AAA Games No Longer Sustainable?

2 min

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.

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  1. i think the thing is that £50 for a game with 8 hours gameplay is just terrible value for money. at least with COD and FIFA etc people can play them for many hours. they also need to realise there is a recession on. maybe if they lowered the prices they might get more takers. for example i can buy a £200m movie at release on blu ray for £15. yet a game that costs £50m i need to pay £50 for.

    1. A video game is an investment. With a movie, you will only get 90+ minutes out of it and then probably put it away.

      1. ive got around 2500 DVDs and 250 BR movies. i have seen many of those multiple times. i can count on 1 hand the games i have replayed again. obviously games like BF and fifa etc can be played again and again but stuff like tombraider/drake is just a once only thing for me.

        some games represent good value for money and playing time (fallout 3 got me over 100 hours) but many do not.

      2. So tell me, how exactly does the buyer’s “Fun Quotient” get measured, and how do they factor that into the price of the game?

        There are things called “price points”. If you lowered the price of these AAA games youd sell more of them. Because not only would the purchase of one game at a cheaper price become more attractive, but youd then have more disposable income to spend on OTHER games. The consumer gets more value for money, there are more total purchases, and the game companies make more fans and receive more money. Everybody wins.

    2. For a reverse example, look at video games vs. something like Photoshop. They both cost the same amount of money to develop. And yet one costs $60 and the other costs $600. And while there is obviously some pirating, most people still buy video games. $60 is a bit high, but its manageable. Whereas probably 95% of all people who have ever used Photoshop pirated it. Nobody is going to spend $600 just to make funny cat pictures on the internet. If each new version of Photoshop only cost $60, theyd sell millions more copies.

      1. in fairness i think adobe know PS is pirated by home users and they dont mind as they know business will buy it. plus, how else do people learn to use it? i learnt from a copy of PS4 and ever since when working i have purchased the creative suite for £1500 so they are doing ok by me 🙂

        1. No youre right, Adobe really does turn a blind eye to the piracy because they know its good, free advertising (it helped make the name of their product become literally synonymous with photo editing), and they probably make up the difference from business licenses. But the video game companies definitely dont turn a blind eye, they love trying to throw pirates in jail. Run a bank and steal as many billions as you want, but GOD HELP YOU if you steal a video game or a movie.

  2. Hitman was an awesome series. You water it down and make it friendly to the COD crowd (No hate, I like COD too, but I like variety in my games) and you alienated the previous fanbase. You must adapt to the market obviously, but all Hitman fans will agree that Hitman Absolution was a “Hitman” game in name and main character only.

    1. i like to call it handicap accessible. simply because if you suck at stealth (me but im getting better thanks to hitman absolution) you can shoot your way through even though it kills your score especially when there is no specified target.

  3. Wow, it really sucks that Tomb Raider isnt considered a success in todays dumbass market. It was one of the most well-made games ive played in years.

  4. Tomb Raider (2013) is a phenomenal game – with arguably the best console graphics to date (better than say, Crysis 3 or Uncharted 3…GOW: Ascension being the only game better looking). Unlike DMC or Skyward Sword, TBR manages to reinvent the series without alienating its longtime fans…while somehow being brilliantly accessible to a new generation of ‘softer’ gamers. The game reminds me of the open-area survival segments that made Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater so amazing.

    That said: I have absolutely no delusions that TMR couldn’t have been made to such high quality without a AAA budget & hollywood talent.
    The reallity is; that in this day and age, even a incredibly manic/broken publisher like SQUARE ENIX could have funded this game for far, far, farless – asked the developer to focus on creatively producing TMR while maintaining it budget – then only produced the amount of copies they ‘knew’ they’d sale (like ATLUS and NAMCO BANDAI do), and still produced TMR with the ‘exact’ same critically praised graphics, gameplay, and story, and just as compelling music and voice qually from equally talented ‘traditional’ voice actors from the anime/tv/CG/videogame voice acting community (for a shoe-string budget).

    Hopefully with this next generation of more dev friendly hardware and far more efficient engines (like Unreal 4), we’ll see developers making more elaborate games with higher quality effects, with a fraction of the time, a fraction of the people, and at a fraction of the budget we see to day with console games. This isnt new to PC devs, as thanks to easy access to awide array of tools (thanks DX11!), just a few people can build a huge game with top notch visuals – perhaps thanks to the PS4s PC architecture and the inclusion to powerful tools like DX11, we’ll see the console community embrace the change, learn from the new pc devs attractd to the PS4s similar architecture, and ‘evolve’ to meet the times (as PC devs have). Console devs build games with brute force (buy throwing people & money at it), while PC development is more about taking the tools provided and with great finesse, building a product as efficiently as possible.

  5. This will probably sound sappy, but I feel like a lot of game designers out there are so passionate about getting the game right, that they often spend more money than the fans can cover. Movies can have reruns over and over again, but for video games, sadly sometimes its just not the same.

  6. Are you kidding cod has a shit campaign and a repetitive online. It always saddens to these great games not sell as well because the new modern shooter has rehashed it’s weapons and called it a sequel. Gamers today don’t seem to understand how much time and effort goes into these kind of games.

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