Dark or Light

Do Graphics Make a Game?

Andree Ehrig Posted:
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Dark and Light

Irth Online

Ultima Online

EverQuest II

World of WarCraft

Guest Writer Andree Ehrig asks if graphics really matter

It is said, that the first impression is the most important one - in real life. When you are looking for a new job, having a date or just want to leave a good impression, your outfit and appearance are quite important to impress people positively. Can the same be said about games? I think so and I will let you know why.

Imagine you walk along the shelves in a game store and are looking for a new game to play. What do you see first? Normally the large and colorful boxes with many colorful pictures of the games inside. Now imagine you found a game that sounds remotely interesting. You pick up the box, check out the backside and look at the screenshots of the game. That is the first impression a game leaves and those are the few critical seconds a game has to convince you that it is worth buying. If the screenshots on the box look good, chances are high that you will at least read the text on the box to learn more about the features of the game. If the screenshots are not convincing right away, a game has little chance to otherwise convince the potential buyer of its content.

Now this is only one scenario where the graphics are definitely “making the game”. Let us look at another example. E3 - the Electronics Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles each year attracts many thousand visitors to drool at the latest and greatest in the gaming industry. This also includes our precious MMOGs, so this is where most people go to check out the newest and hippest games to be released. At this expo, development studios try all they can to make their game look as good as possible. Usually that even includes half-naked girls primarily for the male part of the gaming community. Here too, games shine with their graphics first and foremost. Huge video screens showing off the latest pixel shaders, computer generated animations, intro movies, etc. are dominating the expo halls. A game that looks extraordinarily good, is more likely to attract potential buyers or investors than a game that does not look good. I remember a recent game that got much praise for its graphics from the gaming press: Far Cry. This single-player game seems to be the champ on the graphics throne right now.

The above examples deal with situations where the consumer only takes short glimpses at a large mass of games. In stores or at E3, the amount of games on display is usually very large so it would take very long to look at each game and read all feature lists. This is where graphics play a large role. First impressions are the most important here. Not so when the customer has already purchased the game.

Most people when asked how important graphics are to them, compared to gameplay, say that gameplay is more important. This is especially the case in beta tests when people are not fully aware yet what features a game will have. I have seen it in Anarchy Online Beta, Wish Beta, Dark and Light Beta - the reaction is always the same. Tell people that the graphics are sub-par and they will tell you, graphics do not matter to them as much as gameplay. They completely disregard the fact that they need to look at ugly character models or ugly landscapes for the duration of their subscription to a game that has such sub-par graphics. Most often they will then compare the graphics of Ultima Online and the gameplay to their own game of choice. Granted Ultima Online is so old by now, it had enough time to accumulate a huge collection of features and has the rare luxury of still being successful although it is so old and compared to modern MMOGs - ugly as the night is dark. That is unless you are into 2D sprites and monotonous animations. The 3D client experiment for UO with the name “Third Dawn” was an utter disaster. The game in 3D looked worse than it did in 2D, in my opinion.

Another reaction is to belittle those who say that graphics are sub-par. “Meh, graphics do not matter. You suck for complaining about the unimportant graphics!” Here these people simply ignore the fact that a game needs to attract customers to be successful. No game - especially not MMOGs - can survive on the market without attracting subscribers. This is where scenario #1 can be cited as example why sub-par graphics are bad for a game. Now you may ask, what are sub-par graphics?

Sub-par graphics are graphics, especially character models, that do not compare well to other similar games on the market. Landscapes seem to be easy to model and texturize because it is primarily character models that are lacking in some games, while their landscapes look great.

Games with good character models are EverQuest 2, World of Warcraft, Dark Age of Camelot, Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, and others.

Games with ugly character models are Dark and Light - currently in Beta, Shadowbane, Irth Online, and others.

These lists are not complete and depend largely on personal preference. The difference between both groups is their commercial success. While the first group is largely successful due to the companies producing them, their overall look, design and gameplay, the second group is a group of niche games that never achieved or never will achieve the success of the “big names”. I am sure, this also related to their graphics. Add boring gameplay and a MMOG of this sort is bound to fail and disappear.

The gameplay of a game is not something that binds people to a new game initially. It is first and foremost the graphics, which need to impress the consumer, to look deeper and study the features of a game. If the current MMOGs in development do not have graphics that can compete with MMOGs on the market, many people will not look further into these games, which could mean their terminal failure. To make graphics competitive they should be detailed, with excellent textures, live-like as much as possible, diversely animated yet still playable on a middle class system.

Once a game has attracted the customer, the gameplay plays a more dominant role to bind the player to the product. Many useful features, lots of customization options, diverse tasks for the player, a friendly community, etc. all this is important to keep the subscriber paying the monthly fee.

It can be said, graphics do not make a game. But graphics, like in real life, are important to make a positive initial impression. The perfect synergy of good graphics and interesting gameplay makes the perfect game. So far, it looks like World of Warcraft achieved this goal. If more of the current games in development achieve the same perfection, World of Warcraft will have competition. Otherwise, it will remain at the top for some time to come.

- Andree Ehrig

Thank you to Andree for sending this in.

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The opinions expressed in this article are purely those of its author and not necessarily shared by MMORPG.com or its staff.


Andree Ehrig