B for big business
Back in 2008, my first Destructoid front page post asked if ultra-expensive, realistic-looking AAA games were the way of the industry. Flash forward almost 16 years later, and most of the popular and enduring new IP since then hasn’t made it to AAA at all, instead coming from what might be called “B-budget” developers. Human Fall Flat, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Genshin Impact, Among Us, Fall Guys, Fortnite, Vampire Survivors, other rocket league are just a few of the non-AAA games that have found large and sustained audiences since then.
The list of games like this that launch well and continue to do well is much longer than the list of new multi-billion dollar AAA franchises that achieve the same goals in a similar amount of time.
We don’t know how much all these “budget B” games cost, but we can assume that if Fortnite originally cost $300K to producethe likes of Among us they were probably much less. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, one of the most played games of all time, started out as a fan mod, for crying out loud! And some of the few new AAA IPs that managed to get off the ground in the last decade were largely cemented by goodwill garnered from their developers’ work on sub-AAA budget games. elden ring never would have gotten off the ground without diehards souls fans, cyberpunk 2077 I would be nowhere without the loyalty of the fans of the original. sorcerer games, and so on.
From that perspective, the days of hyper-realistic single player games with long, expensive cutscenes or other barriers to actual gameplay might be over. Some of the world’s best-known games in 2023 aren’t trying to divert the attention of casual shoppers at brick-and-mortar stores like Toys ‘R’ Us or GameStop. They’re games that make great “Let’s Play” videos, are fun to share screenshots or stories on social media, broadcast well, and can be picked up and played by a wider audience.
You don’t always need a lot of money to make them. So why doesn’t AAA make more games like that?
The bubble of AAA culture
AAA games, like most media cultures, exist in their own little island world. human fall shot it’s sold 40 million copies since its release in 2016, but while it’s clearly the kind of game that makes a lot of people genuinely happy, you can be sure it never had a chance to win one of Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards. . Those awards will inevitably go to a game that tries to be like a serious Hollywood movie and/or involves some “author” talent outside of games, like Norman Reedus or George RR Martin. When it comes to cute, silly and light-hearted games like human fall shot, AAA executives quickly dismiss his success. They are seen as flukes and their success is perceived to be based entirely on luck.
The fact that they do a better job of appealing to the average gamer than most AAA games is largely ignored.
This leads to a weird risk aversion where AAA developers feel like they need to spend a lot of money to make sure that whatever the trends are going on at the time, their game will be “objectively superior” to the rest. And I get it. It’s much harder to predict which quirky and highly accessible game will be the next to become a phenomenon. But it’s also probably not a AAA game with realistic graphics and a focus on a big, complicated single-player story, because no game like it has sold more than 30 million copies in a long time. GTA V it was probably the last to do so, and it was released a decade ago.
It’s not that there isn’t a risk that AAA games with a big marketing budget won’t sell anything at all. The ability to bombard remains strong. AAA titles like abandoned other The Callisto Protocol are two recent examples. His AAA publishing, budgeting and marketing efforts failed to turn them into hits. While they never had the potential to be next tetris either Minecraftthey don’t even seem poised to become “cult hits” like No More Heroes. Going forward, we can assume that brand new, single player focused, big budget IPs will increasingly be a lose-lose proposition. For AAA, there will always be a ceiling to success, marked by a line where the enthusiast market ends and the mainstream market begins. But there is no below how much they can fail.
The irony is that the same factors that limit the size of AAA games are the same factors that make them attractive to publishers. It’s a lot easier to be a big shot in a relatively small fan market than it is to try to swim in the blue ocean against massive hits like Roblox either League of LegendsS. And, for now, AAA still has the power to create a niche culture where only they have the resources to make games that will be perceived as “important.”
The internet was once laughed at for theorizing that home console controllers have gotten more and more complicated over the years to ward off gamers who are more likely to criticize AAA games. I can see how that might sound paranoid, but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Just look at the amount of hate people have gotten for suggesting that hard boss fights can be skipped, or that games should always have easy modes. The level of venom the Wii and DS received for valuing “casual” was savage to witness. AAA’s marketing had worked for years to instill a strange pride in people for playing difficult and complicated games, and with that pride came the need to shame anyone who took a different path.
You’d think AAA’s publishers wouldn’t want to create an audience that repels potential new customers from getting into the games, but as many politicians know, winning elections isn’t about pleasing everyone. If using mean-spirited, divisive rhetoric turns off the 50% of voters so much that they don’t even want to think about politics, but also excites the remaining 30% of people, then that only leaves 20% of the population who can vote. against you.
And in AAA, each vote costs at least $60 to cast, making the barrier to entry much higher than voting in most political elections around the world. Expensive to make and expensive games do even more to turn away any reviewers who might consider playing a gta either Cod game to review and say, “It’s too long, divisive, or petty.”
If the only people playing your games are the ones who are fated to love them, then you’re already guaranteed a win.
But that can’t last forever, especially with something as awesome as video games. Eventually, people will find them and love them, no matter how hard they try to push them away. As a result, the old guard’s impulse to fight back can lead to some pretty weird feedback. You see something similar happening in the movie industry, where directors who love to make movies about real people complain that superhero blockbusters aren’t “real movies.” What they’re really trying to say is that they preferred the days when the movies they loved to make were also the movies the industry valued most. They want to continue to be the ones to establish what are “good” and “bad” movies, so they can continue to easily get funding for the kinds of movies they like to make.
If controlling quality standards in your medium is the #1 way to avoid risk in any art industry, you can bet your sweet bippy that AAA will do everything they can to exert that control. That’s why Bethesda hifi fever What are you looking for? the game was a enormous hit, despite not being a typical AAA game. In fact, that’s exactly because it did so well. It was a great breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale market filled with games all aiming for the same AAA-safe goals.
But if Bethesda and other AAA publishers continue to make those types of games, they’ll implicitly admit that it doesn’t take a ton of money to make something really popular. The emperor’s new high-resolution photorealistic clothing will be removed and he will have to compete with other publishers and developers on a much more level playing field. It’s enough to give your average AAA CEO low-budget nightmares.
delay the inevitable
Like the fossil fuel companies that desperately want to keep running smoothly until electric cars, government regulations (or planet Earth itself) say the party is over, AAA’s editors don’t really have much reason to embrace the true true? now. If the vocal minority online, which still numbers in the millions, continues to believe they are number one, it will keep that FOMO feeling alive for those with enough disposable income to splurge on a $60 or $70 title just because it got a big hit. amount of reviews/awards/buzz online. As long as they maintain their stature with the loudest voices in the enthusiast market, they will continue to make a lot of money.
That being said, I think it’s inevitable that your gaming brand will eventually lose the ability to seem “important” to anyone. AAA games in long-running franchises like God of War, Appealing to both older gamers like me and kids who care about the history of AAA games, they’ll continue to do well for at least another decade. It’s no coincidence that these games tend to be about older parents and their game-loving kids, because that’s exactly what still buys them. Eventually, the generation raised on disc-based home consoles will reach their 60s and 70s, leaving Minecraft-The generation of tablet and phone game lovers to fully inherit the medium.
By 2050, the current style of AAA games will look “retro” at best, the way N64 games look to us now.
And by then, creating realistic-looking games will be as cheap and easy to make as using art-generating apps today. The games that win popularity contests will be the ones that give people the opportunity to work out their stress and live out their fantasies in the newest and most interesting ways, regardless of how much money has been invested in them. it may be that The last of us It really may end up being one of the last single-player-focused, story-heavy, AAA budget franchises that will appeal to anyone but the most die-hard video game fans.