zerocrossing (User)

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"Video game journalist and gamer enthusiast."

The cost of AAA game production is putting a chokehold on creativity in the mainstream

zerocrossing | 384d ago
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The needless expense of AAA video game production is killing creativity and originality in mainstream console gaming

It has been said by countless game reviewers and bloggers before me, but I feel I must say it yet again. The practice of throwing insane amounts of cash at AAA projects causes a need to adhere to generic tried and true formulas, as well as attempting to appeal to as wide an audience as possible in order to cover the cost of production and marketing, inevitably leading to more and more generic gaming experiences.

We know this to be true for the most part, heck we've seen it happen all too often after all, yet it's still being allowed to continue. You needn't look much further than popular franchises such as Dead Space, Resident Evil, Gears of War and Assassins Creed, to see what I'm talking about. Many franchises that were once at the peak of their respective genre yet due to the expense of AAA production have become either monotonous, predictable, un-characteristically action oriented or have simply lost their identity all together. So who's to blame here? Well we are, that's if you were to believe certain publishers that are pushing for such games.

In truth the culprit, or rather culprits are the publishers, the publishers I'm referring to are any who choose to green light development for generic, un-inspired games that do enough to tick all boxes needed to appeal to a wider audience while avoiding challenging and/or upsetting any potential consumers by being too slow, scary, hard, different or whatever else that mite put off a consumer from purchasing a game that when it was still pure in the head of the original creator was most likely not intended to be targeted towards them in the 1st place. This is not how games should be created, Dead Space 3 while still being a decent enough game, suffered due to this kind of approach to game development, the same goes for many other AAA games such as Resident Evil post RE 4, Gears of War Judgement and even Assassins Creed.

Now please do try to not misunderstand me, I'm not saying that any of those games I just mentioned above are bad games or offer no enjoyment at all, after all people find enjoyment in all sorts of games so who am I to judge? And to be completely honest even I found some enjoyment to be had in them. I guess what I am trying to say here is that a game should be created for a fixed audience, if you're going to make a survival horror game we expect it to be scary, remember your core audience is probably used to scares so holding back so you don't scare off casuals just won't do, also don't undermine the tense atmosphere needed to pull off a survival horror game by throwing in a bunch of out of place explosions and action oriented cutscenes, you can still have the odd one here and there, but even in action games they loose much of their impact if they happen around every bleeding corner.

Let's try looking at the state of AAA gaming as if it was fine dining, or better yet appreciating your favourite type of wine, now fine wine is always going to be better appreciated by those who have a taste for that particular brew, more so than it would be if it was watered down to the point that the wine becomes palatable to everyone, much like this certain gamers are just not going to appreciate certain game genres unless that game is heavily altered to the point where it may be more accessible but now lacks the same appeal it once had toward it's core demographic.

Publishers have a way around this issue and that is "graphics" who was it that said originality and depth should be sacrificed for prettier graphics and expensive special effects? I can't think of anyone so it seems quite odd that publishers are so eager to do just that. Many games have gotten a free pass in the past because they had exceptional graphics even though the gameplay was more than lacking to say the least, but with AAA games looking great being the norm these days more and more of us are becoming less likely to give a game a free pass based on their pretty looks alone, unfortunately it seems the majority of gamers still place graphics above gameplay and I thing this is a mistake, great graphics are after all one of the easiest things to pull off these days, pair them up with some Michael Bay esque action scenes and tons of explosions and you have yourself what some mite call the "spectacle" the eye catching stuff that most competent developers would use sparingly if and when the story called for it, but too often the spectacle becomes the game itself and slowly but surely the spectacle begins to wear off and then we realise that there's really not much else going on.

That's where the plot comes in, publishers have a long list of tried and true generic plots they could butcher and force into their current game and/or game franchise for our assumed amusement, but more often than not the plot is there to thinly connect one set piece to the other until the credits roll, and let us try out a few toys along the way. Now that works great sometimes but the problem is the plot has to suffer the same ill fate as the gameplay often does, and that is being forced, predictable and un-original, maybe it's because I'm in my mid 20's now and would just like to see a video game villain I could actually feel sympathetic towards, a main character that breaks the mould a little by not being a walking tank, and a game where a girl wearing a wet suit isn't somehow required by law to have the front of it zipped half way down to show off her cleavage... (I mean come on it's like in every game! I honestly have nothing against cleavage but Resident Evils Jill Valentine is not in the line of work where she would want any extra flesh on show!) Anyway, yeah AAA video game story's could do with a little more variety and originality too I think.

I don't want this blog to be me just constantly bashing publishers, but seeing as they are the ones responsible for the AAA games being released on console it's hard to point my finger elsewhere, they aren't all bad obviously but if any of them chooses to green light development for projects that are doomed from the start to meet their ludicrously high expectations for profit, then they really should not be in the business of creating entertainment in the 1st place, to force their developers down this foolish path that has already claimed many development studios is irresponsible and apprehensible, I feel as though enough damage has been dealt already and as consumers we must demand that high development cost of AAA games be scaled back to allow for new ideas and possibly the return of past franchises that are currently being shelved due to publishers not being prepared to take risks anymore.

With all that being said, it's not like we as consumers aren't worthy of some of the blame. We do in the end choose which games we want to purchase and given the sheer amount of video game reviews one can find after a short time searching the Internets, we are usually aware of what we are getting so pleading ignorance and blaming publishers and developers when having made a poor purchase is a little uncalled for. Having said that though, publishers and developers have a duty to ensure their products are up to scratch, that means being as bug free as reasonably possible and looking how they were when advertised or better.

So to summarise. Firstly, I feel the cost of production for AAA games must be scaled back, as it stands now it is far too expensive to be considered a practical business model and the expense is only being passed onto the consumers. Secondly, when developing AAA games Publishers should make sure to cater them toward the audience that would find most enjoyment in playing them instead of watering the experience down in order to appeal to everyone. Finally, games are more than just pretty graphics and spectacle and we know that they can convey so much more, because of this AAA games should be doing more to really push gaming forward instead of relying on photo realistic graphics and explosions, many indie games look pretty awful in comparison but they do better in regards to story and atmosphere than most AAA games have in recent years.

I honestly believe if these few changes were to actually be implemented it could only be a positive thing, I'm not sure how we can make this happen but I believe whole heartedly that we must somehow if we want AAA console gaming to start delivering more fresh ideas.

Well hopefully I got my point across, I know I'm not the only one with these views but I just wanted to get them out there and get people talking about all of these points openly.

Thank you for reading my blog, if you want to add something or disagree with me then as always please feel free to leave a comment.

fsfsxii  +   384d ago
Very good blog. TBH mainstream AAA games are less appealing to me than ever. Most of the AAA games this gen were either a shooting a game or a shooter game with elements from another genre. Who's to blame? Well, yeah, the mainstream casual audience is to blame, want a proof?? Check out any gaming website like Playfire.com, etc.
And publishers should be reasonable with their budgets, remember BF3 and 100$ million marketing budget?? Yeah, with all BF3 sales record, it still didn't pay off, so they had to be jerks and implant "Rent a server" crap.

I'm more likely to be a handheld gamer by next gen.
And yeah, Sony has done their part with the PS4 by making the console easy to develop for because devs and pubs were bitching about current-gen consoles being hard to develop for and thus requiring more man-power and cash. we'll see how devs moan in the next gen.

Again, very good blog
NewMonday  +   384d ago
as far as big publishers I think their will be less investment on mid range games like Dead Space and Prototype and bigger investments on games targeting 6 million sales minimum to break even. examples are the Division, Destiny and TitanFall.

but on the bright side next generation heralds the rise of Indy developers who bring creativity and mid/low price options, and they are not shackled by focus groups or "pleas all" pressure, some of them are making games that resemble big budget productions like Outlast and the Witness.

their will also be some rising studios who make games that rival big publishers but for a fraction of the cost like CDPRED and Avalanche.

all in all I think this generation was a learning experience for everyone, big publisher, middle budget developers, Indies and platform holders, next generation will see the results of it all.
zerocrossing  +   383d ago
Thanks for commenting!

Handheld gaming is certainly gaining in popularity largely due to it having more original titles to choose from, but there's honestly nothing stopping publishers from ruining that the same way they have with AAA console titles, the problem needs to be dealt with at the root otherwise I think the issue will just continue to rear its ugly head.
fsfsxii  +   383d ago
I think that Western publishers aren't interested in the handheld market due to Nintendo's dominance there, they own that market and pubs think that Nintendo's tech is "Outdated" and they can't do all of the BS they do on consoles. Thats just how i see it.
dedicatedtogamers  +   384d ago
This is why I'm excited for indies, and like fsfsxii above me said, this is why I'll be doing a lot more handheld gaming over the next several years.

The AAA bubble will burst eventually. Minecraft sold more than Halo 3 and Halo 4 combined with a fraction of the budget. Mario Kart Wii probably cost only a few million to make and is one of the highest-selling games of all time. Eventually, publishers will figure out a way to shrink their budgets because they're gonna want a taste of those insane profit margins.

Good blog. Gamers need to do their part, too. Instead of jumping on bandwagons with crap like "Wii has no games lolololo" they should be buying those lower-budget, high-quality games that are available on Wii to show publishers that variety - not production value - is what is most important to us.
zerocrossing  +   383d ago
Publishers know they have us gamers right where they want us, most of us don't want to loose our favourite franchises so we end up just tolerating them getting watered down and made more accessible.

The best thing we can do is stop purchasing games that we know have been watered down, casualised and/or have designed for mass appeal, even if we end up loosing franchises we enjoy the publishers will eventually have no choice but to develop games that cater to a core audience rather attempting to please everyone.
kewlkat007  +   384d ago
There is a bubble.. I wish we could go back to late 90s-early 2000's gaming industry structure..

it needs a reboot...only a crash would help
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zerocrossing  +   383d ago
I agree, during those times the industry was still finding its feet and had not yet entered the "mainstream" We were still seeing all sorts of interesting and original new IPs being developed and publishers weren't so scared of taking risks.

An industry crash is unlikely to happen anytime soon, but a can see a major change coming as gamers start becoming less ignorant and tolerant towards publishers and their poor business structure.
Donnieboi  +   384d ago
Amazing blog! Every fat-cat publisher should read this, and realize that their movie budget games are hurting creativity (with a few exceptions, like The Last of us game).

If I could vote this early on best/most relevant blog of the month, I think i'd have to choose this one. U should write more blogs, Zero.

Behold, the key to saving many development studios from shutting down, lies right here in the points made in this blog.
#4 (Edited 384d ago ) | Agree(2) | Disagree(2) | Report | Reply
zerocrossing  +   383d ago
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed my blog.

Publishers have sacrificed more than enough development studios due to their current poor business structure, it's high time they got their act together and stopped looking for scapegoats.
Donnieboi  +   383d ago
^ Amen!
WeMilk   383d ago | Spam
ravinash  +   384d ago
I do find it funny how when the games industry has been falling and harder to make sales, the publishers answer is to make more of the same. More COD, More Battlefield, more shooting action pieces.
If we make it more pretty and throw more money at it, then they will come.

What Gamers have been asking for is more original stuff, new ideas and new IPs.
Just look at what happened with the Last of us!
Completely new IP with nothing but the good name of Naughtydog behind it and see what happened.

I really hope that the publishers take note and try to manage their money more wisely....but I'm not holding my breath.
WeMilk   383d ago | Spam
Flatbattery  +   383d ago
Ah yes, the fat cat publishers. They're the first to complain and the last to change their ways. Best of all they rarely shoulder any blame even though they are almost the sole cause of all issues in the industry.

Nice blog, aligned with my sentiments exactly.
Kratoscar2008  +   383d ago
This is why i think the 3DS is the future, the Vita is going that way as well, just see how much awesome games the 3DS has.

HD is killing gaming.
zerocrossing  +   383d ago
I'm not so sure about that, I mean do enjoy handheld gaming but I still think I prefer gaming on a big screen.

I do agree though that HD is killing gaming, but that's due to publishers emphasising graphics above all else, we already know we don't need photo realistic graphics to feel immersed playing games but it's easier for publishers and developers to make things look pretty then it is to give them depth and meaning.
Kratoscar2008  +   383d ago
The thing is that the industry THINKS we need high end graphics, i loved console playing but this gen has been awful at least for JRPG entusiaths so since this situation will hardly change i dont see console gaming recovering its luster.
EXVirtual  +   383d ago
I honestly think AAA games with a budget like Assassin's Creed can be done, but they need to be done WAAAAAAY less this next gen. Annual releases of stuff like AC and COD are just straight up retarded.
memots  +   382d ago
Ac3 was so easy ( while beautiful) that it felt like my 4 years old niece could have played it. They just kept on pointing where had to go or jump or kill. Its becoming ridiculous.

Doesn't even feel like I was playing a game anymore it felt more like "go where we tell you to go and do"
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cunnilumpkin  +   383d ago
if a small independent team like CD Project red can make a game like The Witcher 2 in 2011, which already looks better than any ps4 or xbox1 title shown so far, I'm sure many, many other companies can also come up with ways to get their product out there

these BLOATED budgets publishers cry about are their own damn faults, 90% of their cash goes to over priced advertising that is largely ineffective

guess what?? make an interesting game and you will get all the free press you want, and the people will advertise your game for you
#9 (Edited 383d ago ) | Agree(2) | Disagree(0) | Report | Reply
zerocrossing  +   383d ago
Exactly, it's insane the amount some publishers spend on AAA game production and marketing, especially when you see small indie devs out selling them when only spending a fraction of the cost on developing their game.
StraightedgeSES  +   383d ago
Great blog. I pretty much feel the same way.
-Gespenst-  +   381d ago
Yeah, this is pretty much the problem. It has other ramifications too, such as CoD and gamer conservatism. Gamers get fed this AAA crap and come to think that they're what games are about. Anything that doesn't resemble the AAA titles they're so used, and which they've been brainwashed into thinking are the pinnacle of gaming, is seen as weird and shit. This makes it too financially risky for anyone to make an original and idiosyncratic game because it'll go ignored by the weaned-on-AAA masses. Still, the Indie scene is gaining some traction and hopefully it'll engender some more creativity in the industry.

Indie games are proving what many classic games before them already proved, that super high fidelity realistic graphics and huge budgets aren't at all necessary to create a good, memorable, and imaginative game. In fact, all those things have really done is made games much more shallow, and much more homogeneous. I make this point a lot, but there are SNES, ps1, and N64 games that for me are still superior to most games I've played this gen. The juvenile, vacuous, and fetishised drive for technology, performance and graphics needs to stop, because it's part of the problem. The more expensive the tech and development costs, as you say, the more broad the game becomes to minimise risk. Games these days are becoming the equivalent of dumb blockbuster films, and the medium isn't flourishing creatively the way it certainly has the potential to do.

Other ramifications of this is that games remain super juvenile and broad. Hence you see very heated arguments around sexism and racism in games. The fact of the matter is that big budget games are broad to the degree that they espouse really unsophisticated, and far too easily digestible views on politics, race, and gender, and people just lap it up. Because AAA games are touted as the best the industry has to offer then, the unsophisticated, broad representation within them comes to be seen as somehow authoritative and unproblematic. It's a clear example of corporate power becoming dangerously influential and pervasive.

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