Microsoft has gotten itself into a bit of hot water with regards to the Xbox Series X and its upcoming performance capabilities. The problem began, as most problems do, with Twitter:
60fps will be the standard output, but the architecture allows us to support up to 120fps.
— Aaron Greenberg 🙅🏼♂️❎ (@aarongreenberg) May 7, 2020
Used in this context, Greenburg’s tweet implies that 60fps is the “standard” output on Xbox Series X. He does not declare that the Xbox Series X has specified 60fps as some kind of absolute must-meet target, but I can see why people read the tweet to mean that Xbox Series X games would be required to hit 60fps as a minimum performance target.
This caused no small amount of buzz in the Xbox world, but Microsoft has already pushed back against the rumor, reaffirming that no, they won’t be forcing developers to hit minimum frame rate targets this time around, either:
Developers always have flexibility in how they use the power, so a standard or common 60fps is not a mandate.
— Aaron Greenberg 🙅🏼♂️❎ (@aarongreenberg) May 12, 2020
Microsoft is trying to have it both ways when it comes to 60fps. To gamers, the company is emphasizing that 60fps is now a realistic expectation for console games because it wants them to look forward to that kind of play.
Developers, however, are being told that they don’t need to hit a guaranteed 60fps in order to build an Xbox Series X game. Developers want to know that they’ve got the creative control to build the game they want to build, or that they won’t be held up in project approval hell over a technical glitch resulting in a less-than-perfect 60fps frame rate.
For better or worse, console and PC manufacturers have never defined a minimum frame rate as part of any formal standard. A developer might choose to define their game’s minimum hardware specification as being the hardware required to deliver at least a consistent 30fps, or they might just test a grab bag of components and take a good guess.
The 30fps “standard” on consoles is no such thing. DigitalFoundry has catalogued a wide range of instances where average frame rates on the Xbox One or PS4 have fallen into the mid-20s, particularly during difficult game sequences. PC games aren’t exactly perfect at this sort of thing, either — well-maintained frame rates at near-minimum specs tend to get called out precisely because a lot of developers don’t put much thought into their minimum game specs.
Microsoft’s official position is that it is offering gamers and developers a superior solution by allowing them to pick a frame rate and a detail level that they want to target with much more flexibility.
“Ultimately, we view resolution and framerate as a creative decision… in previous generations, sometimes you had to sacrifice framerate for resolution,” Xbox developer Jason Ronald told Eurogamer. “With this next generation, now it’s completely within the developers’ control. And even if you’re building a competitive game, or an esports game, or a twitch fighter or first-person shooter, 60 frames is not the ceiling anymore.”
This kind of flexibility is, dare I say it, rather PC-ish. 60fps has been an idealized target for the industry for a long time, but game frame rates are ultimately more about what balance you want to strike between speed and graphics quality than hitting any specific single number. A perfectly smooth 30fps will probably be a better experience than a wildly varying 60fps average. There are no formal minimum frame rate targets in the PC universe, even if hitting 60 fps in fast gameplay is very much expected.
Microsoft needs to be more careful with its language, because painting 60 fps as a “standard” on the platform is the wrong way to communicate what the company is trying to convey: namely that the Xbox Series X can hit 60fps in normal play if developers choose to target it, but is not required to do so. That puts the platform more-or-less at parity with PCs, which operate under similar general expectations but no absolute requirements.
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