60 frames per second (FPS) is something that every console gamer have been asking for since the release of the PS3 and Xbox 360, and very few games have delivered. Many gamers have made up excuses as to why we still haven’t made 60 FPS the standard, the most common one being that current generation hardware simply isn’t capable of a solid 60 FPS. This is far from the truth. Making 60 FPS a standard isn’t a hardware limitation; rather it’s a developer limitation.
Before we try to understand why 60 FPS isn’t the standard, we must first understand why it is such a wanted feature. The main benefit is the pure smoothness and responsiveness of a game that runs at 60 FPS. Many cite 60 FPS as being a “smoother, more fluid experience.” Beyond simple responsiveness, making 60 FPS the standard would solve many performance issues within the game. For example, 30 FPS is currently said to be the minimum for smoothness to a game (the “smoothness threshold”). While many games run at 30 FPS, some games struggle to maintain a locked frame rate and in extreme cases can dip down to 20-25. Killzone 2 comes in mind, with many graphic heavy parts of the campaign dropping the system frame rate to a noticeable 20. However, if every game was running at 60 FPS, even with some minor fluctuations in frame rate, games should never drop below the smoothness threshold.
It’s clear that there are a few advantages to having higher frame rate, mostly coming down too the all-around smoothness of the game. So then why is 60 FPS such a bad idea if it offers some great benefits? It’s not a hardware limitation, rather it’s a limitation put onto the developers by gamers who have high standards for the visual fidelity and scope of the game. Simply put, when a developer doubles the frame rate, they also double the required resources and power. This essentially cuts the amount of visual fidelity and the scale of the game in half. If someone releases their game at 60 FPS, they are essentially using twice the amount of resources for the sake of a slightly smoother experience. While some developers are willing to work around this constraint, many won’t, and that’s the largest problem.
The real issue with using more resources to double the frame rate is not every developer will do it. If developer X releases game Y at 30 FPS, then gamers are going to expect developer A’s game to have similar visual fidelity as developer X’s game, meaning that developer A also needs to release their game at 30 FPS or risk releasing a game that is visually not up to gamers standards. One great example of this is the Call of Duty games, which have always received a lot of flak over their lackluster visuals, despite the game trying to run at a buttery smoother frame rate. Many gamers don’t realize it’s unfair to compare games running at different frame rates and we shouldn’t expect a game running at a higher frame rate to look as good as others running at a lower frame rate. (Gran Turismo being the only exception to this rule).
So in reality, the only way for 60 FPS to become the standard is if the console manufacture makes it a requirement for all games. Unfortunately, if a console makes the higher frame rate a requirement, they risk limiting developers and hurting their games much more than the potential benefits. In an extreme case, if Microsoft were to release their next Xbox with similar specs to the Playstation 4, but decided to make 60 FPS a requirement, they risk having their games being smaller in scope and graphically inferior to the PS4. The only way for this system to work is if every game publisher and manufacture made this the standard, and that is unlikely to happen.
That’s not to say that we won’t see 60 FPS become more common. The PS4 is shown to be an extremely power piece of hardware with plenty of system memory and graphical headroom for developers to work with. This will make achieving a higher frame rate much easier. Developers have it pretty lucky this generation, getting the ability to work with fairly easy hardware, which should lead to smoother games. Unfortunately, gamer’s high standards will still hold some developers back. I expect that going into this generation we will see less than half the games released at 60 FPS with a majority still favoring the30 FPS frame rate.