The sorry state of AAA gaming, ways to move forward
Let’s be honest, AAA gaming is in a sorry state. With many mainstream developers releasing titles that have been criticized for everything from over-monetization to underdevelopment, the discussion surrounding many major titles has focused mainly on disappointment and dissatisfaction.
Yet a very different brand of game developer exists outside of these corporate development offices, without the six-figure salaried executives and their marketing and monetization demands.
Free from the constraints of market analysis, shareholders and profit margins, independent developers have managed to flourish. Usually operating on budgets ranging from shoestring to non-existent, these small teams pluck away into the wee hours of the night, turning their passions into innovations.
This runs counter to traditional capitalist principles, as most would assume the more money involved in development, the better the product. But so far, the opposite appears to be the case as AAA developers continue to underwhelm audiences.
This raises the question: What is it about major developers that is preventing them from achieving similar success? Is it the money? Does the blame rest solely on the shoulders of publishers?
The answer is likely a complex combination of factors unique to a particular team or title. But that doesn’t mean we can’t draw conclusions from the trends we see through playing these games.
The most glaring issue with AAA developers regarding the final product boils down to one word: monetization.
Over the past several years, video game profitability has skyrocketed thanks to the addition of systems like micro-transactions, subscription-based models and battle passes. The financial allure of these systems has overridden any concern about their effect on the quality of the game.
The rise in popularity of mobile gaming throughout the years is a testament to the effect these monetization schemes have had on game development. Often you don’t have to look much further past the front page of the app store to find a game that is essentially just a reskinned casino.
While popular titles like Battlefield and others obviously have more meat to them than the glorified scratch-off tickets offered on mobile platforms, they still consistently manage to disappoint fans with poorly designed, unpolished and bug-ridden releases that take one to two years to reach even a fraction of what was promised on release.
The fact of the matter is that major developers are working in reverse. Priority one will always be monetization, while development priorities take a backseat, or worse, are cut to fit a given financial model better.
That’s not to say the situation isn’t complicated or that gamers themselves aren’t partially to blame for the current state of the hobby. It’s important to remember that these titles require enormous budgets to produce, and enormous budgets require enormous profits.
The constant demand for games to look better, be flashier and do more has raised the cost of development to levels comparable to the movie industry. Video games, however, cannot rely on product placement, ticket sales or streaming revenue to supplant their production cost.
Ultimately, the increased focus on resource-intensive game elements such as graphical fidelity has added enormous cost to AAA game development, and for what? For Call of Duty to look .01 percent better than the previous year’s release? For Cyberpunk to have beautiful lighting and shadow effects surrounding a world of cloned NPCs and buggy physics?
At the end of the day, we as gamers need to decide where our priorities are and voice our decision with our wallets. We may never see the day when these companies can mirror the innovative development practices of independent game designers. Still, with new releases costing $60 just for the base game, we can certainly expect more.
Platforms like Steam, Good Old Games and many others offer a wide range of independent titles, from shooters to colony managers to sports games. Never before have gamers had such unfettered access to so many titles, and it’s time we take advantage of these options. It just takes a little work to sift through these marketplaces and find what suits you best.
When it comes to gaming, we get what we deserve. As long as we continue to support these half-baked titles simply because they are the newest and flashiest title we will continue to play half-broken piles of spaghetti code that take years to bring up to standard.