With the release of the GeForce 4090, graphic card developer Nvidia had again raised the bar on video game visuals. Already offering the most powerful card in their last generation 3090ti, the new release ups the ante to unprecedented levels, but this step isn’t regarded as a purely positive development. Issues with cost, size, and hardware availability have raised questions about the validity of how far these flagship releases have come, and what they could mean for the future of gaming.
What Makes the 4090 Special?
As is common with each new generation of graphics card, the general idea of the 4090 is that it allows players to hit higher frame rates at higher levels of detail. This makes games look better and play better, and can be the only way to enjoy games at high settings at a 4k resolution. Aside from just advancing sheer transistor count and hardware specs, this card also includes support for the latest DLSS, DLSS 3.
The technology behind DLSS, deep learning super sampling, is based on artificial intelligence. For versions 1 and 2, DLSS allowed games to predict higher-resolution images from lower-resolution images. This would extrapolate a faked but still high-quality frame at less of a cost than rendering a high-quality frame natively. DLSS 3.0 takes this idea a step further, creating entire frames, not just portions of images. This can produce enormous performance boosts on top of already stellar performance.
What’s the Problem?
Make no mistake, for those who have the budget and the interest, hardware like the GeForce 4090 is exciting. For the gaming market overall, however, such systems illustrate a potential point of excess. This card is huge, it’s expensive, it’s power-hungry, and it’s hard to get. More importantly, there aren’t many games where the speed of this card is especially useful.
In terms of sheer size, the 4090 alone is larger than the entire Xbox Series S. This means any user who wants one of these cards is likely going to need to buy a new case. The power draw means you’ll also probably need a new power supply. Factor in its $1,599 launch cost and the influence of scalpers, and the problems of these cards on a direct level become more obvious. Just as important to many gamers, however, is the relationship that technology like this has with driving the industry in a direction many don’t want.
Speed over Substance
There is an idea pushed in the gaming industry that visuals are king. While looks can be indisputably important in drawing people into worlds, their importance for the common player is wildly overstated. Many of the most absorbing and long-lasting titles understand that style is far more important than sheer fidelity and poly count, and this doesn’t only apply to video games.
Tetris, Minecraft, Pokémon, and Wii Sports, none of these games are graphically impressive, yet they’re the best-selling titles of all time. Even GTA5, the most profitable property ever released, is no longer visually impressive, having launched back on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. In terms of engagement and legacy, it’s style that matters, which is how Nintendo manages to constantly succeed with its relatively underpowered Switch. Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild are gorgeous games because they understand style is the most important factor.
We can even extend this idea to other forms of digital interactive entertainment, like online casino gaming. New online casinos and their games constantly draw users in through their looks, and this is again a matter of understanding theme and style. Of course, there are other factors like free spins bonuses, deposit matches, and tournaments to introduce new users, but the understanding of graphical standing remains. All of these games are even designed to run on mobiles, and yet the limitations of these systems do nothing to impair casino looks or popularity.
Acknowledging a Resting Point
The takeaway here is that, for many AAA developers, graphics have been used as a crutch when they can’t deliver on gameplay. Instead, it’s been the indie developers in recent years who have been setting the stage for originality, while the big names focus on putting pretty pictures on the back of a game box.
Cards like the 4090, while impressive, serve to further a status quo that many dedicated gamers have been unhappy with for a long time. Factor in the diminishing returns of each graphics generation, and the reasons for investing in components like the 4090 continue to diminish.
At the end of the day, it’s your money and your choice. There are many players out there who be served amazingly well by the 4090, and more power to them for that. For the rest of us, though, this card illustrates another step towards an unnecessary and unsustainable future. Then, if the past is any indication, that won’t be enough to pump the brakes.