The needless expense of AAA video game development is stifling creativity and originality in mainstream console gaming space. Need proof? Well, you needn’t look much further than popular AAA video game franchises such as Dead Space, Resident Evil and Final Fantasy, to see what I’m talking about.
The cost required for producing many AAA video games can often be well within the region of $100 Million, such high cost inevitably results in high risk. Now more than ever developers and publishers try to maximize their profits, appealing to everyone as a potential demographic by making their games more “accessible”, a popular buzzword we hear all too often these days. However, this approach at making video game development has obvious negative repercussions, since playing it safe often means relying on tried and true formulas, which results in generic experiences and leads to cookie-cutter game design.
Visceral Games, developers of Dead Space, arguably the last console generations most legitimate (console) survival horror game, ended up succumbing to the will of their publisher EA. EA wanted to make Dead Space 3 more appealing to a “broad audience” which inevitably resulted in lower than projected sales. While Dead Space 3 did sell 605,000 units in the US and was the best-selling game at the time, it failed to match the total units sold of its predecessor, Dead Space 2 which sold 2 million units.
Earlier this year, Capcom’s Resident Evil 6 reportedly sold 4.9 million units, now when compared to Resident Evil 5 which sold 6.5 million (and was also their best-selling game since Street Fighter II). That’s quite a significant difference, but what’s the cause? Well, Capcom stated numerous times during the development of Resident Evil 6 that they wanted to increase sales by making their IPs more “accessible” to newcomers, but in doing so they have caused a decline in the overall quality of their popular titles.
The greater question is what outside influence caused Capcom to take this new approach in the first place? Easy; “Call Of Duty“. Capcom have stated openly their desire to appeal to the “COD crowd” In fact earlier this year they added more mature content and a higher age rating to Phoenix Wright 5, with the expressed intent of “capturing the Call of Duty audience”.
The Call of Duty franchise gets a lot of flack for being repetitive and offering a very similar experience with each new iteration, however it still remains one of the highest grossing video game franchises of all time. That being the case, naturally competitive companies desire to achieve similar success and go about attempting to achieve that success through adapting the methods that helped elevate the Call Of Duty franchise to where it is today.
Of course Capcom aren’t the only ones reaching for a piece of the COD crowd pie, Square Enix have massively altered their approach to developing Final Fantasy games compared to their past efforts. By dropping the old turn based battle system that first popularized the Final Fantasy franchise, in favor of a more open, action oriented mechanic, developing less risky sequel games and reusing previous game assets, Square Enix were able to maintain profitability of their Final Fantasy IP whilst increasing the number of potential consumers. The issue however, is that many fans of the Final Fantasy franchise feel that the quality of the IP slipping due to the companies new approach.
But are all these controversial changes really worth it in the end? Especially, if what these companies are essentially doing is diluting video game experiences in order to broaden their appeal?
Many video game franchises that were once considered to at the peak of their respective genre, yet due to the needless expense of AAA production, have become either monotonous, predictable, uncharacteristically action-oriented or have simply lost their identity all-together.
Let us not forget that great games can be developed without need for such insane development budgets, just look at the indie scene for example. Indie games may look pretty awful or feel less refined in comparison to their big budget AAA counterparts, but often times they deliver more originality and offer more innovation. Take Amnesia: The Dark Decent and Outlast, for example. If it’s possible to create these games on small budget when compared to AAA video games, then surely something can be done in the mainstream.
To summarize, I feel that the cost of production for AAA video games must be scaled back, as it stands now it is far too expensive to be considered a practical business model. Secondly, when developing AAA games publishers should make sure to cater them toward the audience that would find most enjoyment in playing them. Finally, games are more than just “pretty graphics” and “spectacle”, in fact AAA games should be doing more to further push gaming forward instead of overly relying on photo realistic graphics, large set pieces and explosions.