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What do gamers prefer, graphics or gameplay

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Hello,

 

I am wondering if there are any statistics or papers refferring to what do gamers prefer, graphics over gameplay, or gameplay over graphics?

It's good for any game designer to know this, so that will allocate his time and resources in a proper way.

 

Personally, i believe that more gamers prefer gameplay but this is changing over the years because of the increased potential of graphics.

 

Thank you.

 

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It depends massively on your target audience. "Gamers" is far too broad. Even if you just narrowed it down to serious vs casual gamers, that would help. It depends on genre too -- graphics are considered more important (generally) in an FPS than they are in a turn-based strategy.

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A game with poor graphics but great gameplay can still be played decades later. There are plenty of examples - consider Thief: The Dark Project, Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Street Fighter 2, etc.. A game with great graphics but poor gameplay is quickly forgotten (or occasionally, lives on in infamy).

 

That's not to say that graphics don't matter. Games that aim to evoke empathy/emotional responses are often aided in this endeavour by quality graphics. Though, graphics aren't always needed for that, either, as games like To The Moon or a lot of early JRPGs show us. 

 

Those all had excellent graphics for their time. I bet if you released them today, nobody would take notice.

 

Also, I wouldn't say any of those have poor graphics, they're reasonably well done for 2d or low poly 3d.

 

Dwarf Fortress suggests you can get by with terrible graphics and UI, but it's a lot easier if you can make something pretty.

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Those all had excellent graphics for their time. I bet if you released them today, nobody would take notice.

 

Consider Square Enix's Thief reboot from last year - it was pretty much universally disliked, and that game looks fine as far as today's graphics go. Rather, players took issue with the uninspired gameplay. The recent successes of the 3DS remakes of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask further contradict your point.

 

Lastly, consider games like Super Meat Boy, Shovel Knight, VVVVV, Luftrausers, Nidhogg, Grow Home, (...). These games do not have great graphics by the current standards (rather, they have style),  though they have all enjoyed varying degrees of critical and commercial success.

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These games do not have great graphics by the current standards (rather, they have style)

This is a false equivalence. Great graphics doesn't mean Triple-A photorealism.

 

It can mean that (for example, Destiny has great graphics, as does Crysis, regardless of their other failings). But it can also mean anything that fulfil's its chosen style, even if that style is intentionally retro or 'low-fi'.

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I think this is a false dichotomy, because the two are tied together. Ultimately, you're creating an experience and this experience depends on both the graphics and the gameplay. The graphics communicate information and mood while the gameplay determines what's taking place. A survival-horror game with 8 bit graphics probably wouldn't be very scary, for example, because the experience wouldn't be very immersive, while a text adventure game can work if it's written well enough (but it feels and plays very differently than a 3D adventure game).

 

Beyond the experience you're creating, you may want to consider the business and marketing aspects of this. It's important for a game to be attractive, so players will try it. If your game is super fun but nobody buys or tries it because it looks like crap in screenshots, then you will have a hard time finding success. Attractive doesn't have to mean photorealistic graphics -- in fact stylized and memorable graphics are much better than bland and generic visuals -- but it does mean that players should want to play the game when they see it.

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I honestly don't think you're going to approach, much less reach, a resolution on this question. Not in a science-supported kind of way.

 

If you had to make a pure choice between the two, and completely eschew the other, clearly Gameplay is the way to go. Gameplay at least has the potential to stand on its own as a game (seems obvious), but graphics can't. Graphics support gameplay, not the other way around.

 

But that's not a realistic scenario. You'll spend time and energy developing both gameplay and graphics, and in the end you'll still probably fall short of everything you wanted to deliver. Many of your customers' or potential customers' first impression of your game will be made on aesthetics -- the style and quality of the artwork. If that draws them in, they'll seek to learn more about your game. First impressions are important, but they're not sustaining -- in some sense, the statement "I came for the graphics, but stayed for the game-play." captures that. Still, that's not everyone either -- I can't imagine many folks are impressed with screenshots of Dwarf Fortress, yet its got a good cache of hard-core followers. People simply have different and complex preferences, there's no single voice.

 

For me, I'm perfectly happy to enjoy simple graphics -- I prefer for them to be 'clean' and well-polished for what they are, but I'm willing to overlook imperfection as long as they are not aggressively bad. And, for me, no amount of stellar graphics will make me want to play a game that I don't find any fun. I bought Gears of War day one, easily one of the best looking games of its day, but I didn't like how it played. I've still got it, its been years, and I literally haven't touched it since -- and lots of people loved that game, but I didn't. On the flip side, I still play (and buy) games for all my classic systems -- and its not pure nostalgia because many of the things I buy are things I never played in their time. Likewise, I'm perfectly happy to pay new game prices for retro-looking games (Why not, I pay collectors' prices for most of the vintage stuff).

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Those all had excellent graphics for their time. I bet if you released them today, nobody would take notice.

 

Consider Square Enix's Thief reboot from last year - it was pretty much universally disliked, and that game looks fine as far as today's graphics go. Rather, players took issue with the uninspired gameplay. The recent successes of the 3DS remakes of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask further contradict your point.

 

Lastly, consider games like Super Meat Boy, Shovel Knight, VVVVV, Luftrausers, Nidhogg, Grow Home, (...). These games do not have great graphics by the current standards (rather, they have style),  though they have all enjoyed varying degrees of critical and commercial success.

 

 

Shovel Knight has been widely acclaimed for it's beautiful visuals.

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You need both in some form.

 

To sell the game and get it into the gamers hands you need good visuals in screenshots and Videos.

 

Once they have it you need good gameplay, and at least a few hours of it, to prevent them refunding it...

 

You also need marketing, otherwise no amount of gameplay or graphics means squat if nobody knows it exists...

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what do gamers prefer, graphics over gameplay, or gameplay over graphics?


What do drivers prefer in a windshield, visibility over wind protection, or wind protection over visibility?
If you mind rain and bugs in your teeth, and if you want to see where you're going, both would be the way to go.

Text adventure games were fun. Just sayin'.

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What do film goers prefer, audio or video?

Yeah, I know they want both but which one is more important?

Can I just focus on the audio amd still have a good film?

</Farce>

It's a false dichotomy. Both aspects should enable amd enhance each other to make the whole greater than the sum of it's parts.

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But what if I prefer silent films? =)  Or I guess there is a thriving bastion of Text Adventure games out there.  But then is it the writing (subbed in for graphics) or the clever puzzles?

 

(But I agree, totally pointless exercise)

Edited by ferrous

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I think we have seen a lot of games pushing for better graphics as their focus (this was always true even with early games) and the rise of interactive stories reinforces this.

I think the real question you should be asking yourself though is specific to your target platform and target audience.
Web games, for example, tend to deal with smaller budgets and players appear to be more forgiving to poor gfx there if the gameplay is sound (see stuff on kongregate for example).

AAAs get a lot more backlash from cutting back on gfx even when gameplay might be stellar.

Hope this helps!

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Definitely both. 

Dwarf Fortress is an exception, it has success despite terrible graphics and ui. There are always outliers, but you shouldn't be fooled to think either doesn't matter because of them.

I'm sure it would have even more success if they at least fixed the usability of it. I for one would play it, but now I just can't bother.

 

Similarly, there are games that got success mostly on their excellent graphics, but would have had even more if the gameplay was deeper too.

Edited by Olof Hedman

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To be honest a lot of good games would still be good with bad graphics.

 

The main reason AAA games have good graphics is because it's become accepted and expected. People dont go out and drop £400 on a next gen console and expect pac man, they expect destiny etc. If one game has amazing graphics they all feel they need to match it or be ignored as "not as impressive" as their competitors. Advancing technology drives better graphics and therefore higher and higher art budgets and higher games pricing. It does not promote better gameplay in fact in my opinion quite the opposite, money is taken from the games budget and funneled into art development at the expense of other areas because graphics gives the first impression of the game on adverts, billboards, on the side of buses, and directly sells the game...

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it seems that players look for a particular type of gameplay experience first, and then from titles with that gameplay, tend to choose the one with the best graphics, all other things being roughly equal.  this means a game like dwarf fortress with better graphics ought to sell ok - once you account for the niche appeal of the game type, and the huge head start the original text mode version has against any newcomers. it also means that games like minecraft don't have to compete with call of duty graphics, because call of duty doesn't have minecraft gameplay. "best in class" seems to be where one wants to be with graphics - IE for games of a similar type, you want to be the title with the best graphics.  I personally tend to use this to my advantage.  i usually produce unique games with no direct competition, so whatever level of graphics i have is automatically "best in class", because its "the only one in the class". SIMTrek enjoyed this position for a number of years until Gene Roddenberry died, and Paramount entered the starship flight sim market. Caveman also enjoys this "only one in the class" advantage. 

Edited by Norman Barrows

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Dwarf Fortress is an exception, it has success despite terrible graphics and ui.

So.... if a game has terrible graphics and stunning gameplay, it's popular because it's an exception.  I suppose if it has stunning graphics and terrible gameplay (nice view from this mountain top, I guess I better go to the cave, battle a couple dozen necromancers, and retrieve that book from some lazy NPC back in town for the zillionth time, then go back and find another identical quest), it's popular because it's a good game.

 

I see what you're doing there.

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I suppose if it has stunning graphics and terrible gameplay (nice view from this mountain top, I guess I better go to the cave, battle a couple dozen necromancers, and retrieve that book from some lazy NPC back in town for the zillionth time, then go back and find another identical quest), it's popular because it's a good game.

 

How did you reach that conclusion?

I also said:

 

 


Similarly, there are games that got success mostly on their excellent graphics, but would have had even more if the gameplay was deeper too.

 

I mean both are "good games" in the sense they both had success.

 

The only extrapolation I intended was that a game with both excellent graphics and excellent gameplay would be even better.
(or at least good/excellent or excellent/good as opposed to one of them being bad)
 
But as always, you of course have to choose where to put your resources, both choices are viable depending on the composition of your team.
Edited by Olof Hedman

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I think the first thing to do is try and understand what type of audience you're trying to appeal to.

The gaming audience as a whole is one of the most broken audiences i can think of.

 

i think for more casual audiences, the game's aesthetic takes priority. The success of a casual game

depends more on its face value (i.e. polished visuals, accessibility, ability to hold the player's attention, etc.) as opposed to the overall quality of the gameplay.

by focusing on graphics, you gain the benefit of attracting a wider group of people, but the longevity and memorability of the game suffers, as graphics become outdated with time.

In other words, when graphics become the priority, you attract a large audience with a short attention span in regards to the actual IP and developer.

 

Which is definitely not a bad thing, just not the route i'd take as a game designer.

 

For the more 'hardcore' audiences (see: not casual), gameplay is very important. the success of the 'hardcore' game depends on the quality of the gameplay (i.e.tight controls, understandable learning curve, depth of mechanics, etc.) as opposed to the overall face-value. by focusing on the gameplay of a game, the longevity of the game skyrockets as the game holds the audiences attention by its quality of design, and because of that, doesn't need to be dragged down by graphics. 

In other words, when gameplay becomes the priority, you may risk excluding some people, but the audience you attract is generally much more loyal to your IPs and team.

 

 

But to answer your question, focus on gameplay, and have the graphics be the icing on the cake.

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Definitely gameplay. I don't remember the exact link but after seeing several surveys it's clear graphics score significantly lower than other aspects (story, etc). I think nowadys, when we reached the potential level of gfx equal to real life (there were some stories of TV showing a footage of a game as a disaster in some country because some journalist was lazy and made a mistake :D) player got tired of it. Since realistic gfx became merely a budget issue most players don't care anymore, it's not a selling point if everyone has it. So, all these Minecraft, Prison Architect and other games with non existing graphics emerged and became great hits.

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there were some stories of TV showing a footage of a game as a disaster in some country because some journalist was lazy and made a mistake

That was an ITV "documentary" on the IRA.

 

I'm not sure it fooled anyone except the editorial staff. The internet and the regulators were all over them in a matter of days.

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