Thursday, July 3, 2014

5 reasons why the AAA game obsession is harming the gaming scene

AAA video games are games with a high budget and big production values. They are nice, cause a lot of hype and give the gaming community something to talk about, but they are not the only games in existence. After reading the opinion that the big guy at Sony, Shuhei Yoshida had about the obsession with AAA games, you can pretty much see that game publishers and developers are getting kind of frustrated with the AAA game rush that is happening in the industry these days. Many gamers just want big games to happen overnight and while gaming companies are not entirely innocent about this, trying to rush the gaming industry is causing more harm than good and here are 5 reasons why.

The game is good, but some of its potential was hidden in order to meet the deadlines.

1) The sacrifice of quality over speed.

This one is all about the various game developing processes that are affected by rushed developing cycles. First of all, the creative process gets shortened to an extent that many good ideas that gamers could had enjoyed are lost in the process because there is not enough time to include them. Then the game design process is forced to become "too safe" for its own good, so the main base of the game you will pay 40-60+ dollars for is stripped off any "unnecessary" (unnecessary meaning cool stuff) design practices which almost leave the game with a basic canvas that ends up lacking. Finally the technical process becomes a race to the finish line, increasing the possibility of the game having bugs or technical issues that people will most likely complain about later. When all this happens, at least 25% of what could had made a game great is lost.

call of duty
Did you knew that up until know they have been using the same engine over and over again?

2) The dreaded "one year" development cycles.

Even when many people seem to hate when a good franchise gets the "one year - one game" treatment, we have to accept that this is a by-product of wanting big games too fast. Publishers are not just there because of the games, they are mostly because of the money and if their marketing specialists see that demand has risen to a point where they can no longer support it by normal means, they will recommend to speed things up, thus the "one year" development cycle. This causes a lot of things like recycling of resources, decrease in innovation and it basically grind creativeness to a halt up to a point where the only thing that changes are the characters and setting, sort of like one of those cheap novels you find in some department stores for a few bucks.

Valkyria Chronicles
Are we ever gonna get a sequel of this on America?

3) AAA Franchises with a slow development process die off.

When was the last time we saw a revolutionary cutting edge game, with more than 25 hours of game play, featuring new things and nice visuals? We have seen a few exceptions to the rule, but on the broader aspect of things, any franchise that needs to have a slow development development process is marked for death or at least ridiculously delayed. Take for instance many of the games that have vanished. Most of them have some things in common like dynamic game design, detailed game worlds and storylines that go a little deeper than your average "good guy vs bad guy" cliche.

All these things take time, which means that they can't rush them and much less "dissect" them (see point #1) because then the fans will not support it. So what they do is that they ignore those games, but use their names as promotion because they know that fans will love to hear that their favorite franchise is still alive. This is the reason why we haven't seen games like Half Life 3, Beyond Good and Evil or The Last Guardian for a long while. Their development process is slow, so companies never focus on them because they feel like they need to keep an always hungry AAA game crowd happy at all times. Sort of like wanting to offer a professional chef-style dish, but having to settle out with cheap plain burgers because people are asking for food and they want it fast.

This is how the market looks like sometimes and it is our own fault.

4) It causes gaming "droughts".

One of the things that the AAA game obsession has done is kill smaller studios because they are not been supported anymore. Back in the past, smaller studios on the mainstream market (non-indie) were the ones that gave us something to play while the big budget games were developed. It was like going to the game store and seen all these obscure games that had weird release dates and were not advertised that much, later on discovering that they were great under-appreciated gaming experiences. This does not happen anymore because most of those studios have either closed, been absorbed by a bigger company or went "indie" only. For some reason, many gamers decide to wait until the big games are released and pass on anything else.

This created a sort of black hole in the market where all these small studios got sucked in and now we suffer gaming droughts because of it. Let's face it, there are too few small gaming studios in the big market and the ones that are still there are not releasing games like they used to because they have no incentive to make great productions anymore because too many people are just sitting on their consoles waiting for the next new AAA game and not giving anything else a chance.

Castlevania SOTN Alucard
With Igarashi out of Konami we will not see something like this anymore.
5) It saps motivation out of the game companies.

This is a chain reaction that happens when the publishers lay the smack down on their developing teams based on the market (now frivolous) demands. This takes a toll in not only the programmers, but the game designers, writers, musicians and all of the creative team as they struggle to meet the deadlines while leaving precious ideas dead on the table because they don't have enough time/resources to do it. This is in the case that the project becomes a reality and doesn't get canned like it has happened to many games out there. In the end, the motivation to create becomes scarce and many of the most famous developers just give up and become figure heads or just leave the company (which is good for them, but means that the franchise they worked on for so long is either dead or will never be the same).

Tales of the Abyss Anime
The best thing to do is to relax, play and have fun.

Wrapping it up

The gaming industry is going too fast for its own good and this must stop if we really want gaming to be become better instead of a re-hash fest. We must re-learn that good games take time and give a chance to all those "not so famous" games out there, be them in the indie scene or in the mainstream market. We need to stop waiting exclusively for the big games and just play and have fun with what we have. There used to be a time when gaming was based entirely on playing and not on trends or the next big thing so it would be healthy for the gaming scene if we return to that line of thinking, especially if we want our favorite franchises to survive and game developers to keep their creative freedom. This can be achieved and it is all up to you.

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