Posted by: seanmalstrom | January 18, 2017

Email: Another problem for AAA gaming: diminishing returns on graphics technology

One of the things I’ve noticed this generation is that, despite there being a longer gap between the PS3 and PS4 than there was between the PS2 and PS3, the jump in graphics was not as drastic as the jump from the PS2. In turn, I think the leap from the PS1 to the PS2 was bigger than the leap from the PS2 to the PS3.

Point is, and you may disagree, is that more and more powerful hardware is giving less and less results.

Just to illustrate my point, look at what were cutting edge games in 1997, 2007, and 2016.

First, Quake II (1997)

Then, Crysis (2007)

Finally, Battlefield 1 (2016. There’s not exactly a lot of 2017 games out yet…)

The comparison isn’t perfect (Quake II and Crysis are being played on hardware that wasn’t available when they launched), but I think it demonstrates the point. There’s a 10 year gap from Quake II to Crysis, and a 9 year gap from Crysis to Battlefield 1. And while Battlefield 1 undeniably looks better, it’s not as much of a leap. Crysis still looks like a really sharp game despite it being old enough that EA was willing to release it on GOG, while Quake II was considered ‘dated’ in terms of graphics back in 2007.

I imagine that this trend will get worse in the future. The PS5’s graphics might not be as much of a leap from the PS4 (and maybe Sony knows this, which is why they release a PS4 Pro rather than a PS5).

We are also hitting limits in computing. Bear in mind that my knowledge of processors work is very limited, so some engineer might read what I’m saying here and say everything is wrong, but this is just how I understand things. There are limits to how powerful we can make processors. Clockspeeds plateaued 10 years ago. Adding multiple cores doesn’t do much for gaming, since games tend to not be very multithreaded. You can improve the architecture so that a processor can do more in a single clock cycle, and you can also just increase the size of the memory cache on the processor, but there are limits to that as well. There are real engineering problems when talking about sub-10nm processor production, and we’re already at 14nm. And diminishing returns applies to processors as well. Intel’s biggest competition isn’t AMD, it’s Intel. They struggle to convince people to get their 2017 line of processors when 2015 processors can still handle even the most demanding games just fine.

Why is this a problem?

The AAA industry has convinced the hardcore that there needs to be a constant march towards better and better graphics. But what happens if the AAA industry is itself incapable of continuing the march, due to diminishing returns and technological limits?

There is less and less profit in it. Perhaps this explains all the DLC.

One thing I do like about the Switch line-up games that isn’t being mentioned anywhere is that they all seem COMPLETE. These games are final copies on carts. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is done. Disagea 5 is all DLC and done. I do not mind the price tag for some of these games because I am not paying for DLC and crap. That may change in the future, but as far as the games shown here now, they are done. Puyo Puyo Tetris is done. Super Bomberman R is done.

I wonder if Nintendo hopes to remake the game back into the ‘high value cartridge’ which were like Godiva chocolates back in the 1990s. I prefer it over the expensive disc with DLC everywhere.

But back to your email, I completely agree.

Reggie also said a big conclusion of the post Wii U autopsy was not having compelling hardware. Now that I think about it, the great consoles of the past had compelling hardware value. The Wii was compelling. The DS was compelling. The original Gameboy was very compelling (games on the go!). The NES was compelling.

I remember having a Commodore 64 with hundreds of games. Why would I want the NES? But the NES was compelling hardware. It connected to a TV, you played on carts, and you used these strange new controllers you held with two hands.

The Switch being portable and home console is a very compelling hardware proposition. I am still not convinced about the Joycons and their ‘HD Rumble’. If I want to feel ice in a glass, I’ll go to my refrigerator.

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