Saturday, 10 Jun 2023

Triple-A games are killing gaming – Reader’s Feature

A reader worries the increasing cost and complexity of making video games has reached breaking point, with too few being released each year.

I’ve been thinking about writing this feature for a long while now, since it concerns trends that have been increasingly obvious for years, but with the delay of The Last Of Us Part 2 and Microsoft contemplating only one exclusive launch game for the Xbox Series X it seemed like the perfect time to say something.

This all started happening sometime in the Xbox 360 era, when ‘double-A’ games started to go extinct. As far as I understand the term triple-A has been around for decades but doesn’t have any very specific definition. It just means games that are very high budget, with the biggest possible marketing campaigns, that everyone has heard of. But it doesn’t imply anything about whether they’re any good or not.

Double-A is a rung below that, games like Darksiders and Psi-Ops that only THQ Nordic seem to make any more and are basically just a couple of steps above indie. (There is no single-A, as far as I know, so maybe that’s what you’d classify indie as.) Triple-A is equivalent to a blockbuster movie in cinema, where there’s a similar thing going on where either films are made for $300 million or $3 million, with increasingly little in-between.

The situation is much worse for video games though, because while there’s always something on at the cinema (well, not right now, admittedly) the ever increasing cost, and length of time, taken to make a game means that we’re seeing less and less games released every year. This got much worse at the start of this generation and has led to the situation this year where we went four months without a single triple-A release.

There’s a lot of talk of delays at the moment, because of the coronavirus, but you’ll notice they’re actually fairly small. Minecraft Dungeons and Wasteland 3 are only for a couple of months and Naughty Dog are implying that The Last Of Us Part 2 will be out this summer, basically as soon as they can assume people will be in shops to buy it.

The real delays were those four months between December and March, when absolutely nothing was released and we had a stream of major delays of up to six months for things like Cyberpunk 2077 and Marvel’s Avengers – delays that are much more serious than anything the coronavirus has caused so far. The reason for the delays? Nothing in particular, it just takes a really long time to make good looking modern games, and these ones took longer than expected.

None of us wants games rushed out before they’re finished but the issue here isn’t the delay themselves it’s the fact that there’s no plan B, no other games to fill in when the big ones aren’t ready. Even the biggest developers have only made one or two games all generation, where previously they would’ve made at least half a dozen.

This isn’t good for anyone. For the games companies it means putting all your eggs in one basket and if that game isn’t a massive hit then they are dangerously out of pocket. That in turn means companies, literally, can’t afford to stray too far from the obvious and making anything particularly daring or unusual. They’re stuck in a loop where they think they have to spend mountains of money to make a decent game, but can’t make an innovative one because if it doesn’t sell they’re out of business.

This has been a problem for years, with most people just denying it or not paying attention, but this year it’s so obvious nobody can ignore it. Even before the coronavirus, 2020 is going to end up having maybe a dozen triple-A games, tops. The lack of choice and variety that implies should be unacceptable to everyone, but as long people get that one game they’re personally looking forward to they don’t seem to care.

But the truth is the games industry is shrinking. Less games are getting made and the ones that do are being forced to last longer and longer, artificially extended with DLC and repetitive online options. We’re already at breaking point and yet the next gen will inevitably be even worse, where games will be even more expensive and even more time-consuming to make.

There’s a reason Microsoft doesn’t have any more than one game for the Xbox Series X launch (and hasn’t even guaranteed that) and it’s not because they want to pace out the releases. Games have got too big, too bloated, and too expensive and someone needs to say enough is enough or soon we’ll be down to single digits when it comes to how many triple-A games are released a year.

By reader Zebra

The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

You can submit your own 500 to 600-word reader feature at any time, which if used will be published in the next appropriate weekend slot. As always, email [email protected] and follow us on Twitter.

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