I’m noticing a recent trend, and I’m none too happy about it – games being capped at 30fps. Is this even a “recent” trend?
I’m not sure. Maybe it’s been quietly sneaking up on me this whole time and I just haven’t noticed.
Regardless, I’m suitably worked up about it to write a column about how dumb this is, and I’ll even provide proof and stuff.
First Off, Let’s Not Pretend This Is A Choice
Right, I just want to get this out of the way right now.
30fps in a game is not a choice, it’s a compromise. Developers want beautiful graphics, but they can’t quite squeeze out the performance they want from the hardware available, so they settle for a cap of 30fps. As I’m sure you know, capping at something like 45fps isn’t an option, as it doesn’t play nicely with refresh rates.
I’m looking mostly at you, Ubisoft. Recently the publisher said that 30fps was “a target”, that it felt more “cinematic” and that they preferred it to 60fps.
Utter bollocks. If the coding fairy could wave a magic wand and have that game run at 60, they’d take it in a heartbeat. Smoother, better looking gameplay is always better, and that’s not something that’s up for debate.
Now We’ve Established It’s A Compromise, Is It A Good One?
This is the really interesting point of discussion for me. We know that games like Assassin’s Creed Unity and The Evil Within are capped at 30fps.
Whether or not that’s due to poor coding (on the console versions, anyway), I can’t really say. What I can say, however, is that a decision was made to intensify the graphical detail while lowering the fps. If these developers wanted to cap the game at 60fps, they could’ve. It would just mean turning down some of the graphical effects.
So the question here is, which is better? This is where I stand firm on framerate – for me, 30 is unacceptable. I’m a PC gamer, but I’ve never, ever played a game at less than 60fps. If that means cranking every setting to the lowest option, then so be it.
Smooth gameplay cannot be compromised on. 30fps, to me, feels like I’m walking through sludge. I hate the stuttery way the screen moves when I look around too sharply, I hate that less responsive, laggy feel.
And here’s the kicker – it looks a fair bit worse. This isn’t merely an issue of smooth gameplay, 60fps actually looks quite a lot better. Which makes the tradeoff between graphical fidelity and fps even more questionable.
Here’s a video comparing the two (60 on the left, 30 on the right):
But here’s the caveat: these videos are both displayed in 30fps, thanks to a YouTube limitation. The difference is less noticeable until you slow it down. However, I implore you to visit 30vs60.com, which shows side by side comparison clips of various different games, displayed in 60fps.
Go to that site, let the videos load, hit F5 so they’re in sync and then do this: watch the one on the left (30fps) for a few loops, then switch your focus to the video on the right (60fps). The difference is honestly, pretty shocking.
I found myself looking at the 30fps clip thinking, “Well, this isn’t so bad”, until I looked over at the 60fps clip and realized I could never have it any other way. It just looks infinitely better. Keep in mind the difference is even more noticeable when you’re actually playing the game, than just watching the clips.
30FPS On A PC Game Screams Bad Coding
First off, any kind of FPS cap on a PC game is pretty bizarre. But capping at 30fps? Please.
The only logical explanation for such a low FPS cap on a PC game is just really, really shitty coding. A poorly optimized console port that you slapped together for some easy sales, without putting much in the way of effort into it.
This was pretty clearly shown with The Evil Within when, once the cap had been removed, the game wasn’t able to reach 60fps even with a monster rig. It’s not even that good looking of a game either.
I bet if Ubisoft could go back in time, they would have capped Watch Dogs at 30fps on the PC as well, save themselves a little embarrassment.
I’m not even going to get into the laughable minimum requirements imposed on AC Unity, despite having a 30fps cap – that’s a rant for another day. What it does show, however, is that this is really an issue of coding more than anything else.
I hope that my fellow PC brethren don’t support games with ridiculously low frame caps; a 30fps limit on a PC game is just not something any of us should ever be comfortable with. It’s lazy, it looks like ass and it’s honestly disrespectful to consumers.
Alright, I’m Almost Done
This is the point I’m trying to hammer home here – 30fps does not look good. It’s acceptable, it’s playable, but it should not, in any way, be the gold standard.
If we allow games to limit themselves to 30fps, that’s all we’re going to get, all the time. Once we normalize it, once we make it okay, it opens the door for every other developer to do the same thing.
Because the truth is, it’s easier. Finding a balance between graphics and smooth gameplay is hard, limiting a game to 30fps makes everything a helluva lot easier.
Let’s not settle for mediocrity. We want our games running and looking the best they can, and that means running at 60fps.
Accept no other.