Can the average gamer play the latest games?

Can the average gamer play the latest games?

Although PC gaming is often likened to an uber-premium experience where we all run the latest Titan graphics card, dual CPUs and tens of gigabytes of RAM, the reality is far from the truth. That's why the latest games can sometimes seem quite pedestrian with regards to their system requirements and why we all remember games like the original Crysis, for bringing our rigs to their knees.

For the most part it seems like developers know roughly what we're working with and cater their system requirements to that round about figure. But do they get it right? Are there a lot of gamers missing out because the requirements are just too high or are we missing out on prettier games because developers feel the need to support ancient hardware?

To figure that out, we need to know what PC gamers are actually running, but there isn't much in the way of concrete information on what the average gaming PC is like. There is some data we can draw from though: Steam's hardware survey.

Although certainly not a representation of all gamers, especially those that use other platforms like Origin, GoG, or eschew digital distribution altogether, it's safe to say that the majority of PC gamers make use of Steam. It has more than 125 million active users with often upwards of nine million gamers battling away at one another all day, every day. So its statistics should be a pretty good representation of what the average gamer has going on inside their PC.

So what does the HWSurvey say you probably have inside your PC?

CPU Speed: 2.3-2.69GHz (probably Intel)
Number of CPU cores: Two
VRAM: 1GB (Probably Nvidia)
Operating System: Windows 7 64bit
Primary display resolution: 1920 x 1080
Total storage space: 250-500GB

While there are some aspects of that imaginary system that are expected, like Windows 7 still proving to be the dominant OS even six years after release and 1080P being the most common resolution, some of the other aspects are a little more surprising.

Although four core CPUs were almost as common as their dual core counterparts, the latter are still more common among PC gamers. This is indicative of older and lower end CPUs, as everything Intel produces in its i5 series has been quad-core for many years.

Similarly so, the 1GB of video memory is also telling, as most high end graphics cards have had at least 2GB for years. You'd have to go back to mid-range GPUs from the Nvidia six or seven series to really run into those sorts of cards, which means at least 33 percent of all Steam gamers are running cards that are a couple of years old and even then, were far from big gaming GPUs.

So how does our average-gamer system stack up against some of the recent system specs from major developers?

Rainbow Six: Siege

OS: Windows 7, 8, 8.1, x64
CPU: Intel Core i5-2500K or AMD FX-8120 Eight-Core
CPU Speed: 3.3 GHz (Recommended), 2.6 GHz (Minimum)
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 or AMD Radeon HD 7970 / R9 280 X

Right off of the bat here we run into issues with Rainbow Six: Siege. The CPU of our average gamer system is going to struggle to do much more than the absolute minimum here. While our imaginary Steam user has things covered in the RAM department, they fall short on VRAM and will likely struggle to do much beyond the most basic of settings – perhaps even sacrificing that 1080p resolution – if they want to play this one.

Just Cause 3

OS: Windows 7 or later
CPU: Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 or AMD X2 Dual Core 6400+
GPU: Nvidia GTX 740 or AMD HD 7570
HDD Space: 15GB

Now this is much more like it. Clearly Avalanche has really gone out of its way to cater to lower end systems and those running older hardware, as JC3 is playable with a system that is almost a decade old. The CPUs it recommends in this case came out in 2006, so were far less performance intensive than what our imaginary Steam user is running. Although the graphical requirements are much more modern, they are not high end in the slightest; the same goes for the RAM.

This is a game that pretty much any PC gamer can play and it still looks absolutely stunning. It probably won't look that great at minimum specifications, but you don't need a super-powered system to run this and make it look pretty.


OS: Windows 7 or later
CPU: Intel Core i3 or AMD Phenom X3 865
GPU: Nvidia GTX 460 or AMD HD 4850, or Intel HD Graphics 4400
HDD Space: 7200 RPM with 5 GB free

But enough about AAA experiences, what about something aimed at the mainstream? Overwatch goes even further than JC3, offering playable 30FPS performance on just an i3 and GTX 460. Although the CPU demands are higher than that of Avalanche's new anarchy simulator, Overwatch is much less graphically intensive and only requires 5GB of install space, making it a much more lightweight title overall.
It even works on Intel's embedded graphics, which makes this something even those running workplace systems can play.

Ooh that's dangerous.


So it looks like for the most part developers of the latest games really do factor in those of us running systems that are old and creaky and those who can't afford the latest and greatest. Perhaps if developers catered to more of an elite we'd have prettier games, but they have to be profitable and it's interesting to consider the tactics behind minimum specifications and how important optimisation is now that we know what the average gamer is playing with.