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Graphics, the Most Critical Element of a MMO?

Posted by AndyLee Friday November 7 2008 at 1:18AM
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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.

caemsg writes:

its sad to see people just wanting to jack off to shiney graphics i8 would personally like to see more publishing houses put more emphisis on decent game play, bug busting, and accually finishing a game

i would have a game that works and is fun to play rather than a mmo that is a balloon nice and pretty on the out side and empty on the inside

Fri Nov 07 2008 3:30AM Report
UncertaintyP writes:

More people play those free crappy games because they're free than because their computer can only run them.

Fri Nov 07 2008 3:51AM Report
Raston writes:

Graphics and gameplay...  gameplay and graphics, they are two concepts that are somewhat dependent upon the other.  You can have the best graphics in the world and have a horrible game if you don't have good game play and you could have the best gameplay in the world, but if the graphics are bad, you will lose players.  The key would be to get a healthy balance of both.

AoC could of done just fine with EQ2/L2 quality of graphics and been a far better game if they'd spent the time to do those power hungry graphics into creating better content on non instanced zones (which would of been easier without the whole power graphic that will bring a E8400 with a 7600GTS to its knees when ever more than 4 people got on screen).

Likewise, AO would be a far better game if the graphics (expecially player models) were improved slightly, because it is hard to enjoy a game that looks so horrendously modeled.

I guess this is a prime example of where FC really missed the boat, they went from one extreme to the other and completely missed the point of middle ground being the place to be.

Fri Nov 07 2008 7:47AM Report
Loke666 writes:

Good looking graphics are nice. It isn't the only way to make a game popular however but it does matter.

A crappy game with good graphics isn't better than a good game with crappy graphics off course but I do prefer a good game with good graphics any time. Those do come out occasionally and the next big game will be one of those whatever it is.

And good graphics don't really have to take that much resources, it is a matter of good programing. Guildwars don't look that bad and you can run it on a P3 even. AoC and WAR was unfortunatly quite badly coded.

Fri Nov 07 2008 8:31AM Report
kaleee writes:

wow has good enough graphics for me, sure game can look lots better than that but not much worse.

however more important to me is the visual style than the level of detail / graphics in general, 1 of the things that affected to not buy age of conan, looks too real :D, then im attracted to visual style of aion online

Fri Nov 07 2008 8:49AM Report
craynlon writes:

 for me the final stages of mmo developement is the star trec holodec

so technology has to advance and it advances faster the more people invest into it. if wow would update their engine so that it would run only on end-gen machines they would do technology a big favour bringing all the addicts to buying new cards and stuff.



Fri Nov 07 2008 9:31AM Report
warped666 writes:

or with today's economy... half their subscribers would quit for not being able to afford upgrades... they are playing their cards just right... 11 million subscribers ... why upgrade?

Fri Nov 07 2008 12:51PM Report
Talon27 writes:

Craynlon has it right -  Bring on the holodec.  Until then, better graphics = more immersion = better.   The gameplay HAS to be good, that is a given or the game sux; but there is no reason we can't have both.  

Better graphics doesn't just mean more detailed or more realistic.  Different art styles can work.  

Fri Nov 07 2008 1:36PM Report
Kordesh writes:

 Honestly, I don't think "stunning" graphics are a requirement. I think passable graphics for the generation are. Some of the prettiest MMOs on the market right now are also the worst because while they're nice to look at, that's nearly all there is to do in them because they have no depth, complexity, or difficulty at all. 

Fri Nov 07 2008 4:49PM Report
stayontarget writes:

People say they don't want or need stunning graphics but then they run out and get the latest and greatest videocard with the price tag between $300-$400. Enough of that BS. Why can't they give us both graphics and game play. WE DEMAND BOTH.

Fri Nov 07 2008 10:30PM Report
mintor writes:

dudes video cards not high new ati 4850 512mb only 180 bucks , play any online game great.   ppl too lazy   don,t need ati 4870 x2 2gb ram . at 369.95 max.

Fri Nov 07 2008 11:04PM Report
craynlon writes:

 in the end i agree with stayontarget

if game 1 has kick ass gameplay but outdated graphic a rival company would do good to copy the gameplay and update the graphic

if game 2 has stunning graphics but weak gameplay the same company will have to evolve the gameplay (see aoc) to recapture and hold subscribers

the only real danger for evolvement is game 3 that is so addictive to players that they can keep on going with the same old gameplay and graphics 

Fri Nov 07 2008 11:07PM Report
MyPreciousss writes:

I still love isometric view, it can run on crappy computers and gives the best overview and crispy lovely handdrawn sceneries.

Updating rig for newest games + graphic card troubles and not being able to play games at max options whatever you do or 3 months after you bought your rig is REALLY a pain in the ass. I guess a lot of people prefer consoles just because of that.

Fri Nov 07 2008 11:36PM Report
Neosai writes:

Most people tend to put graphics and graphic designs together and refer it as graphics.  However, they are quite different in their way to capture people's attention.

Good graphics boost the over all game experience, however, graphic design is what capture player's hearts.  A game can look as beautiful as you want it to be, but if the design on the graphics looks bad, then it is meaningless.  Even a game with mediore graphics can have incredible graphic design that capture player's interests.

The current Korean games graphic design is completely immersed in the sense of asthetics, and it isn't a bad direction in general. (However, sometimes I find the cloth on the female to be overly lewd, just slightly)

Even though graphics and graphic designs aid in make a game (MMO in this case) more enjoyable, these are not the core of a game.  It is in the end gameplay that determines the value of a game.  Graphics can lure players into testing out a MMO, but gameplay is how you keep them playing.

I have had more fun with some of the older MMOs with mediocre, or sometimes 2-D graphics than some of the most high end graphic hungry games.

I can go into it all day about gameplay in an MMO and what it should do in order to captivate players, however I do believe it is time to stop typing.



Fri Nov 07 2008 11:42PM Report
daemon writes:

look at WoW.

sucky graphics but still most played MMO by so far its not even funny anymore.

so.. Graphics, the Most Critical Element of a MMO?

hell NO.

Tue Nov 11 2008 12:05PM Report writes:
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