‘Back in the day’ triple A games came with a sort of understanding that they carried a sort of standard quality.
In the past, whether a game was created by a prominent studio or a part of a well-established franchise, you knew the game was going to deliver something of substance. Now, these games weren’t always the best games, but they still carried an aura of video game craftsmanship. Well things have changed. AAA games today either come riddled with release issues, lack of quality assurance, or lack any soul. Why is this starting to become the norm in recent years? Is it the size of new games? Have development practices not evolved with game technologies? New video game practices? The overabundance of feedback? Or is it simply that we have raised our standards into the stratosphere?
Games are huge in 2016, 50 Gigabyte huge. Open world games are all the rage these days. The majority of last year’s biggest games were of the open world genre. You could blame this on juggernauts like Grand Theft Auto for popularizing the genre, but could this also be the reason why AAA games are failing? Open world games are really hard to make with tons of variables and scenarios to account for. Story telling doesn’t get any easier when you hand part of the narration to the player. Also, we are currently on the 8th generation of video game consoles. An age where graphics and physics are ever so close to reality, an age where we expect just that. This all makes games extremely difficult to devise, too many moving parts. A game like Watchdogs (or Assassin Creed: Unity) fell flat possibly because of a rushed development cycle while trying to push the envelope in the graphics department. Obviously, because of that the story and gameplay took a hard hit and was not fleshed out enough. Assassin Creed: Unity had a similar issue, although they seem to have gotten a hang of their engine with Syndicate. The damage was already done. As a result of this, delays are no longer viewed in a negative light as they used to, now they are seen as a solution to possible problems. Almost as a new final step video game development requires.
It is understandable that with the advancement of technology, developers need that extra couple of months to make sure everything runs smoothly. This is probably causing many studios to look at their development cycles and restructure them in order to give that extra bit of time. However, it seems that is not that case. We are nearing the fourth year that lackluster triple A video games have been common place and developers keep delaying their games. It seems that a way to remedy this or at least create the illusion that a game is not delayed is to extend the development cycle. Allow these more elaborate video games the time they need to work so that the other aspects of the game get that attention they deserve.
However, it seems that ignoring those aspects to make the game work is becoming a trend. By that I mean the advent of multiplayer-only games into the AAA stream. Games like Star Wars: Battlefront, Evolve, and Titanfall, all arguably worked and looked as they were intended. It feels as though those games and others still took the same time being developed as games with a full blown single player campaign. Because of this these games are asking the same retail price as games with both a robust multiplayer campaign and an 8+ hour campaign.
This is problematic because these games lack the replayability that a 60$ price range demands. The speculation is that now that they know their next-gen engine, Respawn Entertainment will include a campaign into Titanfall 2. If true, this demonstrates how maybe the quality of AAA games will bounce back as developers get familiar with new technologies.
Technology is a factor that is not subtle. That’s why it can be understood as the main thing to blame for why AAA games are in a state of decline. But something as simple as gamer feedback taken too literally could be of blame as well. Fallout 4 could be an example of this. Fallout 3 was a great addition to the franchise. It had the setting down, the lore down, the dark humor and characters down. What it didn’t have was a great combat system. The game was criticized for it, but it was greatly overshadowed by the praise it received. Bethesda Studios seems to have worked really hard to improve on the combat system as well as introduce new ideas like weapon crafting for Fallout 4. However, it seems like they got carried away. In Fallout 4, weapons are the answer to everything. Gone were interactions with non-player characters and their environments; now nearly all NPC’s are narrowed down to plain enemies. Everyone doing anything remotely interesting is either a Raider or a Gunner and your only interaction is to shoot them in the face. Gone are the questionable moral choices of helping out a group of raiders take down a settlement or talking your way out of nuking Megaton. There could be other reasons why this the case, but it feels that by focusing on the combat, Fallout 4 lost its rich RPG elements. Feedback is a great tool, one that can improve games greatly, but it is a tool that needs to be used carefully. Otherwise we might just end up with generic games.
Feedback, technology and genres are all good reasons to explain why AAA games have become malfunctioning or dull. It could also be that we have become so accustomed to the game standard that we are now all craving for better things. There was a time where I could sit down a play a Call of Duty and admire the things it was trying. Now all I see are rehashed ideas and annoying technical and gameplay issues. Issues have become so repetitive that we are able to pick them out from game to game. Meanwhile, indie games have transcended being “indie.” in In the last five years, their quality has increased and made them full fledged games. They may not have the budget of a AAA games, but they offer a far greater quality and a wealth of exciting ideas.
It’s difficult to point at one of these issues and they say that they are the reason, much less come up with a solution. The best course of action is to voice our individual decisions. Many issues get patched or addressed when a community of a particular game voices their concern. It could be our turn as overall gaming community to voice our concern about the games we play.