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Triple-A: down or up?

Late last year I published a post about the volume of sequels, spin-offs and remakes released since 2008. After classifying over 1,500 titles and analysing the data, I discovered that over half (59) of 2018’s top-100 titles were remakes and a much smaller number (12) were new IPs. It seems as though the video game industry is stuck on repeat: publishers like the low-risk approach of something which isn’t entirely new, while gamers enjoy the nostalgia that comes from playing something which feels familiar.

This finding was echoed in an article I read the following day on TechSpot entitled Is the next AAA-games crash imminent?, which noted three factors that could mean we’re heading for disaster: creativity, stagnation and gamer backlog. Just a couple of weeks later however I came across a piece on IGN explaining Why 2018 was the best year for video games; followed by another on The Telegraph’s website called The 25 biggest and best upcoming games in 2019. With such a wide range of differing opinions, it’s difficult to tell what’s really going on with the industry.

Triple-A going down?

In the TechSpot article, author Cal Jeffrey discussed a video by TheQuartering in which he explained why he thinks the triple-A industry is on its way to a crash. Despite not completely agreeing with the YouTuber, Jeffrey wrote: “[Creativity as a selling point] is one that companies like EA, and even Bethesda with the garbage that is Fallout 76, seem to have forgotten. Big franchises have become cash cows that studios milk for every dime before coming out with a new iteration that is only incrementally different than the last.”

He points out that because of constant pressure from investors (almost all of whom ‘know next to nothing about video games’), developers are afraid to take risks. He said: “They are scared to put something new out there that has a chance to fail. They would sooner go with the winning brand, even though they don’t have anything new to put into it.” Jeffrey claims that this and other factors have lead to drastic dips in stock valuation for some of the biggest names, with both Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts down around 45%.

There’s always a flood of articles about an industry crash at the start of any year and it seems as though the author’s negative impressions of Fallout 76 may have coloured his article somewhat. But I have to say he does have a point: my analysis showed that although the figure reduced slightly in 2018, almost 60% of the top-100 games last year were sequels and the overall trend is increasing. Only 16% of the 1,569 titles that made up my 11-year data set were new IPs. Is this an indicator of an impending disaster?

Triple-A going up?

On the flipside, Jared Petty from IGN thinks 2018 was the best year for video games yet. He wrote in his article: “It was a year of comebacks, re-imaginings, and some startling new ideas. Who knew a platformer about climbing a mountain could make us cry, or that we could have so much fun trampolining a VR robot or playing Tetris with goggles on? It didn’t seem to matter what platform we played… there were amazing things to behold just about everywhere, from Switch to PlayStation to PC.”

Despite the majority of titles mentioned throughout the piece being sequels, he claims the thing that made the year so great was how diverse its games were in terms of their creative focus and development scale. Petty went on to say: “After years of portended doom, console and handheld gaming were reborn in 2018 through an extraordinary fusion of AAA and small-studio projects of exceptional artistic vision and quality.” Independent creators have a task chance of making something just as good as the big names – if not better.

I get where he’s coming from with this opinion. When you consider previous titles such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice by Ninja Theory or The Witness by Thekla Inc, games celebrated for their quality in terms of both gameplay and design, it’s clear the line between indie and triple-A is becoming ever more blurred. But while things are looking rosy for the smaller creative teams out there, is the future just as bright for the larger companies?

What’s going to happen this year?

I find myself not agreeing with Petty because I don’t feel last year was one of gaming’s finest for me personally. I hardly played anything released in 2018; the majority of triple-A games didn’t appeal; and I found myself growing tired of the sheer volume of sequels, remakes and spin-offs continuously pushed out to market. There were definitely a few indie gems (The Red Strings Club, Unavowed and The Gardens Between were highlights) and yes, it does seem as though anything is now possible for small teams. But the big-budget stuff just didn’t quite hit the spot.

On the other hand I don’t entirely agree with Cal Jeffrey or TheQuartering either. As much as I’d prefer to see a higher quantity of new IPs in 2019, I understand that events such as Brexit are causing weary gamers and risk-adverse publishers alike to turn to the familiar. The global games audience estimated between 2.2 and 2.6 billion people and the software market expected to grow to an estimated $180.1 billion by the end of 2021, so it seems premature (and perhaps a little doing-it-for-the-views) to read articles about forthcoming crashes.

But with the current console generation now being five years old and world events giving everyone the heebie-jeebies, the industry seems in a state of flux. It feels as though we’re ready for something new. And if that means the triple-As taking a backseat while they take stock – therefore giving creative indies more space to shine – then I look forward to it.

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

35 thoughts on “Triple-A: down or up? Leave a comment

  1. I’m not really the “market” for triple-A any more, but from outside observation I feel like a lot more triple-A games seem to have been disappointing people over the course of the last couple of years or so. It used to be that triple-A was a mark of quality — as well as being marketed out the wazoo, it would also actually be a really solid game; a fine example of what its host platform had to offer. Nowadays, I feel like the emphasis on churning out sequels has caused these games’ impact to lessen. Call of Duty may still be solid as a game in its own right, but those who have been buying it every year for the last 7 or 8 years may well be getting a bit tired of it by this point.

    It also doesn’t really help that discussion of these games is still so poor in the mainstream, primarily thanks to a lack of literacy beyond the blockbusters of the business. Look at something like God of War from last year; this was roundly praised for “doing things games had never done before”, particularly with regard to storytelling. Great, but games had most certainly done those things before — it’s just *big-budget* games hadn’t done them before.

    Still, despite all this, I think gaming as a whole is in a great place. While triple-A may be in a questionable position, the rest of the business has never been better. We’ve never had more choice; there have never been more specific audiences catered to. And that’s great! I’d much rather have that than a “one size fits all” approach, myself.

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    • With the exception of The Elder Scrolls Online over Christmas, it’s been a very long time since I played a triple-A game. I haven’t enjoyed their rinse-and-repeat methods for a while now: there are an awful lot of new releases that seem to follow the same post-apocalyptic / hyper-realistic style sheet, and they all just seem to blur into one another.

      On the flipside however, there’s always something new and interesting happening in the indie side of the industry and like you that’s where I find most of the games that appeal to me. If smaller developers lead the way this year, you won’t hear me complaining – that’s much more exciting than that one-size-fits all. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • While there are outliers, I feel like a lot of the blockbuster releases are aimed at more “casual” players. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way; I simply mean they’re aimed at people who maybe don’t making gaming their primary hobby, or who don’t buy a lot of games. Dave from Accounts who plays Call of Duty with his friends from the pub on Friday nights, football on Saturdays.

        Pro: there are a lot of potential “casual” players. Con: “casual” players are fickle, and you can’t necessarily rely on their support in the long term… though an annual release of something they previously enjoyed might court them back.

        Meanwhile, those of us who have been gaming for a long while are more aware of the breadth of experiences that the medium as a whole has to offer, so we know where to go to seek out the sort of experiences we’re after, whether it’s indies, “B-tier” developers and publishers, localised games from overseas or any combination thereof. There really is something for everyone these days… you just need to be aware of that fact!

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        • Something you said there could well be part of the reason for why I’ve been feeling a little jaded recently… We do know where to go to seek out new gaming experiences so when we see others resorting to the same annual releases and rehashes, it induces a kind of frustration. There are so many smaller games out there worthy of attention and yet they’re overshadowed by all the noise surrounding the biggest titles.

          I guess the thing to remember is that there’s a game for everybody, whether they’re Dave from Accounts or someone who wants a different experience – and that’s ok. Isn’t it one of the things that makes our hobby as great as it is? And it’s one reasons why we blog, to shout about the titles we think others with similar interests may find enjoyable.

          Maybe it’s a case of me just needing to shake off the January blues and play more video games!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh yeah, I can definitely relate to this. I *know* several of my friends would be *all over* some of the stuff I cover, but can I get them to try anything new and exciting? Can I bollocks.

            Oh well! For every stubborn “real life” friend, I’ve had some random person reach out to me and thank me for recommending something they’d never have considered previously, so I’m probably batting a net positive or some equally tortured metaphor here.

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            • Who doesn’t love tortured metaphors? πŸ˜‰

              I’m in a fortunate position now where most of my real-life friends are people I’ve met though blogging, so they thankfully tend to have open minds when it comes to video games! I can still go into work and listen to everyone in the office talk about gaming if I ever feel like I’m missing out on Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed however… hmm.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Only a couple of days ago was reading a Twitter post of the titles gamers were looking forward to in the first quarter of this year. There were a dozen or so names being pushed forward but I couldn’t help notice that only two of these were an original IP – Sekiro and Anthem.

    Is this a problem? As long as the games are good, does it matter? I do think this could be a huge year for indie developers. Some of the original content from smaller teams that pops up on my Twitter timeline looks just as exciting as the eleventh sequel to a triple-A franchise.

    Hopefully, gamers will give more support to original IP and smaller developers, rather than continuing to consume what they are used to.

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    • The more we consume what we’re used to, the longer we’ll receive more of the same. I understand that in these current uncertain times it’s good business sense for publishers and developers to take fewer risks… but the same-old-same-old gets boring.

      I’d love to see smaller developers get the attention they deserve and catch the eye of people who may never have been played an indie game before. If we bloggers can help with that by writing about the projects we’re interested in, then it’s a step in the right direction. πŸ˜‰

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  3. For the most part the AAA scene has me feeling very jaded. It’s all very predictable both in terms of what the games will actually be like and what we’re expecting to be announced. There are a few games I’m looking forward to this year, but honestly I’m still very skeptical about some of them and actually feel like there is a very good chance those ones I like the look of will fail or disappoint.
    The AAA scene feels more like a corporate thing now, just big wigs looking to get money off of their investments and they don’t care how. That’s why I prefer Indie games, they feel more like passion projects and are actually guided by their vision and idea for a game rather than the money making side of it.
    The problem we have in today’s industry is that the average gamer doesn’t care. They don’t care who makes something and whether or not it’s filled with microtransactions that look to exploit consumers. They just want the latest thing that there friends are talking about.
    Whilst Epic games have to be commended for their success with Fortnite and the way in which they’ve kept it fresh and up to date, it’s set a precedent among other publishers where that is what they want to achieve financially. Both Activision and EA have been guilty of milking their audience in any way possible over the last 12 months. They’re constantly looking at new ways to get every bit of coin out of us and it sickens me.
    The newest one is putting in microtransactions at a later date. Rake in the positive reviews and positive press for not having them, then drop them in a few months later to get a hold of the whales looking to spend thousands. Rockstar, Activision, EA are all following this trend and I’m sure Ubisoft won’t be too far behind with The Division.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s exactly the word I was looking for: jaded. I totally get what you mean by this. I went to ‘corporate’ gaming event last year where I discovered that most of the attendees were investors looking for opportunities or contacts, and those I spoke to told me they didn’t actually play video games. I think this experience has had an impact on how I’ve started to view the big-budget side of the industry.

      I pre-ordered a copy of The Division 2 for my other-half’s Christmas present and, as much as I’ve got my fingers-crossed that it won’t be the case, I’m waiting for those pesky microtransactions to crop up… 😦

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  4. From what I’ve seen, 2018 for video games was a lot like what 2017 was for films; when it came to AAA releases, there didn’t seem to be any middle ground between the turkeys and the gems, and there were quite a few high-profile disasters. I can’t imagine such a strategy working out for them in the long term, though I don’t think we’ll experience a crash as severe as the one from 1983 because there really isn’t anything stopping the indie scene from filling in the void. It was therefore very smart of Nintendo to essentially become an indie console. Right now, they’re basically the video game equivalent of A24 (well, A24 if they had actual faith in their audience).

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    • Very clever business move there by Nintendo. As well as cornering the family market and playing into the nostalgia factor for older fans, they’ve now covered all avenues by including indie games.

      I’ve never considered it before but yes, it did seem as though games were either really well received or totally panned last year. With Devil May Cry 5, The Division 2, Anthem and the rest coming in 2019, should we expect more of the same? My gut feeling is ‘probably’.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can agree with Jared on 2018 being the best for games as we had some great games and remasters come out for us to enjoy and I also get what you mean with Triple A companies being cash cows and well Bethesda’s Fallout 76 is a prime example of that πŸ™ˆ

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    • 2018 just didn’t do it for me unfortunately. There just wasn’t a lot that truly grabbed and held my attention. My favourite game of the year ended up being an indie one that came out right at the beginning which I suspect not many people have played. πŸ˜•

      Maybe 2019 will be better… is there anything you’re looking forward to in particular?

      Liked by 1 person

      • For me its Resident Evil 2 and Cyberpunk 2077 πŸ˜€ what about you! And what was the Indie game?

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        • There are a few 2019 titles I’m looking forward to playing but they’re all indies: The Occupation, Disco Elysium and Observation. I could be interested in Cyberpunk but I’m holding out to get through all the hype first. πŸ˜‰

          Last year’s indie game was The Red Strings Club. It won’t be to everybody’s taste because it’s not exactly full of action, but I really the questions it forced you to ask yourself.

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  6. Addmitedly i find myself enjoying smaller titles and indy games more than the triple a titles in recent years. Its not that the bigger titles aren’t as good as they used to be for me, the smaller titles just seem to offer newer things and ideas that I like as opposed to the same things that they know work.

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  7. I tend not to worry about AAA or not, I just approach things on a game by game basis, since I really don’t care if there’s a massive studio behind a game or a single guy living off Doritos and the blood of his enemies. The final product is all that matters in the end and 2018 gave me some really cool experiences. One of my highlights came from a single developer, Lucas Pope, the developer for Papers Please. The game in question is The Return of the Obra Dinn, which blew me away with its quality, art and everything in between. But another one was Marvel’s Spider-Man, which was AAA, astonishing, sensational and spectacular and I’ve found very few things as relaxing as web-swinging across Manhattan. It’s almost a Zen experience.

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