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System requirements describe the minimum specifications of the hardware and software required to play a game, in terms of performance and compatibility. Some requirements are clear-cut, like the operating system(s), 32 or 64 bit, minimum RAM and disk space, minimum DirectX versions, but for CPU and GPU performance, it's complicated:

  • The megahertz/gigahertz myth applies, so it's inaccurate to say "1.6GHz or faster"
  • CPU and GPU vary by generation ("Is my Core 2 Duo too old for this?") and segment ("Do I need a high-end rig or a budget rig is enough?"), so "1.2 GHz Pentium" won't cut it
    • Many minimum system requirements mention Athlon, Core 2 Duo, Pentium, ATI and GeForce 8800 GT which sound irrelevant in the age of i3/i5/i7 and A6/A8/A10/FX, AMD-branded (not ATI) GPU and three-digit GeForce GPU numbers (like 760).
  • Benchmark scores like 3DMark are accurate, but not everyone are aware of benchmarks or bother to run them.
  • Screen resolution and graphic settings are variables not mentioned in most system requirements.
  • "Playable frame rate" is subjective: It can be 12, 24, 30, 40, 60

My question is, is there a way to communicate the performance requirements of a game to a buyer that address the issues above. Or, should we ditch performance requirement descriptions and let the buyers do their own research on forums, benchmark sites and review sites? Are there any unusual ways of communicate system performance requirements?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This problem is why demo's are very relevant for PC's. "If you doubt whether your PC is fast enough, just try the first level for free." Do put demanding GFX in that level, both to sell your game and to prevent performance problems later on. \$\endgroup\$
    – MSalters
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 8:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ to bump on this, you might want to publish your own benchmark instead of a demo if your game starts slow and you don't want spoilers. Though a playable demo may be better at hooking people, especially if that allows the players to not have to download the whole game but just an upgrade (via in-game shop or getting an account). \$\endgroup\$
    – satibel
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 12:15

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Take a look at these requirements published for a recent FPS game:

• OS: Windows 7 64-Bit / Windows 8 64-Bit

• Intel® Core 2 Duo E8200 2.66 GHZ / AMD Phenom X3 8750 2.4 GHZ or better Recommended: Intel® Core i5 – 680 @ 3.6GHz

• RAM: 6 GB RAM Recommended: 8 GB RAM

• HDD: 40GB HD space

• NVIDIA GeForce GTX GTS 450 / ATI® Radeon HD 5870 or better Recommended: NVIDIA® GeForce GTX 760 @ 4GB

• Sound: DirectX Compatible Sound Card

So to address your concerns:

  • Yes megahertz alone is not enough, but usually the hardware model is included anyway
  • Hardware brand name (Core 2 Duo) alone is not enough, which is why the model name (E8200) is also included.
  • Yes, hardware numbers are confusing. No, there's no good solution around this; it's a marketing problem.
  • If consumers knew about benchmarks, they'd be savvy enough to understand the confusing hardware model numbers too, so this is not a better solution.
  • Performance settings are indeed subjective but it's up to you, the game developer, to decide what is a minimally acceptable experience for the game, as well as what's recommended.

None of this has substantially changed in a long time. The PC platform is the ultimate in fragmentation, and for good reason: system requirements is a very complex, multivariable thing. Hardware develops at different rates and sometimes stop entirely (clock speed vs. cores) or become obsolete (fixed pipeline). Games requirements also grow at different rates or change entirely. The fragmentation also causes huge problems for the uptake of any standard; hardware vendors want inflated scores to sell their product, or for the scores to favor their products; software vendors want diminished scores for much the same reason; consumers want simple scores across hugely disparate hardware and game genres. You mentioned benchmarks being a possible solution, but that has had problems with uptake and corruption. Windows Experience Index is also another one that failed recently, due to uptake problems.

In my experience the most useful approach was to look at the performance of a popular game I already own, and try to guestimate the performance of a new game. This is also the approach taken by a few game reviewers, for example by looking at the fps of the new game vs a well known older game running on the same machine.

The great thing about PC games is the configurability, which really increases the number of people able to play the games; those with beefier hardware can crank up the settings, those with weaker hardware can cripple some settings and still enjoy the game. It is then up to the gamer to decide whether to upgrade or replace their PC to get a better enjoyment on the same games they own.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ To that end maybe the answer is for software vendors (ex: Steam, Origin) to start listing games with similar requirements. That way the consumer can say "hey, watch_dogs runs great on my computer. It looks like Titanfall will run just fine" (Just an example, I own neither game and don't know their actual requirements) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 9, 2014 at 18:59

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