PC gaming is getting bigger everyday. Steam has, at peak times, nearly 6 million people simultaneously online. According to the Steam Hardware Statistics, the most common graphics ‘card’ at the time of writing is an Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics chip – a pretty low end chip at that.
Additionally, the majority – although not by all that much – are still using dual core processors. There’s even a small group of people still using single core processors. This wide range of hardware makes it imperative that minimum requirements are actually correct.
Take Interceptor Entertainment‘s recent Rise of the Triad. It specified the minimum requirements for the game to include a 2.4GHz Dual Core Processor (so descriptive), 2GB RAM and an AMD HD Radeon 3870 or an Nvidia 8800GT. Now, I don’t have anything against either the developer or the game. In fact, I love that an indie company has (rather well) recreated one of my favourite shooters. However, these requirements are far from true. I highly doubt that these specifications would produce an experience even close to playable with the lowest possible resolution and quality the game has to offer. I mean, the developers are still working to improve and optimise the game – and they are a small studio, but what possibly possessed them to suggest that the game was remotely playable on those specs when the game released and even those with top of the range hardware struggled to get a decent framerate.
This brings up another query, what does ‘minimum requirement’ actually insinuate. Does it refer to the game actually booting up, showing you the menu screen and rendering graphics. Does it mean that your PC will render a frame in less time than it will take for the next ice age to roll around or does it mean you can play on low settings at a respectable resolution like 1280×720?
Then what of ‘recommended requirements’. Does that mean that if you have this particular hardware, it should theoretically tank through all the games best settings – providing a resolution of… uh, wait. High-end rigs can have display resolutions of 4k, sometimes higher using multi-monitor setups – how do we know what they’re referring to?
Crysis 3 puts it’s recommended requirements at a ‘quad core CPU’, 4GB RAM and a ‘DirectX 11 capable graphics card with 1GB memory’. That doesn’t mean shit! That could potentially mean ‘AMD Athlon X4′, 4GB RAM and an ‘AMD HD Radeon 5450′ for as much as a non-hardware savvy person would be concerned.
Then there’s Metro: Last Light, which has ‘Minimum’, ‘Recommended’ and ‘Optimum’ requirements. You don’t get very much vaguer than that – but it doesn’t help that the differences are stark. The former indicates that the game will run on a 2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM and an ‘AMD 4000 series’ graphics card. Good to know my HD Radeon 4200 is up to scratch. Then it recommends a quad core i5, 4GB RAM an a 7870/GTX 660Ti – questionable. Then it suggests for the latter that you have an i7, 8GB RAM and a GTX 690/Titan – that’s just blowing it entirely out of proportion.
Furthermore, those who blindly trust (often unintentionally misleading) sites like CanIRunIt, which simply compare your hardware against the minimum and recommended specifications of a game could, and often do end up buying games that they don’t even have a smidgen of hope of actually running properly (ie. rendering more than a frame before the polar ice caps are done with their watery transition).
So what if you did buy your game based on CanIRunIt’s prediction, and you double click the shortcut of your desktop, your eyes glimmering with a mix of wonder and anticipation only to find that you can count the framerate on one hand unless you play at 320×240. Well tough shit, good luck trying to get a refund from your digital distributor. Nothing against Steam, in fact I think it’s a fantastic service, but if you manage to get a refund due to the requirements being wrong (in a case that is not caught by the media like From Dust), then you might as well enter your regional lottery. Take your luck and run with it.
What is there we could do though, could we regulate the requirements. Give specific criteria that have to be met for a set of specifications to constitute a ‘minimum’, say “This hardware will run this game at 1280×720 and low settings, with the framerate being above 30fps for at least the majority of the game” would actually lead to the PC gaming market being more accessible, more understandable for players with lower-end systems?
Could we say that ‘recommended’ would take the ‘average’ gamers resolution (again, according to the Steam Hardware Survey) of 1920×1080, have the game run at a ‘High’ preset and have it run at 60fps throughout?
Of course, there would be the challenge of actually enforcing these requirements criteria, but surely it’d be better than the developer deciding what will provide a subjectively workable experience, and maybe even force them to actually playtest the game on that hardware.
Who knows, but gamers shouldn’t find themselves being screwed as often as they do, despite even topping the recommended requirements on occasion. Just my two pence.