The Big Question: Is There A Future For AAA Games?

It's a risky business. One strike and you're out. Irrational Games is closing down and its... well, Irrational Games! One of the best large studios in the world. It's got me wondering — is there a future for AAA games when the risk of failure is so high and the cost of failure so final?

Yeah, yeah. I know Ken Levine wants to focus on smaller games. That's fine. That's understandable. But there is a pattern here: if a AAA game doesn't perform spectacularly there is a good chance your studio might fail.

Does this mean there's no future for AAA games? Maybe. Maybe it means the games industry is just changing to something similar to Hollywood, where the folks that make movies wander from project to project like nomads. Who knows.


    I'll just copy and paste my post in the Irrational Games post:

    I think this is what the industry will boil down to eventually. The time and expense required to develop a quality game like Bioshock Infinite is no longer as a cost effective method. According to IGN development of Infinite started at Irrational after the original Bioshock was released. Let's assume they started Q4 2007. Infinite was released Q2 2013 and the DLC continued for another year after that. That's a total of 6 and a half years spent developing Infinite.

    While it's a great game, according to Wikipedia by July 2013 it had only moved 4 million units. Modern Warfare 2, the undisputed most popular FPS of last generation was developed in 2 years with barely any narrative and it sold 22 million units in the same amount of time. Modern Warfare 3 which was then also developed before Infinite was released managed to sell 6.5 million units in 24 hours and 26.5 million by Nov 2013.

    High quality - Long Development - Good single player narrative. Unfortunately the industry can only really support up to 2 of those 3 (sometimes it can only get 1 or 0 of those right for some releases) at a time to make a profitable game, and Ken Levine can see that.

    With that said, there will still be a future for AAA games, but high quality games will probably start to become less and less as their required investment time no longer pays off, while yearly released garbage continues to be the most profitable.

      To counter this companies could move the development teams off shore (not good for local development teams though) or recruit developers from East/West Europe and Russia. These countries have some great companies doing some good AAA work. CDProjekt RED, Mail.Ru Group and CCP to name a few.

    While we might have seen a lot of average AAA over the yearsAAA will always be relevant because of companies like rockstar, naughty dog, valve and even start up companies like riot.

      Pretty much this, there is always room for quality products with expensive budgets the likes of which Naughty Dog and Rockstar produce. (incoming opinion) Gamers on the whole are however sick of the tish that gets released year in, year out, riddled with sequelitis symptoms designed with the sole purpose of separating ones money from ones wallet.

        I agree on the first sentence.

        I disagree on the second because people are STILL buying every sequel of COD and each year, EA releases the same old sports games.

          Indeed they are still buying them but I think we are finally hitting the upper limit for how much money people will spend on them

    I believe that there is a future for AAA titles, but that future is uncertain at this stage
    With the cost of failure so high, the industry should take this as an opportunity to be more diligent on the quality of their titles

    We may not see as many AAA titles, but the ones we do see should be spectacular

    The days of AAA COD clones may be no more (hopefully) but the days of original content may be about to dawn a Golden Age

    I also believe that, in order for AAA to be successful, they need to release the final product as just that, the FINAL product. No more day 1 DLC, no more DLC that gives a whopping 2 hrs extra game play, keep it for a genuine expansion or sequel
    I, for one, am tired of seeing DLC available for purchase on day 1, or within weeks of release, and tend to delay my purchase for months, if not years, so that I can get the product and all DLC together as a "final" and pay what the original release was asking

    Last edited 19/02/14 11:38 am

    I think we need to scale back what a AAA game is. I think there's a future for them but ambitious projects with budgets in the tens of millions are sustainable. A few years ago it was, but we're holding out for better games now and only the top few games are going to sell that well. COD does it every year, GTA can pull it off every 5-6 years, but other games actually have to be excellent and bring something new to the table. This isn't 2007 anymore. We don't all just buy everything that comes out. There's too much, and there's been a global financial crisis. Let's be conservative for awhile, and when interactive media like games overtakes film as the number one form of mainstream entertainment, we can have our stupidly high game budgets back.

    Video games will go the way of the movies (if they haven't already).

    Movie studios release a handful of big-budget flicks, generally big dumb action flicks, each year. They call these movies "Tentpole" movies. The idea being that these movies are the tentpole - the thing holding up the tent and making sure it doesn't fall down.

    The money these movies bring in then (in theory) is able to be used to fund riskier/smaller movies that normally wouldn't have seen the light of day.

    I can see something similar happening with either studios, or more likely publishers.

    UbiSoft! AssCreed Black [email protected]!!!one1one! Watch Dogs!!one one one blah. South Park!!!! drool drool drool.

    Ubisoft are also doing: Child of light (JRPGish), Trials: Fusion (Motocross), Valiant Hearts (2d Adventure), Rayman (Platformer), Rocksmith (Musician/Education).
    None of these properties sell at an AAA level, but they are respected by their core target audience and are a risk.

    That's why AAA's may become more derivative, may become big dumb action, but they won't go away. The industry needs them. Maybe the industry needs to do them more efficiently, but the industry needs the money they can potentially bring.

    Last edited 19/02/14 11:30 am

    At their current trend of doing whatever CoD did and hoping for 10 million units sold they will die out.

    But if they start budgeting games properly, not spending millions on pointless advertising or shoving in pointless modes where it's not needed or wanted (like multiplayer) and not throwing money at more developers under the pretense that a cake will bake in half the time at twice the heat and let them work on it, then we can still have triple A games.

      I agree. They should Budget/Design and plan their AAA games more like Nintendo and less like Activision.

    My answer: there is no future.

    Humans will fuck it up just like they fuck up the game industry with massive purchases of sub-par COD, and [insert industry here] with their massive purchase of the sub-par [popular product here].

    I think there's a future for big AAA games, just less of them. For gamers there just isn't enough money/time to buy/play them all.

    I just buy what's worth buying, avoid what's worth avoiding, and let nature do the rest.

    Possibly, but developers/publishers need to start being more careful with their budgets and more realistic of their expectations for how well a certain game may need to perform. When games like Tomb Raider or RE6 shift millions of units and are still classified as a failure by the publishers, something has gone seriously wrong.

      Although part of me wonders if there's some clever accounting going on. The same way that apparently Return of the Jedi has never turned a profit.

    I wouldn't mind seeing the rise of the indy developer, if only to see some originality. It seems that every 2nd game is a CoD or Gears clone with some gun toting skinhead spraying bullets and blood everywhere.

      Sadly, the 'rise of the indie developer' is equally devoid of originality. Where the AAAs might have their 3rd-person adventure with spectacular set-pieces and your first-person-military-shooter, the indie scene is flooded with a glut of damn near identical 2D platformers with a silhouette art-style/novel physics mechanic, pixel-art roguelikes, and epilepsy-fetish neon-bullet-hell shmups.

      Edit: If you ruled those out, plus the 'deep and meaningful' poetic walking simulators through unpopulated 3Dscapes, or 'find the clues' horror walking simulators with an unseen beastie lurking around, there'd be practically nothing left on Greenlight other than unfinished 1st year compsci projects and concept art, and RPG-maker prefabs filled with someone's terrible attempts at comedy and genre-spoofing.

      Last edited 19/02/14 12:26 pm

        Well we might as well pack up our consoles and go outside then!

          Nah, just rely on brave pearl-divers to trawl the murky depths to retrieve the scant few gems that shine above all their generic brethren. And ignore the wailing of those who complain about 'discoverability' (keeping them from their Steam-as-the-promised-land goldrush windfall) to let them wither and die in the obscurity their mediocrity has earned them.

            Panning for gold in a ocean of shit, its an unpleasant task but the result is worth it

        As soon as you could make one of those description generator websites for a game style, you know its in need of some fresh air.

    They’ll still be high concept, high production games but I’m expecting the way they are packaged and sold to continue to change.

    To use film as an example, we’ll see a shift from the Hollywood model towards more of a HBO model.

    Concepts piloted and sold in smaller doses (episodic content), with successful games growing over time into larger franchises or series, as opposed to the current Hollywood model of releasing a 3 hour blockbuster and crossing your fingers that it recovers the millions.

    Not saying the massive AAA title will die out completely, just that it wouldn’t surprise me if Elder Scrolls in 2016 looks more Game of Thrones and less Lord of the Rings. A model where you get less content at a (hopefully) cheaper price and then a greater focus on DLC expansions.

    The problem seems to be the number of A's. Back in the C64 era you'd get stuff by pre-evil EA or Activision that were of extremely high quality and damned fun to play. You could describe them fairly legitimately as A games, as it went along spectacle took over from story or creativity and 2 more A's got added, now its like publishers want to be at least AAAAA where jumping out of exploding buildings is the norm rather than the final spectacle, all icing and no cake which is ultimately unsatisfying and really bad for the teeth.

    What I think we need is for publishers to reign it in and get back to making A games where there's a bit of spectacle when you've earned it and it's justified by the story rather than just to be in the trailer.

    What about episodic AAA titles? Smaller games (in terms of play time) that have high quality production values. Like the walking dead games.

    For some reason the survey articles don't play nice with the mobile version. Nothing fits on screen.

      Same experience here - please fix the template for these big question articles - I can't read them on mobile!

    If they continue on the current path, there's no future. People will only be fooled by hollow experiences masked by flash and glam for so long before they realise that even a match 3 mobile game is offering them more enjoyment. Games need to stop trying to be interactive movies, and go back to being an interactive world.

    Ten or more years ago they were claiming the hollywood blockbuster days were gone. Costs and risks were too high. So how did that end up? It'll be the same with games.

    I think a lot of game developers and studios are a bit unclear of what to do and so try too much instead of focusing down on the core product they are making. As well as confusing the fact they are making a game and not a movie. Or they don't understand the balance.

    Let's look at a successful FPS franchise. Battlefield. The single player in BF4 was garbage. It was so pointless and yet they would have spent a lot of time and money making it. No one buys the game for the SP. Yet they spent time on it, hired known actors and so forth. No one who bought the game would miss it if it wasn't there, and everyone would prefer if that money was to be spent, that it was spent on the MP.

    On the flip side, I have played plenty of better SP FPS games which then the developers have wasted time and money building MP when no one is getting the game for MP. Just because they have a game with MP doesn't mean they will play it or they bought it for MP.

    There's always room for more MP than the big ones. However if it's a tacked on mode, no thank you. At least offer something different. It's clear when sometimes you play games which they seem to want to be hedging their bets at MP and SP. When focusing on either would have resulted in a better iteration of that mode. Better game overall.

    Another thing to note, I think this is where EA deciding to really focus on the Frostbite engine is smart. More uniform tools so everyone across the developers are familiar and can work together, also keeping down costs for the engine as it's spread across everything. Too bad the engine isn't that great, but hopefully it gets there.

    Oh and another problem AAA titles will have is if they do like DICE and EA and release broken games like BF4 which are still broken months after release.

    There’s very likely always going to be another TES, GTA, CoD or whatever. So yes, there will always be AAA games. Whether or not we keep seeing new IP in the AAA space, I don’t really know. Probably will though.

    I hope there's a future for AAA, otherwise I just wont want to live on this planet anymore.

    There is definitely a future for AAA games.

    The only thing that needs to happen to assure this is for developers to stop comparing their sales to Call of Duty.

    Seriously, the number of developers who have deemed a game a failure because it didn't sell high enough compared to COD is a bloody joke.

    "You like to play games? I bet you also like to sit through two hours of setup, loading, cutscenes and tutorials before you get to the fun part, right?"
    - AAA games

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