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Screen Mode In Games: Windowed VS Full Screen - Advantages/Disadvantages

Updated on September 9, 2013
Warcraft 3, a successful RPG and strategy game, played in Window Mode.
Warcraft 3, a successful RPG and strategy game, played in Window Mode. | Source

Description

A game which does not occupy the whole screen, overlapping the desktop taskbar and system tray is called a "windowed" game. Many gamers choose to play some or most of their games in a Window instead of full screen, because they can have some bonuses regarding their system behavior and their habits.

A full screen (FS) game looks exactly as the term describes - the whole screen becomes part of the game, leaving behind the rest programs running, the system tray and taskbar. This way, a gamer can focus more on the game disregarding other programs. Most games sold for computer are set to start up in full screen, maybe except some small Flash games which are coded for smaller visual resolution and size.

Nevertheless, a large number of casual gamers prefer to adjust the visual settings in order to enable Window Mode (WM) in their games. This setting will force the game into running in an actual window, like other software does; this means, the switch between windows will be easy, same as switching between Firefox and Skype windows. We have covered in the past most ways to enable WM for your games even if it is not exactly supported by the game itself. You can find that guide here

The Two Side Arguments

Checking around in popular game boards regarding WM, you will soon find out that gamers are split between the two options: Full Screen or Windowed?

Both sides hold strong arguments, but in the end, it all depends on the gamer's personal tastes and what is convenient for him and only. Moreover, in my humble opinion, no-one should enforce Window Mode to a gamer, same as no-one should enforce Full Screen. I get increasingly annoyed with games which do not offer the setting for WM in their Visual Options, and I am sure I am not the only one. As you might understand, personally I am a WM fan.

Before deciding to choose a side (or stand between them by using WM only for some games and preferring FS for most), let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using Window Mode.

A random virus warning from AVG antivirus - such warning would go unnoticed if the user was playing a game in Full Screen Mode.
A random virus warning from AVG antivirus - such warning would go unnoticed if the user was playing a game in Full Screen Mode.

Advantages

1. Playing a game while also having a look on the other programs.

2. Ability for instant switches between the programs or the windows in the taskbar. While in Full Screen mode, the game window can be minimized by shortcut Windows+M or the gamer can use Alt+Tab to rotate between the open windows. However, there is a significant issue which arises when using such shortcuts in FS games; they tend to crash, sometimes even freeze the system totally to the point of requiring a hard reset. Even those which do support the shortcuts, will take too long to switch to other running programs, especially during gaming moments which require high processing power of the computer. In a windowed game however, switch between open windows is as simple as clicking the taskbar icon or using the mentioned shortcuts. It might take a bit longer to switch if the game is taking up many system resources, but that's all - no crashes and freezes for the vast majority of windowed games.

3. Gamer is able to control software related to the game he plays - for example, some gamers like recording their gaming in a video file through applications which can record the screen moves into a video file which can be saved and played back anytime. Controlling such applications sometimes comes with shortcuts, but it gives better control on the outcome if access to the program's window is unobstructed.

4. Gamers who play online games in full screen have often come across background "issues" which simply go unnoticed during their gaming; an example is virus warnings or performance alerts by their security software. Firewalls can cause much frustration to gamers, because their warnings and questions whether user allows or refuses access to a network source will be in the background and out of reach. An online game which has triggered such firewall warning will stop responding until the firewall is informed of the wanted user action; but how can it be informed, if the user is on full screen and cannot even see the warning window? Some firewalls and other security software do have an option for Game Mode, which will force them into making a selection without disturbing the gamer's experience and without asking for his consent, but can you be sure the decision is right?

5. Gamers sometimes like to have some basic monitoring on their system during a game. Video games most often are the largest resource hogs of a computer system, stressing the CPU, the RAM and the graphics card to their limits. An overstressed piece of hardware "complains" by consuming more electricity and producing more heat, especially if the computer case is dusted and the fans and coolers obstructed by dirt. Many useful tools are available for free, able to monitor the system basic temperatures and warn the user if an effect of sudden temperature rise is occurring.
Gamers, who generally are more concerned on their system's well-being than casual computer users, often install such applications for system monitoring. But even if they don't use them, they might have other related programs, such as FPS monitoring, etc. All this crucial information will be left in the background, unseen, while the game is in full screen mode.

6. While we are on PC, we rarely do only one thing at a time. Computer systems have enough processor resources to handle multiple things at a time. You can surf the net, listen to a song in YouTube while having open a Skype Video Call and the random chat window or Messenger. All these are done constantly so a computer user keeps rotating between them.
Some gamers still like to use other software while playing their game. Besides, not all games require the 100% of a gamer attention and in most of them there are times when you simply sit around doing nothing. Take for example the very popular online RPG games - there are fights, instances which require your attention, but there are also crafting, waiting and sales moments, during which the gamer has limited to no interference on the game. As a result, it is very convenient to be able to switch to other windows, to update Facebook status, Google for a nice recipe for dinner, or watch a short video, while the game character does whatever he has to do without need of further instructions.

7. Noticing time - Let's face it, gaming can attract our full attention for long, in a way which makes us a bit "lost" or feeling in trance. Have you never played a game only to realize time has gone well past midnight and you still have to wake up early for school or work?
Such incidents are way more common with gamers who play in full screen; after all, a windowed game will still let you to view the tray icon for time.

8. Unnoticed correspondence - an urgent e-mail or chat message will go unnoticed during FS gaming; in window mode, if the gamer chooses to still respond to blinking windows or alerts, it will be answered sooner. That's why there is a Pause button anyway.

9. A windowed game will not affect the audio effects and sound quality of a game.

10. For those gamers who do not have much time for gaming yet still want to take the most of their game, it is quite common to seek for advice and walkthroughs and not exert their efforts by finding out the game solution themselves. It is way easier to seek for advice on the internet while the game is running, than do it while the game is not launched. As mentioned before, minimizing a game window from full screen will most often crash the game. In WM, looking for a game guide and following each step, if needed, is not hard.

Alone In The Dark is an atmospheric survival horror game - playing this dark, enjoyable game in Window Mode would spoil the fun.
Alone In The Dark is an atmospheric survival horror game - playing this dark, enjoyable game in Window Mode would spoil the fun.

Are You A Window Mode Fan, Faithful To Full screen, Or In Between?

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Disadvantages

1. In short words: game atmosphere is, at least to a point, ruined. A proper horror game, with atmospheric audio effects, dark rooms, foggy sceneries and sudden surprises is produced to be played in a dark room, with only the monitor light to shine, the audio coming from a quality set of surround speakers and...well, in full screen. Window Mode is en excellent way to spoil the fun for a gamer of quality adventure games, horror and survival games, but not only for them. First Person Shooters (FPS) games, one of the best selling game categories for many years, will also suffer in WM, due to the increased attention and accuracy from the user. In such games, there are no "still moments" either - no time for sitting around, just pure adrenaline almost all through the game.

2. We mentioned earlier that audio quality is not affected while a game is in window. That is not true however for graphics and video quality. Even though in many games the video effects will still be shiny and crispy in WM, in some the quality will diminish. Dull, not vivid colors, sharp edges and other issues might arise in WM and a faithful gamer can see or sense the difference quite soon, if not in a glance. And even if video quality differences are not significant enough for your eyes, there might be serious brightness problems; most WM games do no longer allow brightness adjustment, so the gamer will end up changing the whole system brightness settings (through the monitor OSD or the videocard software) only for the game. When the game is over, changes should be reverted again to a more appropriate level.
A game in window could be brighter or darker than in FS - most often, it is darker. If the gamer adjusts the brightness of the system, the game will be playable but the rest screen will be too bright, hurting the eyes.
A minority of games will alter their visual options if you choose to play in WM; you might not be able to change the resolution or adjust anti-aliasing settings and you might not even be able to change game settings, such as fog/water effects and visual distance.

3. Setting WM on a game can be as easy as checking a box in the Video Options. or can be impossible. In my hub on forcing WM on games, I mentioned many ways which could or could not eventually work for you. Thing is, some of them are still hard to follow by amateur users or those who do not interfere with system much and lack the "guts" even to follow an exact guide. Those users might find WM a useful option, but would not be able or willing to enable it in fear of causing system issues. for them, FS is the only way.

4. Games in window mode will behave differently; some will let you adjust the window size through the resolution for WM, others will let you move the window to the desired place on the screen or drag its corners for making it bigger or smaller. This kind of WM behavior is the most favorable, since it allows total control over the game window.
However, it goes without saying that not all games are that easy to handle; in some the window mode is actually a window which occupies the whole screen with only difference from FS being the top right icons for minimizing and closing. For other games, when WM is enforced and not fully supported, the window could become erratic, getting lost at the screen sides or even causing system crash. More and more game producers allow WM for their games through easy video option check box, but still a casual gamer might find such problems to occur from time to time.

5. Getting distracted often by warnings, chat messages and blinking windows could be unwanted in particular games where gamer focus is needed. As much as anyone would like to know what's happening on the background, not many would like this "something" to affect their gaming experience. A sudden lag due to a website reloading on its own or a messenger "buzz" could be the reason for a missed shot in an FPS or a PVP death in an RPG.

6. Window mode can affect the way some games are displayed, in terms of the ratio of viewable screen. In games which do not fully support WM, the resolutions could be wrong for the screen aspect ratio, resulting to over-wide or over-thin objects and not good sense of the dimensions.

7. Even though it rarely is an issue, game performance could drop while in window mode. The video card is stressed more due to the added need to display background windows and effects, too. In hardcore, top-notch games, the difference could be enough (especially if the hardware is not equally top notch) to make the game unplayable in a window. The reason for the performance drop is not only the added GPU stress though; when we play a game in FS, we don't generally leave open programs in the background. But while in WM, we still like to have them running. So, in a way, the performance issues, if any, could be caused by our own change of habits.

Summarizing

Window mode is a great way to play games which do not require your complete attention for all the time and do not have some great atmosphere to miss on. If it is easily enabled, this is an additional bonus.

Full screen is still the best way to play a good game to get the most out of it, with minimal distractions and obstructions and with top pleasure and fun delivered.

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    • itknol profile image

      ItKnol 3 years ago

      I would also like to add that for low-end machines windowed mode is the last-resort for gaining some additional performance.

      By the way, I recommended your hub in one of mine - today I wrote about tuning a low-end netbook for gaming and thanks to your article it struck me that WM is the way to go in many cases.

      Also, since in some cases the above-mentioned ways for running WM won't work, I would like to add another one:

      Tried to run Midnight Club 2 on my netbook and setting it to Windowed Mode didn't seem to work.

      In my hub I reviewed 3dAnalyze - great piece of software for emulating video card features in case your own doesn't support them.

      It can also force windowed mode and the best part is that it strips the title bar and borders from the window. So if you set that 'windowed' game to your screen's native resolution it will look like full-screen, while keeping the benefits from windowed mode.

      "Gaming on the Asus EEE PC (tips & tricks)" currently feature #1 on my profile page. I believe you will find it an interesting read.

      Thanks for the hub. Voted up, useful, interesting.

    • CyberFreak profile image
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      CyberFreak 3 years ago

      Thanks again for your comment. I had tried 3DAnalyze and suffered from incompatibilities. It might have been the particular game I tried it on, who knows. Definitely worth a try, especially considering that you analyze it in a magnificent way in your hub.

      I also noted down to check GMABooster. Let's face it, netbooks are not made for gaming, but once in a while one can be perfectly entertained with good old games such as Warcraft 3, Age Of Mythology, Diablo 2 or others.

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