I don't think games need much graphical splendor either. Super Mario World was fairly crude looking for a SNES game, but was also somewhat popular if I recall. I think it's down to this: in big budget games, you can rush art. If you have the money for 200 man-months of art production, you can have 100 artists doing it in two months almost as easily as you can have 10 artists doing it in a year and a half or so. Most of it can be split into small tasks that won't take very long. Gameplay on the other hand, requires a feedback process between testing and programming. It's an iterative process and you can't run it in parallel. It's also harder for upper management to evaluate gameplay changes than to look at art. Result: Such games may or may not have good gameplay but almost always look good. But this doesn't have much to do with what gamers want. It's just that graphics are easier for large studios to get right. People will play ugly games. How many people played Dopewars?