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Do realistic graphics make games more appealing?

One developer believes in-game graphics will be ultrarealistic in 10 to 15 years. But does that mean those titles will be more appealing?

In a recent interview with Gamasutra, Tim Sweeney, the founder of video game development company Epic Games, said ultrarealistic graphics in games aren't so far off.

PlayStation 3
The PlayStation 3's graphical prowess doesn't necessarily make games more appealing. Don Reisinger/CNET

Within 10 to 15 years, Sweeney said, "completely realistic lighting, with real-time radiosity, perfectly anti-aliased graphics, and movie-quality static scenes and motion" will reach the video game industry. The only issue keeping developers from creating visuals that look close to real life, he explained, is computing power.

But will ultrarealistic visuals make video games more appealing? I believe game appeal is determined by more than meets the eye.

Multiple metrics
Most video game reviewers list "graphics" as one key factor in judging a game. If a title for the Xbox 360 looks as if it belongs on the PlayStation 2, chances are that the game won't get high marks.

But there are a number of other metrics. Does the game have solid controls? Is it fun? How's the story line?

Gaming bifurcation
We also can't forget that gamers are generally broken into two basic groups: the hard-core gamers who want epic story lines and realistic visuals; and the casual gamers who want fun, simple titles that aren't so realistic. (Some gamers like both epic and casual games, of course, though they judge them differently.)

Casual gamers are dominating the industry right now. Nintendo's Wii and DS are easily beating their more powerful competitors. And Apple's iPhone is quickly becoming many consumers' go-to device for casual handheld gaming. Meanwhile, the graphical leaders--PCs, Sony's PlayStation 3, and Microsoft's Xbox 360--are trying to catch up. That might tell us that realism in gaming isn't the most coveted feature. It seems that many gamers want casual fun.

And we can't forget that developers might not want ultrarealism either.

Developer costs
One of the biggest issues developers face is the cost of creating games. They're expensive and getting more costly each year. The amount of time, effort, and cash that would be required to create an ultrarealistic title might not be in the budget for many companies. Simply put, developers have a limited amount of time to get a game on store shelves. The more realistic the game's visuals are, the more time it will take to create it. A developer needs to determine how many resources it can afford to put into a game, such that it turns a profit.

Much more goes into a game than the way it looks. The story does matter. The controls are important. And in the end, it needs to be fun.

So as games become more realistic, and we all wait to see what developers will create next, it's difficult to see how realism translates into more appeal. A bad game with beautiful visuals is nothing more than a pig wearing lipstick.

Bring on the beauty. But be sure to bring on compelling stories too. Looks can only go so far.

Check out Don's Digital Home podcast, Twitter stream, and FriendFeed.