comes down to one side or the other. You can't have both YOU JUST CAN'T. It's only 2012, were not their yet."

 

 

Yes I am a fan of TERA but uhmm, TERAs world is massive and the graphics are well, pretty darn good.

Mon May 14 2012 7:21AM Report
AtmaDarkwolf writes:

1: You got gpx options, use them. if the game slows down, lower some settings, let the dev's play around with how THEY want it to look, if it meshes with the 'world' and helps the story along, all the power to it.

 

2: Ever play wurm? Ya at one time I was like you, and thought graphics would never > gameplay. Play this turd of a game, and (At least some time ago, doubt its much better now even with improvments) you will see how, at least a LITTLE, is better than none.

 

For those 2 reasons, your argument dies. You want some eye candy to help blend teh story with the world, and without at least the basics, why not just go play tabletop games?

 

But I DO agree that graphics should not be the 'focus' when developing a game. it should be a (Heavy) afterthought.

Mon May 14 2012 8:22AM Report
Gorwe writes:

I have just one thing to add:

Graphics HAVE TO be a FUNCTION of Gameplay 

and

Gameplay MUSTN'T be a FUNCTION of Graphics.

All games that followed these rules are successes(WoW/GW/GW 2), meanwhile all of the games that did not follow these rules are F2Ps(AoC/Aion/LoTRO). Make of that what you will ;) ...

Mon May 14 2012 8:54AM Report
jtcgs writes: Jetrpg. You dont seem to know anything about programming. Virtually everything is tied to graphics. Animations which is tied the most covers a large part of the programing process. it covers every aspect of movement, combat, crafting, items in game, interacting with the world...emotes...the more detail, the more has to go into every other aspect of the game...and the more detail = more time creating it. not to mention, the more detail the more possible bugs and issue crop up requiring even more time to work them out. Anyone that was in early beta for age of conan can tell you that. Which BTW is the answer to your last question. Mon May 14 2012 2:58PM Report

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