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Graphics, the Most Critical Element of a MMO?

Posted by AndyLee Friday November 7 2008 at 2:18AM
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Like other entertainment media, the game industry has been developing rapidly during the last decade. In particular, the graphics of games has evolved from the simple pixelated Nintendo FC to nowadays CG-like 3D virtual world. Major game developers are all trying best to update their design engine as to surprise players with the spectacular graphics. Gamers applaud the animations and graphics of newly released games. It seems that everyone is enjoying this technological advance, which moves along in leaps and bounds. However, I am wondering should people focus that much on graphics of games?

To designers, complex game graphics requires high development cost, both financial and technological. When making a game becomes unprecedentedly expensive, small developers opt out as they can’t afford it, consequently being bought out or going bankrupt. What we get is a marketplace monopoly, where everything is controlled by Microsoft and other software giants. That’s bad for creativity and innovation. Losing the creativity, the fundamental boosting factor of the industry, would eventually cause the recession of the game market.

On the other hand, cutting-edge graphics also create a barrier of entry to the player. Top-notch graphics always requires top-notch rigs. If you don’t have a decent computer, all you can do is dream of playing the numerous epic masterpieces. Game veterans are now accustomed to upgrading computers prior to highly anticipated game releases. Moreover, many 3D games have become the instruments for hardware geeks to rate their rigs. That is plain pathetic (albeit fun)!

Age of Conan for example, before its release, the developer was hyping about its astonishing graphics. For that, you should have an up-to-date computer to support the game’s amazing rendering capabilities. If your computer can even reach the minimum specs, and you can afford AoC, you have to wait hours for the installation of 24 GBs of content, plus 2 GB worth of patches. Finally if you can enter the game, you may find that you still suffer from lag, resulting in automatic loss against players with more money and better computers (lag frag). In large scale PvP battles, the lag is unbearable, and you may as well just kill yourself (in-game). So where’s the fun in that?

As a massively multiplayer game, the priority of graphic design is to make it accessible to a wider audience, and help performance in large scale PvP. So movie-like 3D graphics is not an essential element –it’s just a selling point. Conquer Online, like other successful f2p MMOs, doesn’t have splendid graphics. However, its 2.5D graphics is acceptable, making players experience vivid ancient Chinese art style. Moreover, the “classic” graphic engine works on the most ancient of computers as well as top notch new ones. Obviously, the community in such a game is much larger, as it has a lower barrier of entry to the newest 3D behemoths like AoC.

In conclusion, for a highly interactive game, stunning 3D graphics is an essential factor of success. But if you go too far down that road, you’re positioning your product out of the customers reach.