Is the Xbox 360 reaching the limit of its capabilities?

When any totally new gaming platform reaches developers for the first time they are at the bottom of a learning curve. Not only that, they are usually in a big hurry to get a game out as soon as possible after the platform launches. So early games on a new platform are usually little better than the best games on the previous generation platform.

As time passes the developer climbs up the learning curve. How fast this happens depends a lot on the complexity of the platform’s architecture and the availability of good engines, tools and libraries. The Microsoft Xbox 360 has a relatively straightforward system architecture and has had very good development tools from very early in the availability of dev kits. So we would expect developers to be getting close to optimum performance out of it fairly quickly. And this has been borne out by it delivering superior performance in virtually every cross platform game so far. But has the top of the learning curve been reached?

Rod Fergusson is franchise senior producer for Gears of War  at Epic games and has just given an in depth interview for Gamasutra. Interestingly he says: “……with the two to three more years of optimization that we’ve had, we’re much further along than I think, three years ago, we thought we were going to get. So I think we’re certainly approaching the upper end of it, as far as what developers are able to do with it, but just looking at all the demos we saw today — ours and others — it’s clear that all the games just keep improving, and keep pushing that bar.”

And that is the thing really, although they are near the top, games will continue to get better and better on the 360 over the next few years as developers learn new tricks and wrinkles that allow them to coax more out of it and as the engines and tools become further optimised and more powerful. Rod Fergusson says as much: “There will be games in development that won’t ship until 2010, and I’m sure they’ll look killer, just because, again, they’ll have more time with it, and learn from mistakes and optimizations of others. So, I don’t know; I think we’re getting up there, but I still think there’s room to grow.”

Just like previous generations the absolute limit of capabilities is never reached, these systems are very complex and there is only so much time that can be put into wringing that last ounce of capability out of them. However it must be true that now the developers are nearly getting the most out of the 360 and that further improvements will be slower to come. It is the same in every platform cycle.


  1. The looks, always the damned looks.

    Gameplay, people!. That’s what’s important. Although seeing the last two Epic releases, I’m sure they don’t get it. I don’t care GoW2 won’t have a PC version (they said the same about the first one, BTW). GoW1 was as buggy as you can get nowadays, wasn’t specially good after the first 15 minutes, came one year late and had GfWL. Looks count for nothing if the game under the bloom shaders is bad.

    Of course, you and everybody at Epic say it sold poorly because of piracy. Whatever.

  2. Not getting a fanboy arguement, but i can imagine PS3 luvvers taking this as a sign that there main competition (damn someone else making another console and giving us a choice, how dare they. I mean, competition with price drops, cross-platform availability etc!) has already reached its peak, and their over-priced black box, as difficult as it is to program, will now take over . . . . in 2010.

  3. Games are generally better in the latter half of a cycle, so I’m looking forward to the next couple of years.

    Good art direction makes a game look incredible regardless of technology. Some of the last-gen games still look beautiful today (Resident Evil 4, Shadow of the Colossus, Final Fantasy XII).

  4. rckt42 : totally right dude!! Gameplay rules above all!! Sharp shiny graphics (galo, gears) are nice and pretty, with shiny unessesary colours, but as long as graphics hit the benchmark I dont care as long as the gameplay is top notch. Unlike so so many xbox games. BRING ON GOWIII, Resistance2, LBP, LA Noire and KILLZONE2!!

  5. See, whats funny to me is when people say that “the black box” is more expensive. I’ve spent more upgrading my 360 than I ever will have spent on my playstation. There was an article on not too long ago that proved this.

    On topic: Gameplay does rule all, I enjoy the crisp and beautiful graphics, but gameplay is key. Fable 2, Resistance 2, Gears 2, LBP, and Killzone 2 are all going to be amazing, not just because of great graphics, but also because the gameplay in each will be amazing!

  6. Its nice to see people talking like their lives are not tied to the success of one console or another. I agree, its not the graphics that matter, its the gameplay, and on both sides of the “Console War” there are plenty of groundbreaking fun games, that look great too. And to all the 360 fanboys, yes, your console is getting to its peak, and yes, the PS3 is doing better now, and yes, its still more powerful, but don’t be filled with anger and spray words across the internet like some sort retarded hose, remember these two things. Fable II, GOW II.

    And for anyone who feels that the 360 is getting more attention than your lovely shiny black box, that you know has more horse power than a cray, think LBP, Resistance 2 and Killzone 2.

    And if you have a wii, then you dont even come into the argument, its a different type of gaming from PS3 and 360 and is more based around social interaction, save the few single player gems.

  7. “Gameplay is all” isn’t enough anymore.

    It’s a nice sentiment to have and people who think they know about games will carry on saying it.

    But these days it’s all about excelling in every area.

    Games cost the consumer an awful lot. Most people tend to have jobs, responsibilities, and consider games to be just another diversion along with many others.

    If these people buy a game then it has to be perfect across the board. This includes graphics. People won’t be happy if they spend a lot of money on a console, and find out it doesn’t look as pretty as the other one.

    I find the people who are very into gaming spend more time and money into their hobby. They can afford to have opinions like “Gameplay is all”. They know that the last 3 out of 10 games they played recently were fun to play, while 2 were pretty and played poorly, etc.

    Someone who gets one game a month will want near to perfect experiences each time. Everything will be factored into their decision of buying the game.

    So you can make all these educated arguments. You’re educated in games. Everyone else just wants their money’s worth like every other form of media.

  8. Off-topic: Chris said: “Fable 2, Resistance 2, Gears 2, LBP, and Killzone 2 are all going to be amazing, not just because of great graphics, but also because the gameplay in each will be amazing!”

    Sorry to be pointing you but there are loads of people talking like this all over the internet. What kind of brain thinks like that? I mean, it’s not like those games have been released and you can confirm they are great. So what is wrong with your thinking process to talk like that? Just to help you realize, I could point to thousands of posts and comments that said Haze was going to be amazing… Seems to me it’s time to learn a few lessons and stop reasonning like a 5 years old…

    On topic: I agree with a lot of people here: we don’t care so much about graphics as long a the game is fun. But on the other hand, I’m quite sure a lot of gamers who have been playing 360 or ps3 for some time wouldn’t appreciate paying $60 for a game that looks like what we had on ps1, not matter how fun it is…

  9. Totally agree. That “gameplay is everything” concept is totally played out now. These days if gamers who owns a PS3 or 360 buy games, they’d want it to look damm good. The graphics is what catches the attention, the gameplay is what keeps them playing. If we all rather focus on just gameplay, then we all would still be playing the Wii with our grandmothers.

  10. Maybe developers can’t get anything more out of the 360 but that doesn’t mean that they can’t still knock games out. But I said from the start that even though the 360 is the best console out there, it won’t sell as many as the PS3 and Wii. I’d say the 360 will hit 30m, no more than 40m. Developers need not worry though because I’m sure the 720 will be out in a few years. All this talk about the 360 having a lifespan of 8 years or so is nonsense. Ony PS consoles can last around 10 years, but I don’t think that’ll be the case with the PS4. All in all, in the next few years, they’ll be new consoles released by the big 3. Trust me…

  11. in my opinion it largely depends on the type of game we are talking about. obviously gameplay AND art direction are important in any game. but as far as 1st person shooters go (and many others) a realistic experience (including good physics) is paramount and requires good graphics.

  12. Ok well to Kaspario was saying: I do agree that you can’t forsee into the future but keep in mind that these games are being made by Devs that have created fantastic experiences before (except for Media Molecule they are new to the game on the console front lol) but I guess that is what people are going by you know?

    A lot of people can argue about Gameplay over Graphics but if you read a majority of the reviews for AAA titles the FIRST thing they mention is Graphics and that is because it sells games. If Gears of War looked like Killswith on PS2 (the game in which HALF of GoW was based off of) no one could give a crap because the Graphics aren’t there. As REAL gamers we love Gameplay over Graphics but most of the people that are now “Gamers” don’t see it that way…

  13. People saying graphics dont matter is like saying u would get with a girl that u did not find attractive just because they have a “good personality” u need both of these things to make it work graphics and gameplay. The graphics need to be amazing the gameplay needs to be amazing bottom line of it.

  14. Dear Mr. Everiss
    I respect you for all the things you have done for gaming industry in the past. But I expected this article from you, because you are, IHMO, one of the biggest XBox 360 defenders who uses your past deserts as a shield to justify your opinion
    First I want you to excuse my errors, English is not native to me, but I hope that my writings will be comprehensive enough to understand my point.
    As I said I expected this article from you. This one seems to me look like a numerous articles in defence of PS3 at its worst times. The same frases like ‘learning curve’, ‘potential’ etc.
    But lets face the truth – Microsoft is loosing this battle. It is obvious and it was predicted. Not exclusives like ‘Ninja Gaiden 2’ and ‘Lost Odyssey’, neither price drop in Europe and the USA didn’t affect XBox 360 sales curves. Acording to NPD data PS3 oversold 360 in North America despite of price drop, the same happened in Europe 2 months ago. Everyday less and less people want to buy this faulty piece of hardware.
    And all of this was predicted. Soberminded educated people couldn’t expect nothing else but MS loss. Why? All is pretty simple – you can invest most of your money into development, reserches and the small rest of your funds into advertisment, PR. As Sony did. Last year it made its best to reduce manufacturing expenses of its new console, lower cost of development for it creating a strong worldwide network of dependent developing studios that work now on PS3 exclusives. In other words during last dozen of months Sony was able to admit its mistakes, became aware and find the way to resolve them. Not all decisions were easy or popular among consumers, but, as time proved, they were correct.
    Meanawhile Microsoft didn’t change anything in its strategy continuing underestimate its main competitor. It wasted a lot of money on PR, advertisment and simply bashing rival companies in numerous articles in Internet and in periodicals. If you pay a little more attention to all MS pers’ public statements they all are based on stats comparisons to its competitors. And sometimes those stats are meaningless and even tricky. Noone else acts the same way, because it is not entered into business ethics.
    Instead of investing money into innovations, technology and development MS wasted a huge portion of XBox 360 budget for simple blahblahing, bashing and boastful articles. Sweat speeches can bring success but it seems to me that not in this case. The last real successfull game Halo 3 has launched almost a year ago, what else MS can offer to its consumers? Instead of deciding its problems it try to pull PlayStation former exclusives to multiplatform. Does it bring innovations or fresh ideas to the industry? I don’t think so.
    It is almost 2 years the RRoD problem exists but I didn’t hear or read any official statment from Microsoft that this problem is completely resolved. Why?
    Now the situation for Microsoft becomes worse. The recent exclusives didn’t particularly affect sales curves of the 360. Pricedrop in Europe and North America didn’t help much too. And now, Microsoft became almost completely 3rd party dependant. It has very small number of own developing studios, and has to pay extra money to third parties for exclusivity. Noone of developers wants to loose their profits on multiplatforming, where PS3’s part is about 40% of total sales worldwide. So to keep a game exclusive Microsoft has to compensate possible loses of devs or publisher. Pay a lot of money. Meanawhile having a strong development network with common knowledge base accessible to all of its inner studios Sony can produce painlessly and faster a whole bunch of exclusives with minimal losses. All its money revolves “in house”, no third party expenses, it develops, prints disks on its own facilities and publish them itself. Sony has everything to produce using only its own resurces keeping all expenses as low as possible.
    Microsoft has no option. It set free Bizzare Creations and Bungie, keeping a small number of studios. Some of them was a wrong investment – Unfortunately, Sakaguchi-san was unable to create something amazing, making just average games. At least to this moment. Microsoft has to pay for exclusivity. Pay for nothing. It is a money waste, just because they pay money but noone can guarantee that a game will successfull enough to became a system seller. After all it is system selling that the main reason to have exclusives.
    The quality of multiplatformers now is the same for both rival consoles, so consumers choose the more reliable hardware.
    So … it is my opinion based on my knowledge of current state of industry. I have been watching for it for almost 2 years and this is the tend you was unable to miss.



  15. Why is Michael Phelps in the picture?

  16. Wow Gene…can someone say fanboy??!! If the last thing you remember is Halo you seriously don’t know anything. Let me know when you actually play the 360 and use the online services..then maybe I’ll listen to an actual argument. Why can’t people just stick to being objective. Both consoles are selling, 360 is further along in it’s life cycle and selling less, but not enough to have the PS3 actually catch up anytime soon. Sony has Blu-Ray..(which by the way still hasn’t taken off) is a nice addition though. However Sony’s online is not good and being free will never be good with out a price. I’m not talking just subscriptions, it’s going to cost in features and stability. What I am trying to say is that both consoles have good and bad. Both have unbelieveable graphics, sound and gameplay. Nice long monologue though…you should write a book or something.

  17. @ GUNNAR2906 Everything you said is the truth. If you follow the game industry you’d know this. Thanx 4 point this out to all the rrod fanboys.

  18. The 360 already reached it’s peak a long time ago. That’s why newer exclusives look only slightly better than the ones from launch. Gears 2 is the perfect example because in order to slightly improve the shaders they visibly dropped the geometry in the environments. When you see the side by side shots of the same buildings you can see that in Gears 2 the complexity of the architecture has been significantly reduced.

    Microsoft themselves asked (shortly after the PS3 was released, and I don’t remember the exact wording) “isnt it better to have a console that is performing at it’s full potential now than buy one that will take many years to get there?”

  19. @Drue

    It may seem strange to you but I own all 3 of the newest consoles and noone can blame me in fanboism or something.
    If you care you can see my games library (although it pictured a months ago or about it – I added a few more games)
    So I’d very glad if you read my arguments and maybe you find them reasonable.
    As far as you see I have XBox 360 exclusives that were released far after Halo3. Frankly speaking I’m not a big Halo fan so I don’t have it but I mentioned this game, because I respect the choice of 8+ million people throughout the world. The freshier exclusives like ‘Ninja Gaiden 2’ or ‘Lost Odyssey’ (the only exclusives that went out up to nearest past) are good but not enough to be system sellers. Other non-exclusive games in my collection are all PS3 version and that is my choice that I made for some very clear and obvious reasons:
    1. I’d better pay the same price for the same quality games on Blu-Ray media, because it is more durable and it is a blu-ray not a simple DVD
    2. My first XBox 360 unit scratched a few disks (GoW and NHL2K7 disks still show me ‘unable to read’ error during gameplay) before it RRoDed

    I did have a Gold subscription in Live (my nickname is the same in Live – check it) until it expired. I admit that even a year ago the PSN lacked of content and Live was superior to PSN regarding to its infill. But now I consider PSN is much better the Live for a few reasons you cannot deny:
    1. PSN is still free
    2. PSN’s stuff is still all free (including themes, fonts, icons etc. you have to pay in Live)
    3. PSN got very fast and good PSN store and extremely fast growing Video Store (only in the USA)
    4. I dont need to wait a few days to download latest demos as I have to do without Gold subscription
    5. The last is the most important. Despite of many statements of MS reps about Live’s superiority, PSN is technically much more advanced then Live. I mean Live multiplayer connections is based on peer-to-peer networking while PSN offers didicated servers connection. In simple words Live servers just gathers information from online subscribers about when, with whom, and in what game a player wants to play online and connects players directly with each others using point-to-point connection. That means one player must be a host and others are guests. PSN offers the same system but additionally it has dedicated game servers, running server parts of almost every game that supports online gaming. Like CoD4 or Team Fortress or Burnout Paradise. What is a fundamental difference? During peering interconnection if one of players has problems with internet all the members of online session suffer. Dedicated connection offers more stable and lagless gameplay, although it is much more expensive to service provider, Sony. This system lets PSN to host very fast pacing games like Warhawk with up to 32 players online, it lets up to 24 PSN users to play CoD4 while Live subscribers may have only 16 players at a CoD4 online session.
    I know where it came from that you consider Live network is the best in the world. But it is not your fault, you are just a victim of someone’s PR tricks =)
    Then you said that PS3 needed an endless time to catch up the 360. You said that it was not possible at the foreseen future. Your bad again, sorry. Sony has already sold more units at Europe and Asia. Much more if you consider that XBox 360 had a huge odd in year and a half (European release was at March 11, 2007).
    What about North America? According to NPD data the numbers for Canada are 560 K and 720 K units for PS3 and X360 correspondingly. Not so big actually. The big gap in sales still exists in the USA, but if we look at the past, quite the same situation was with original XBox. Anyway the gap between sales of both consoles worldwide was about 7 million unit 12 months ago, but now it is only 4.5 million. That means that Microsoft is now using its last reserve – the odd it had before PS3 release. It was 5.5 million units.
    Considering that in this year Sony released only 2 exclusive games, one of them was actually a demo – GT5Prologue, Sony has a very good chance to catch up and even lead the race before this year will end.

  20. @Gunnar2906
    I wish more rrodbox fanboys would listen an understand what your saying but they have Microsoft an there pr lyies stuck up there @ss. Ps3 has been outselling rrodxbox since 2007(npd and microsoft themselves stated so, look at e3 do the math),Psn network has become way better with movie downloads, great downloadable games and always reliable network. Ps3 is the most well rounded and technological advanced system out like chris said. rrodbox been reached the limit of its capabilities.

  21. okay, people really do have a SHORT memory. The masses do forget. Every 10th major developer says this. We have gotten the limit out of this machine x. They said it two years after the first ps1, then the ps2, and then the xbox. In fact they were saying that about the snes when the first street fighter came out. Why? Because it sells, its hype! It is a easy way of convincing people that they will get the best graphics both NOW and in the future if they get this game. Example this developer said the exact same thing about gears of war (1). Enough said.

  22. actually no the xbox360 did not reach it’s limit i think when metal gear solid is done it will but reaching the limit i think will take another year i mean on both sides xbox360 and ps3 fans get angry because we didnot SPEND OUR MONEY AND WASTED IT on high tech stuff just to see it get beaten up by another system

Comments are closed.