The AAA model for games in the gaming industry tends to stand for games that are given a lot of financial backing in the industry. Many developers and publishers have come to use this term to imply that a game should be hyped up as more money should equal more quality. The problem is, gamers don’t automatically feed into that. Consequently, games that don’t sell well can easily cause game companies to fold. As such, is the current AAA model no longer sustainable?
A lot has been made of recent Square-Enix announcements that Tomb Raider did not sell well enough or up to their expectations. The game still sold nearly 3.6 million copies (not including digital copies) in just 3 weeks. That seems beyond ridiculous that those kind of numbers aren’t good enough. It was obviously significant, as Yoichi Wada, CEO of Square-Enix stepped down because of it.
Square-Enix was relying on Tomb Raider for good reason, mostly because the two previous games published by them, Hitman: Absolution and Sleeping Dogs sold 3.4 million and 1.6 million copies on their own. Obviously these games too were below expectations for Square-Enix. The Sleeping Dogs number especially stands out. Regardless, the cost of these games ultimately fuel the problems that game companies face.
Game companies need to look at themselves and be more prudent where the money goes. Many companies spend more money on non-game related costs such as hiring expensive voice actors, expensive motion capture technology, expensive orchestral soundtracks and of course, on advertisements. When celebrities are lending voices to games, such as in Sleeping Dogs, and then those games don’t sell massively, is it really the game’s fault?
A recent company driven to bankruptcy last year was THQ. Whilst it is arguable that it was the games that cost THQ in the first place, it is another example of game companies not being able to survive by trying to constantly create AAA games that they can’t fund without taking massive debts. It is still down to financial acumen over game creation, but a balancing act is still important too.
Is it fully the fault of game companies? Well, when you see games like Call Of Duty and FIFA sell massive numbers without much innovation or improvements on a yearly basis, it fuels other companies to follow suit. A number of Call Of Duty clones have come out during this generation of gaming, and not many have succeeded. At the end of the day, only proper hardcore gamers, ones that play multiple genres of gaming, will buy more than 5 games a year. These gamers are more likely to be updated about games too, and know when more effort has been put into advertising over gameplay.
It’s surprising to hear that even indie developers suffer at times. Journey, created by thatgamecompany, almost caused them to go bankrupt too. Again, you have to wonder about financial decisions that developers make behind closed doors that allows such things to happen. AAA games are still viable in terms of method and success, but the most important aspects are to not sacrifice quality for non-gaming related expenditure, and also to live within your means. Just like everybody else.