Tobold's Blog
Sunday, April 27, 2008
AoC and the $100 graphics card

I got my Age of Conan open beta key, downloaded the 12+ GB client, and then signed an NDA, so I can't talk about the game before that is lifted, except for the publicly available information. Like for example that the open beta starts May 1, or that the client is 12.6 GB big, and that is before unpacking. My complete WoW installation including Burning Crusade and all addons etc. only is 9 GB big. The difference in size is obviously due to the higher quality of the graphics. The system requirements for AoC say that you need at minimum a "NVIDIA GeForce 6600 or better", and recommend a "NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GTX or equivalent". For World of Warcraft, a "NVIDIA GeForce FX 5700 class card or above" is recommended. But of course in all likelyhood you have a different graphics card than any of these mentioned. And if you are like me, you don't really know whether any given card is "equivalent" or "better" than those requirements. Charts on sites like Tom's Hardware help, although a card as low as the FX 5700 isn't even listed any more.

But once you compared various video cards and benchmarks and prices, you'll come out with a result like this: a $100 video card will run World of Warcraft perfectly, even at higher resolution and with lots of graphics details turned on. The same $100 video card will meet the minimum requirements for Age of Conan, but you'll have to tone down the graphics options. And that is with a $100 video card you buy today. If you bought a $100 video card in 2004 when WoW came out, that card will still run WoW at acceptable speed, but it won't run Age of Conan at all. AoC is not only three-and-a-half years younger than WoW, it also was designed with the idea of having stunning graphics. Gamers like me might enjoy it, but my video cards only last 2 years and are more expensive than $100.

It is safe to say that there are considerably less PCs out there that can run Age of Conan smoothly than there are PCs that can run WoW smoothly. Now nobody ever proposed that Age of Conan will reach 10 million subscribers and kill WoW, but nevertheless one has to ask whether relatively high system specifications will hurt the game. Besides the video card the recommended specs for AoC include a "Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz or equivalent" and 2 GB of RAM. I still know a lot of people without a dual core CPU and 1 GB of RAM or less. (btw, if you have less than 2 GB of RAM, upgrading this to 2 GB is probably the cheapest and most effective way to upgrade your PC for all sorts of games). If the selling point of a game is "pretty graphics", but said graphics are either not quite as pretty or stuttering because of the customer's graphics cards, some people will be disappointed.
They're also creating quite a high expectation of their own servers. People don't mind buying top-of-the-line graphic cards and other hardware in order to have games running smoothly. However, if consumers have done that and THEN find out there is server-side lag, they are not going to be very happy.
Yeah the system requirements are going to keep me away from AoC for a bit yet. I'm on an older PC and to meet the minimum requirements for AoC I essentially need to replace everything except the monitor keyboard and mouse :P

Pricing out a good system for sometime this summer though with the overperforming 8800GT card in it. The 8800GT reminds me so much of the old GF4 Ti4200 card. They both just way outperform there price range.
where do you sign the NDA ? i've not had anything requesting me to do that yet...
just downloaded the client after the signup page.

maybe i signed it and missed it ?
where do you sign the NDA ? i've not had anything requesting me to do that yet...
just downloaded the client after the signup page.

Reread the e-mail you got, it explains how to create an account with your key. When doing that, you sign the NDA. Kudos to Funcom for having a "short version" of the NDA up in plain sight where you sign it. You need to be a lawyer to understand the long version, as usual.
I got this 9600gt 512mb RAM card for $110.

It's not that price now, but you can get some pretty good cards cheap(ish) if you keep your ear to the ground (, etc).
Another problem is that many systems are AGP, and AGP video cards are becoming harder to find.

Because of that, upgrading your video card to the newer 8 or 9 series will also require upgrading your CPU/MB and plus new RAM, since older RAM won't fit.

If you're buying all that, you'll probably need a new power supply, as well.

Essentially, AoC (and probably WAR) are going to need complete computer upgrades, and this could definitely impact sales.

How many gamers have abandoned their PC except for WoW, and play everything else on a 360 or PS3.

For them, they might not be too excited over doing a complete upgrade for just one MMORPG that they're not sure they're going to care for anyway.
I do not know anyone with an AGP video card.
"I do not know anyone with an AGP video card."

Then you don't know too many people.
It's the lesson of Crysis. Possibly too late for Funcom since AoC was probably well into development by the time Crysis hit the shelves, but it's something to think about, if Crytek are not the only ones to bet the bank on graphics that require a second mortgage (yes yes, I'm exaggerating).
I'm hoping AoC will kill off the fad started by LOTRO for pretty graphics and unrealistic specs. Now if only the subscription rate would scale down when you scale down the graphic options the developers might get the message.
(I've got an AGP card.)

I know I'm in the minority, but I actually like "cartoony" graphics like WoW better than the "realistic" graphics used in a lot of other games.

There's a pretty long history of people upgrading their videocards to get the latest "must have" game. I remember doing that for Wing Commander way back in the day. I dunno if AoC is going to be one of those "must have" games, however.
I come from the opposite end of the spectrum, and have been "dying" for something that WILL use my hardware wisely. 8800GT, 8400 Wolfdale, X-Fi, 4 gigs...
I thought LOTRO might be the ticket...but, due to it using the old engine still, there are quirks regarding certain setups which makes the game hiccup like crazy.
EQ2 is my current game, and before tweaking, the game is a horrible performer on the newest the engine was built with a certain belief that CPU's would scale up properly, instead of adding extra cores..and actually "lowering" Mhz on the single core..
So, even though WoW, EQ2 and many others run quite well with older hardware...if you upgrade, you see some of the various engine flaws inherent in their builds...

But, I digress... I am purchasing AoC to support one major perk. Innovation...
Yes, it may be Fantasy, but luckily minus the elves and dwarves...and also, the use of the "realtime" combat, discussion tree's like Bioware type games, city building, real mounted combat, mini games of pvp like a Halo based brings some new ideas to the MMO mix..
If anything, support the game to show we are ready for the genre to advance...

I ran the AoC beta PvP weekend on a $110 video card - the NVidia 9600GT 512MB. I had all settings all the way up, and it was smooth as silk in the PvE intro. I occasionally had some slowdown in PvP, but never enough that I felt I needed to decrease settings.

Now, it might be that in siege warfare I'll have to turn things down a bit. But I've got absolutely no complaints at this point.
I don't mind a game that goes for ultra realistic graphics on a high end rig as long as the detail slider can be pulled right back to allow the game to be played on an older system. Sadly very few games manage to get that compromise right and the "lookers" not only have high minimum system requirements but generally struggle to deliver a playable experience even at their own stated minimum specs.
Reread the e-mail you got, it explains how to create an account with your key. When doing that, you sign the NDA. Kudos to Funcom for having a "short version" of the NDA up in plain sight where you sign it. You need to be a lawyer to understand the long version, as usual.

aah, i missed the
bit... kind of a giveaway, what with it being in all capitals and all :P

done and done ! thanks mate. post up your character name here when you get sorted, it'd be good to finally put a "face" to the author of one of my favoured blogs :D
I think between the requirements and the recession hitting it's a bad time to be launching a game with those system specs.

And random poster, the 8800GT is a good card but I prefer the 3870 and 3850 if you are looking in that class. The 3870 benchmarks faster and for a really good price point the 3850 comes close to the 8800. They are quieter and use less energy on top of that.

there have been several studies on graphics in movies and what they've all concluded is that the closer you get to reality the more it bugs people that they aren't perfect. According to psychologists its because when you cross the threshold where your brain thinks it looks fairly realistic you subconciously start looking for all the 1000's of social clues that you don't realize you process. When they aren't right or don't match it just doesn't feel right.

And I have to agree with you. I played EQ2 for a bit and one of my complaints was the world looked so good my toon didn't look like he belonged there. In wow the toon and world match. I think it helps the immersive feel.
Sam, that phenomenon is called the uncanny valley. And yes, it plays a big role in why some people prefer cartoonish graphics. I always likes the look of WoW more than that of lets say EQ2. And I'd really like to see more games with cell shading.
One of the ways WoW did get so big was making the game able to run on a huge variety of systems. WoW can run on integrated graphics. That allowed a lot more people to get into it. Compare it to EQ2 which launched at the same time and still cutting edge systems can have issues playing it at max settings. I have Core 2 Duo E8400 o/c to 3.6GHz and 2 9800GTX's in SLI and I will have frame rate issues in EQ2 with all settings to max.

So will having higher system requirements hurt AoC. To some degree yes. What is keeping me from it is any interesting looking races.
thanks tobold. Great link.

I'd actually seen a documentary on film making and they interviewed a director and he talked about this.
I bought a $900 laptop last Fall to play WoW at 1680x1050. I also sometimes 2-box with both WoW clients running on the same machine in separate 1024x768 windows. 2GB RAM, but the processor is slower than the AoC spec, so it locks me out of trying the game. On a machine that's less than a year old!
I recently got an 8600gt and i'm kicking myself.

the 8800gt is the best graphics card for your money.

Don't buy a pc with a bad video card an expect it to shine in AoC.
Get the GeForce 8800 GT.
If u want upgradeability, get a motherboard that can do SLI, then u can always grab a second geForce 8800gt later if u need to.
@Sam & Tobold

That was an interesting read. Didn't know that there were studies on the effect. Thanks for sharing!
Actually daniel the 3850 benchmarks almost as good as the 8800gt for less money and the 3870 benchmarks better for a bit more.

(unless 8800gt's have dropped in the last few months)

But any of those 3 should be good for most gamers

But I don't think the point was that people thought an 8600 would shine in AOC. I think the point was AOC intentionally made sure most people would never be able to experience their game at an acceptable level
Its always the same with new games, every few years gamers start complaining that their hardware can't run the latest games. Lets face it if you can't run Age of Conan theres not going to be many new releases you can run with decent settings. Im lucky since I have a 3ghz dual core, 4gb RAM and 8800GTX Sli (it cost me an arm and a leg mind you!) and I hopefully won't need to upgrade for another 3 or 4 years. I don't think it will impact sales too much, it will just keep away the casual wow gamers.
snake3yes. Think about your last statment. Now think about a board of directors investing money. Now imagine being the suit trying to explain to them you don't want a big mainstream wow-like success you just want 100k subs.....In the end that will be what every game company out there is fighting.

I noted you mentioning several times how the 3850 and 3870 out benchmark the 8800...yet...I cannot corroborate this finding..

Note here

The conclusion is the 8800GT beat the 3870 across the board in ALL games...
So, could you maybe discuss how the 3850 could possibly be any better? Maybe some links?
Are you discussing crossfire vs? by chance?

Thank you
Thanks for correcting me.

I said the 3850 benchmarked almost as good but was cheaper. I just doublechecked and was wrong on the3870 it is about 10 to 15 percent slower depending on the game.

But still in the same category and the 3850 is about 50 dollars cheaper. 5 months ago it was 100 dollars cheaper. But I guess the 9800's have lowered the 8800gt price point.

I still say making games for the best graphics card out there is a mistake. The games should run optimally on midrange cards. Nothing more annoying than trying to play a pvp game and discovering you'll never be good because 25 fps is the best you can do.

Expecting users to upgrade thier video cards every two years is silly if you also want to sell them a box. Unless a niche game is all you want to be.

I also blame the video card industry for this as well. With current video card technology the x1650pro should be the standard for integrated graphics. Unfortunately integrated graphics today aren't much better than they were 10 years ago, while the high end graphics cards are 10 times better.
I've said from the beginning that AoC's biggest hurdle will be the system requirements, not because they're that high, but because it's an MMO and that audience expects lower specs.

Making a PC game for high specs can actually increase sales, it depends on the game. The theory is that your game stays on the sales charts longer. In the past, it's been bankable success, but that era is fading along with the general downturn in PC gaming.

Someone mentioned Crysis as an example of failure? Huh? Their high specs have definitely helped, they've sold over a million copies on the PC, outdoing Gears of War, UT 3 and a bunch of other games that were expected to do better. It's honestly not that great of a game, it's main claim to fame ~is~ the pretty graphics. Crysis will still need a monster machine for awhile yet, you still can't max settings in DX10 with current hardware.

Oblivion certainly sold well with high specs and it's two years old. It's been compared to AoC in performance often and is similar in many ways (regardless of the official min. requirements, which were understated for Oblivion and overstated for AoC).
The other issue here is the whole $100 videocard thing. There's too much range in quality, you could get a very decent card around that price (9600 GT has been mentioned), or you could get a big fat lump of coal in a PCI-E slot.

The problem is there are no clear standards for consumers to choose their cards. I doubt most buyers even know what a GPU is, let alone be able to follow the benchmarks at AnandTech or Tom's Hardware. You could very easily be looking at older bargraphs and think your card does well. =/

No wonder Microsoft is caught up in that class-action lawsuit for Vista performance. Theoretically they're responsible for determining what hardware is fast enough, but honestly, I'd blame Intel and any other graphics chipset manufacturers that dump poorly performing products on the market that aren't capable for anything but web browsing.

IMHO it's not that AoC has high requirements, not by any sort of big monetary standard, it's that it takes a bit of know-how to build a decent machine when it shouldn't. Most of the standard faire on the shelf at Costco or Best Buy won't cut it.

WoW in comparison, when it was released, had very modest requirements to begin with (compared to say, City of Heroes even). But once again, comparing a 4 year old game to a new one? Funcom has no choice but to bet that people are bored of WoW (I certainly am, heh).
quit whining, go out and get a new graphics card. Why innovate graphics cards if nothing will use them... Don't be stuck in the past. You cant expect the computers you have now to last forever.
ok Anonymous. What about the poor uneducated user that bought an 8600gt from best buy for 170 dollars last year who just found out it's a crap card and won't play the game well?

Your statement indicates a complete lack of understanding the non technical, non system builders who actually game.
Sam... if the poor uneducated fool didn't do research on an item they bought then it's their bad, if they don't even have the sense to even go to a tech savvy friend and ask an opinion theres no point crying about it.

Man is smart, the mob is a mindless beast of burden. Sell to the mob but specialize for the man.
so dev. If you go to a mechanic and he screws you it's your fault you didn't understand the inner workings of your car and trusted him. Or if the government screws you over because you didn't understand the finer points of law, like prior decisions that clarified the law but weren't in the law book when you looked it up.

You sir are a fool.

The reason specialty stores are supposed to exist is to have people to help you. Of course most of the time they dont and add that to the fact that your average marketing person should be boiled alive in oil and a lot of people go out and buy what they are told is the next best thing. Then they find out its not.

The Video card industry and the video game industry really need to standardize thier requirements and make them easy to understand. Then you'll have a lot more people with systems that can play games.

Currently if you aren't a techie you need to go find a specialist to help you pick out your system or you'll end up with a nice expensive system that won't play your game well. And thats because there is no industry standards or inter company cooperation.

/rant off

but if any company wants a wow like success they'll lower the bar not raise it. That simple. Either everyone can play it or its a niche game. Thats the new paradigm.
If you go to a mechanic and he screws you it's your fault you didn't understand the inner workings of your car and trusted him.

The point here was someone doing their homework or not. If, in your scenario, the consumer blindley took their car in without doing some research, then yes, it's their fault.

Now, if they did their research and took their car to what their findings showed to be a good trustworthy mechanic, then you would blame the mechanic for being underneath.

dev's orginal point still stands; if you don't bother doing some simple research and asking around before you buy then, to quote you, "You sir are a fool.
Well, I had to upgrade my system. I expect all the pieces tomorrow. I have been anticipating the game for a year now. Also I knew that I couldn't run the game well on an amd 2200+ with an ATI 2600xt. Thank god for an economic stimulus. =)

I was fearing that the game that I have wanted to play for a while now would be unreachable. got an e8400 and a 8800GToc 4gig 800DDR2. Hopefully I will be able to do something now.

I probably wouldn't have played the game till it came out on xbox if I didn't have this chance to upgrade. I can see how the requirements will limit a "horde" of people from playing. I know that only a couple people that I guilded with now will be able to continue to this game.

But progress is great.
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