Low System Requirements – An Element Of Success

I have no doubt that part of the success of World of Warcraft was due to it’s modest system requirements. When I first played it 5 years ago, it ran perfectly on my (then) three year old PC and even today, with the requirements increasing every expansion, it still runs smoothly on everything from a toaster upwards. With this in mind, I find it very odd that newer MMORPGs still try to rival the success of WoW yet never try to match it’s low system requirements. Did Funcom ever imagine that Age of Conan would gain million of subscribers when the game had such demanding specifications?

Yes, low system requirements in themselves weren’t the reason for the success of WoW but what they did allow for was a large target audience. For instance, in addition to it’s modest requirements, Warcraft was available for both the PC and Mac immediately from the point of release. All in all, that’s a whole lot more potential gamers than a modern demanding game might have.

For example, the boss of my company used to play WoW (I think he’s stopped now) with his son and I have no doubt that this wouldn’t have been the case had the system requirements been excessively high as his home PCs aren’t full blown gaming rigs. Another work chum of mine also plays WoW on his Mac and his girlfriend on her netbook. Their a perfect example of potential longlife MMORPG fans but are restricted in their hardware. I’m sure if they wanted to play something like Age of Conan – which they may well want to do once they tire of WoW -  they simply wouldn’t be able to.

So, it’s refreshing to see another game taking the same path as Blizzard and releasing itself into the marketplace with low system requirements. Whilst not a MMORPG (yet), Torchlight comes out on Tuesday (27th Oct) and, along with being a game I’ve been looking forward to for a while, has surprisingly very low requirements. Here’s an excerpt from their FAQ:

Q: What are the minimum system requirements?

A: The PC version will require Windows 2000 or later, x86-compatible 800MHz processor, 512MB of RAM, 400MB Hard Drive space, DirectX-compatible 3D graphics with at least 64MB of addressable memory (such as an ATI Radeon 7200, NVIDIA GeForce 2, or Intel GMA 950).

The requirements are so low, we are even able to play Torchlight on the netbooks around the office!

Combine this with a low price tag (£14.95/$20) and a Mac version in the works and you’ve got a game that’s given itself a large target audience. Hopefully this will put Runic in a strong position for the release of the MMORPG version in a few years. Now let’s just hope that Torchlight is actually decent :)

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  1. Ramon says:

    Makes business sense as well. Why limit your audience to us crazy gamers who actually upgrade graphics cards when new games come out, when most of the money is made with people who don’t know what a graphics card is?

  2. Longasc says:

    Yup, they should also remember that we still need money to pay subscription fees and micro-transactions after we bought the game and ugpraded our gaming system. :P

    Besides that, I got tired of upgrading all the time just to play a game, even if I consider myself a gamer. One gets older, and perhaps wiser, too. It is also an art to deliver state of the art graphics AND demanding not too much from the potential customer’s system.

    Aion does that very well, it is not exactly super low-end, but it does not only speak of massive player battles, it also allows average systems to run them at max detail without unplayable lags or crashing the client.
    Guild Wars also does not overtax anyone’s system nowadays, and still looks just awesome.

    Age of Conan is the perfect anti-example. The landscapes are nice to look at, but you can also have that, if not even better, in LOTRO or Aion. At level 40 my Tempest of Set still ran around in fishwife-fashion rags. The art team is quite, but the level of detail took quite a nose dive after Tortage and if you are not close enough to the char to see all the details – from range it is all brownish rags. Now compare that to WoW’s low res comic style, but there is effort and art direction behind it. Funcom needs high-res and the latest 3d technology for its engine and still cannot achieve what others do with a much lower expenditure.

    And besides all that… a good game is and should be first and foremost a good game, and not a technology demo or benchmark.

    • Gordon says:

      I bought a new PC pretty much just to play AoC – well, I did need a new one but that was the thing that pushed me over the edge – and I remember being wowed by the graphics for the first few days. Of course then it wears off and you’re left with the game and it’s gameplay. If that’s no good, nothing else matters. I’m sure AoC would’ve done better had it’s requirements been a lot lower.

  3. Stabs says:

    What games companies often miss is the social dynamics. When WoW and EQ2 launched in the same month in US I like most Europeans played EQ2 because they launched over here and WoW didn’t.

    However a lot of people here couldn’t play EQ2 because it was too high so they all begged us to come over when WoW eventually launched in Feb 2005.

    5 Friends, 4 of whom can run your game, does not mean you reach 80% of the market. It means the one who can’t play your game takes your customers to your rival.

    This situation is even more likely to be duplicated in families where some family members may be playing on hand-me-down machines.

  4. Andrew says:

    I think it’s not only the low system requirements that are important, but also the ability to look nice while running on that modest hardware. Before upgrading my PC I could play both WoW and WAR just fine…. but WoW looked amazing while WAR looked like hell.

  5. Ramon says:

    Most of the F2P’s seem to be doing quite good job with their system requirements as well, except for perhaps DDO. I guess it’s because they’re usually played in Korean PC bangs, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if PC bang owners tried to milk old hardware for everything it’s worth ;)

    Some US F2P’s don’t fare so well. Earth Eternal doesn’t like any ATI graphics card that’s older than about 4 years, for example. Even Guild Wars and Runes of Magic run fine on those. And DDO might run, but will look horrible.

    But anyway. I think system requirements (outside the MMO genre) will be largely driven by console games. Batman: Arkham Asylum is more or less an Xbox 360 port and looks fantastic on my PC. It looks nearly the same as on X360, but in higher resolution. So engines that run well on X360 can be ported easily to PC and then made to run in higher resolution or with more effects.

    Of course Arkham Asylum’s engine isn’t suitable for MMOs, but I still think it makes a good example. Same goes for a lot of cross-platform racing games: IF they get a good console port, it usually looks fantastic on any gaming PC with a graphics card from the days when the Xbox 360 just came out.

    Are we going to switch to 5 year upgrade cycles with PC gaming hardware, to be in sync with the console generations? Microsoft broke the five year rule when they released the 360 only four years after the Xbox, but the other manufacturers still seem to be holding on to it.

  6. nugget says:

    I’ve been playing a localised-to-English-from-Mandarin game lately, called Jade Dynasty, by Perfect World Entertainment. (About 2.5 weeks now.)

    Now, I’m running it on a 5-6 year old Acer lappy, so obviously, Mr. Lappy isn’t the buffest of laptops. Nonetheless, I was quite impressed. ‘This game is rather pretty!’ thinks the nugget. *Trundles along happily*

    Now yesterday, for a particular quest where I had to find a tiiiiny fish in a waterfall + pond, I decided to max the graphics settings, which when set on default, are the absolute lowest (I hadn’t changed them yet).

    I turned up the graphics and my jaw dropped. O.o JD is freaking GORGEOUS. It was a Revelation *drums*! XD

    …and it doesn’t lag at all except in the Trading Realm (think of it as an entire server shard that is a huge player-run shopping mall).

    Needless to say, I was very impressed.

    Though their documentation could be better. XD If I hadn’t needed to find that fishie I would never have turned up the graphics and realised that what I thought was a mildly pretty game was actually really beautiful.

  7. Rhii says:

    I thought the same thing a year or two ago when Crytek was complaining that piracy ruined sales of Crysis. System Requirements ruined sales of Crysis, you knuckleheads…

    Anyway, the high bar to entry isn’t exclusive to the MMO scene.

  8. Kyff says:

    There was a change in the customer behaviour between 1999 and 2007 as Mr. McQuaid explained in is exculpation blog.

    If the customers in 1999 wanted to play a 3D online roleplaying game, they simply had no choice but to upgrade to be able to run EQ properly. In 2007 customers with older rigs did not see the same benefit in upgrading for Vanguard as they could play other games on their current computers. And we know which game released between these dates was their first choice.

    (Personally i didn’t have any problems running VG on my then 2-year old rig. But that’s apparantly an exception.)

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, Brad had a very good point. EQ was right when the 3D trend was hitting it’s peak and everyone was upgrading. Now it’s a totally different story and people aren’t going to upgrade just to play a game.

  9. Jeremy S. says:

    I this Runes of Magic has good code.

    It runs at various “speeds” while maintaining it’s core look. It doesn’t just remove “good looking parts” so it will run on low end machines. Which just ends up looking like a pixelated mess. I didn’t like that about 2Moons.

  10. luvy duvy says:

    the thing is about a game you dont need to have exciting graphics for it to entertain you its just a bonus i hope wow stays were it is as low system requirements cause lots of people are not going to buy or even to be able to afford a system with high requirements.

  11. Yes, you can play WoW with low settings and it’s still fun… BUT… if you want to seriously raid with your guild there are some problems:

    You have probably reduces the visible magical spell effects to get some extra fps. But to kill some bosses it’s most crucial to be totally away of each sell effect and WHERE it happens or you’re dead meat.

  12. Flexus says:

    The game is no longer what it use to be in the system requirments , now its way more heavy , yes pc poewr grow , but they are going way higher and higher , and its no longer one of the lightest mmos , i think because they loose their serious pvp and pve population , now they are trying to keep and get more ppl for event , pets collecting and pet battles and mostly trying to get the rest with greater graphics witch result in pc compactability .

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