Lack of Definition, HD that is

13 Comments

Gamasutra just published a nice round-up of answers from three industry experts on two burning questions: “Are Microsoft and Sony emphasizing HDTV too much, not enough, or just enough? Has Nintendo made a mistake by not providing HDTV resolution for the Wii?” Both the Xbox 360 and Sony’s upcoming PS3 boast high definition as a major feature, and the emphasis has become so pronounced, HD-centric games like Dead Rising and Peter Jackson’s King Kong took criticism for looking lousy on standard television monitors. This despite the dearth of HDTV owners, with just 15 million worldwide who own a high-resolution set, versus some hundred million who own a non-HDTV game console. (With PS2 at 106 million, Xbox at 24 million, Gamecube at 21 million.)

Amazingly, all three analysts are bullish on HDTV, particularly Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan Securities (“I think HD resolution is the essential difference between this cycle and the last”) and Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies. (“I do not think the gaming industry is jumping in prematurely at all”) In my read, only Mike Wolf of ABI Research couches his bullishness with caution, saying “HDTV is a critical feature of the new generation of consoles, particularly down the road 2-3 years.” [Emp. mine]

Their opinions bring up a personal peeve of mine: on the whole, most folks on the business side of the game industry don’t seem to be gamers themselves, and what’s more, are fairly disconnected from the nuts and bolts of game development.

Would you pay $2000 so you could see this screenshot in high definition?

I’m guessing at least Pachter and Bajarin fall in that category, because neither of them mention that most crucial of factors, when gamers buy a console: game play. Leaving it to Mike Wolf to do so, acknowledging that while graphics are selling point, “Equally important is inventive game play, which is the main focus of Nintendo with the Wii.”

A gamer could tell you that, just by glancing at the console bestseller list: for the Playstation 2, the top sellers are the Grand Turisimo and Grand Theft Auto games, and while both have great graphics, they’re popular because of their realistic physics and simulation qualities, for the former, and open-ended “sandbox gameplay” for the latter. Same goes for Halo and Halo 2, top sellers of the Xbox: gorgeous-looking games, yes, but popular for their supremely well-designed multiplayer combat and physics. Realistic graphics per se do not sell games, let alone sell consoles– let alone incent a gamer to plunk down a few thousand dollars to buy a plasma HDTV.

From a developer’s point of view, this industry fixation on high definition is all the more worrisome, and that’s due to what Raph Koster called “Moore’s Wall“, which is, as summarized by designer Greg Costikyan, this: “As processing power increases, machines become capable of producing higher quality media, and in a competitive market, it becomes mandatory to create higher quality media if you are competing in the most popular genres (because otherwise your real time strategy game won’t look as good as a competitor’s.) This means that budgets spiral ever upward, and as they do, the unit sales required for financial success spiral ever upward.”

This phenomenon is bad enough now, on console games designed for standard television, imagine how worse it’ll be, when developers are expected to create graphics for the HDTV. Meaning a corporate bloodbath, as publishers spend hundreds of millions in an unwinnable arms race of pretty pictures.

Gamasutra’s Analyze This: Are Gamers Really Saying “I Want My HDTV!”?

13 Comments

Jordan M

I have an HDTV, and I love playing HD games on my xbox 360.. As one other person also mentioned, the xbox 360 pushed me to buy an HDTV whereas i hadnt considered the option before.

However i will also be buying a wii. i appreciate the fact that they dont support HD gaming, because it means lower development costs(for them) and lower retail costs(for us). more developers will be jumping on the wii wagon for this reason. which also means more games, coming out faster than on other systems. nintendos strategy is just to undercut the market, theyve set themselves up to be everybodies 2nd console. (most gamers will probably choose between 360 or ps3 as a primary since they cost so much and can basically do the same things, with the wii as their secondary)

i believe nintendo has made a wonderful choice and for this reason has the potential to win in sales. you want hd gaming get a ps3 or 360, and when you want a new way to play your games, or simply a different selection of games(since of course youre already broke from buying your primary console) then you get a wii. also… 99% parents dont buy even spoiled children HDTV’s or $600 game consoles(factor in cost of games and accessories while youre at it) and it makes sense to see the Wii flying off shelves this christmas when kids want a new system and parents are at target looking at the cost of each of the 3.

Richard Lawler

I’ve been an HDTV user for about 10 years now. I’m a bit indifferent about broadcast and cable/sat HD. Sure I’d love to see Battlestar Galactica in HD, but even with thousands or dollars of equipment I can’t get it. More often than not it’s just not worth the effort to catch something in HD. Even with two HDTVs in my home I don’t see it as worth my time getting an HD TiVo.

I agree with the poster above who said flat TVs are driving HD. I’d say there are variety of other things that are driving HD too. DVD viewing is a big one. And I think high def games will be another. I’m not so sure HD discs will be another, but they might be. (I’m not so sure people care if “RV” and “Talledega Nights” are in HD or SD.) As someone else noted above, I’ve noticed the younger folks are being trained to become increasingly discriminating about graphics quality.

My guess is that there are ways to develop good looking HD games without bankrupting game development. A properly presented DVD at SD resolution can look superb on an HDTV even without HD resolution. The key is proplerly presented. I suspect good looking graphics rendered at mid-range or SD resolution with careful filtering and processing are good enough for most gaming. But then you want to leverage the higher resolution for control, HUD infomation, and text. Not every title needs to be handled like Gran Turismo HD.

I suspect the Wii won’t fail because it lacks HD gaming (at least not near term), but it might falter because its on-line console experience is only in SD. I can’t imagine browsing the web in SD will be very compelling. (Try it out. Set your computer monitor to 640×480. Wii will be like that or worse because it will be interlaced.)

Nerd Lifestyle

There is compelling evidence that the 360 actually pushed a lot of people to HD. That was certainly the case for me, where I had not seriously considered an HDTV until I bought my 360.

Oliver

As pointed out above, these consoles have a life-cycle of several years, and more and more people are getting HDTV sets. HD is the future and it is just a matter of time before it is wildly popular.

Peter

One area HD has made a big difference in my gaming group (made up of 25-40yr old guys) is playing together: Halo 2 split in to 4 tiny squares on an SD projector is much harder to play than at HD resolution.

I find it’s hard to go back to SD only games, too. I had planned on a Wii, largely for the nostalgia gaming backlog of games; I don’t expect them to be HD, but I’m disappointed the Wii won’t have any HD support.

Patrick Fitzgerald

For the time being I can take or leave the HDTV support – more important to me is a robust on-line service with more two-player cooperative games. Xbox360 seems to have nailed the online service, it remains to see if PS3 and Wii can successfully copy them. If upcoming games such as “Gears of War” can successfully implement online cooperative play, I’ll be buying and twisting arms for my friends to buy as well.

siva

$2000. What year are you living in? I got my 30″ HDTV for $545 last year. The same TV is about $470 earlier this year. These are Sanyo CRT HDTV by the way. LCD prices are coming down so much that you can get a 32″ HDTV LCD for $699.

For $2000 you can get a 56″ Samsung 1080P DLP HDTV with built-in tuner (from amazon).

Justin Bailey

HD is impressive but it is not at all neccessary to enjoy video games. Sure having the latest 32″ flat screen HDMI equipped television will impress friends on game day, but if you just want to enjoy a game with some friends there’s no real need for that sort of thing. Sony and Microsoft might learn a valuable lesson from Nintendo in the next few years. That is, Sony might learn from the past in regards to the PSP vs DS.

Erik Schwartz

The development cycles are so long on these consoles that they really HAVE to be looking several years down the road.

They’re building a platform now that they’re stuck with for the next 5 years.

Robert Scoble

I agree. Once you have HDTV you’ll never go back. Oh, and my son is 12 and he’s a hard-core gamer. He sure enjoys HDTV games.

Would I get a Nintendo? After I have an Xbox 360? Why? I can’t even play all the games I have for the Xbox and there’s new ones coming out every day.

Ted

What is driving HD is thin televisions. HD piggybacks on form factor, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important once it gets there. Once you go HD, you don’t go back and betting against technology like that has never been a winning bargain.

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