What does FPS mean and why is it important in gaming?

A lot of gamers care about it.

Photo by Joao Ferreira via Ubisoft

FPS is an acronym thrown around a lot in gaming, but it actually represents two very different things within the gaming industry.

The first meaning of FPS is “first-person shooter,” which refers to video games—like Call of Duty, Halo, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive—in which players play a character from a first-person perspective and attempt to shoot enemies. The game genre is popular, but the FPS acronym is also commonly used to describe something entirely different.

FPS also stands for “frames per second,” a term used to describe how smooth something like a video or a video game plays. “Frames” are still images within a display that when played in quick succession, create a movie, video, or video game. In gaming, the rule of thumb is that the more frames per second, the better and smoother experience it will be for the user.

Related: What is the best refresh rate for gaming?

FPS in gaming is deemed important, especially in competitive titles, because relatively few frames per second can put you at a disadvantage against your opponents. For example, playing Overwatch at 30 FPS can be hard because the frames are not accurately capturing what is going on in the game. Characters or animations will seem choppy, which hinders the gaming experience and limits how well you can actually do in the game.

If you played Overwatch at 150 FPS, however, the gameplay experience would be much better. Shooting a moving enemy, for example, would be much easier because the frames would be updating at a faster rate, effectively showing the enemy’s movement more accurately.

Even if you’re not a gamer, FPS matters when watching YouTube videos. While the resolution of a video is ultimately more important on YouTube, watching videos with 60 FPS can improve the visuals quite a bit. Many streamers also often sacrifice a higher resolution for higher FPS, such as reducing the highest output from 1080p at 30 FPS to 720p at 60 FPS. The quality of the picture may be slightly worse, but the stream should be much smoother as a result.

While watching a stream or video at 60 FPS is relatively easy depending on your internet download speed, it’s not as simple for playing games at a high frame rate. Powerful graphics cards are how people can routinely play games at an incredibly high number of frames per second, but those same graphics cards are often expensive.

Other than buying one of those cards, you can attempt to optimize your current graphics card to increase FPS for specific games. But, ultimately, there’s only so much you can do.