The Great Debate: How Important are Graphics In Video Games?

Video games are a highly visual medium. Always have been, always will be. Because of this, graphics and in-game visuals (for better or worse) have become a major barometer of a titles quality. While many core gamers will point to gameplay and immersiveness as primary reasons to buy a game, much of the general public will observe how it looks and base a large majority of their opinion solely on visual quality.

This has been the case ever since game systems advertised graphical power and CPU. Nintendo heavily advertised the NES’ 8-bit CPU and even named systems based on graphical prowess, like the Nintendo 64. This drove sales and helped make the game industry what it is today. But now that the game space has evolved into a standard and well-known part of modern life,  how much importance should be placed on graphics?

With game visuals nearing a point of diminishing returns, this has become an interesting topic with many different opinions. One of the most outspoken individuals on the importance of graphics is Crytek CEO, Cevat Yerli.

Recent comments byYerli in X360 Magazine prove that he believes they are more than half the battle.  He even put a number on it: 60%.”People say that graphics don’t matter, but play Crysis and tell me they don’t matter,” Yerli said. “It’s always been about graphics driving gameplay.”

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Yerli pointed to Crysis 3 to back up his claim. He said the graphics are capable enough to show grass swaying in the wind, which allows players to detect when enemies are running towards them.

“Graphics, whether it’s lighting or shadows, puts you in a different emotional context and drives the immersion,” Yerli said. “And immersion is effectively the number one thing we can use to help you buy into the world.”

“The better the graphics, the better the physics, the better the sound design, the better the technical assets and production values are–paired with the art direction, making things look spectacular and stylistic is 60 per cent of the game,” he said.

Now, I am sure many people will argue that Crysis 3 is not a great game and no amount of visual prowess would bring it to the level of similar top titles, but lets go beyond Crytek’s somewhat underwhelming latest entry and take into account other major releases.

After looking analytically at what makes AAA games successful, Yerli’s argument starts to ring somewhat true. Just think if Skyrim released with less than spectacular visuals. Would that game have made such a grand impression if the graphics were of lower quality?

I would assume that it would not be regarded as the great title it is today. Considering that a large proportion of the gaming community thought the game lacked the immersiveness of Morrowind or Oblivion (me included), the graphics truly did have a pronounced effect on its overall success.

How about a more recent example…BioShock Infinite. Lauded for its environment and look, Infinite uses its visuals to help advance the broader story. Would the game be as successful if it was not able to create the sprawling and colorful atmosphere of Columbia?

Do you think they could have pulled off the detailed story and set-piece events (cough, final “boss” fight, cough) if the visuals were put on the backburner? I have a hard time thinking they would have been able to produce the same effect.

These are interesting questions, especially for the PC crowd, many of whom pay a premium to have a higher level of polish and processing power than their console counterparts.

I personally will take gameplay and immersiveness over visual quality almost every time, but I cannot discount the fact that graphics are much more important than most gamers believe. The visuals are what rope you in, and the gameplay is what keeps you there. For a developer these days, the “rope” is essential….but, of course, that rope could also end up hanging the game out to dry. This is where the debate lies.

What are your thoughts on this subject after considering the comments of the Crytek chief? What number do you put on visual importance? Does 60% sound right, or do you believe he is overstating the fact?

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2 comments

  1. If a game is done right, the players won’t care if the graphics are terrible (minecraft for example, although I kinda hate it anyway). New games like Crysis 3 and BF4 are based almost entirely on graphics if you ask me, and if they didn’t have awesome graphics I don’t think anyone would play them.

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