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.