Games That Cost More To Make Are Worse — Just How?
AAA game development has gotten ludicrously expensive in the past few years due to the insane level of detail that gets put into them and the thousands of manhours required to fully render everything. But I’ve noticed something rather paradoxical in recent times where games that take a fortune to develop are often panned by critics or just marked off as disappointments. With that much time and effort being put into the games, aren’t they logically supposed to perform better?
The most prominent example that I can think of that illustrates this quite well is Square Enix and their “heavy losses” after they ship over 5 million copies of a game. Just how much money did they spend on these games to label them as failures when they could be considered massive successes? Granted, some of those games were rather good, such as Tomb Raider and Hitman Absolution, but those two games didn’t receive as much critical acclaim as I think Square Enix thought they would get. I often hear people call those games “not as good as they thought” even though I enjoyed both of them myself. I think they could have crafted the same experiences using a lot less budget, however.
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AAA games these days have been receiving a huge slump in their receptions. Killzone Shadowfall was classified as mediocre even if it looks absolutely gorgeous. Knack was pummeled by the gaming community and critics alike. Thief received a surprisingly bad reception. Ryse did very poorly with critics. All of these games took millions to create, yet they are being so badly received. Resident Evil 6 is probably the most infamous example of the lot with its massive budget and then being bombarded with sub 50 scores and intense hatred by fans.
And then you get the other side of the fence with the indie offerings. Papers, Please was made by one dude and it received universal acclaim. Outlast is being heralded as the game that rejuvenated the horror genre. Hell, even Octodad was largely loved by the gaming community and that game just screams silly. Even Goat Simulator has gotten a better reception than some of the biggest names in gaming. I think the budget of one of the AAA games I’ve mentioned would have made up the budget of all of these indie games combined.
I believe I know the reason for this, however. AAA games keep it too safe and indie games go to the edge of creativity. If you develop a AAA game that’s about a customs officer doing paperwork, you bet your ass that investors would just laugh at such a notion. With safety comes stagnation. If you’re not out there pushing the boundaries then you soon enough do the same old thing everyone has gotten sick of already. Hench, a bad reception. When you’re indie, you just get your ideas out there because there’s nothing really stopping you. That makes for more creative and interesting games that get you a better reception. No critic is going to be impressed by competent gunplay and pretty visuals, they want something unique and interesting.
This bodes badly for the future where AAA games get worse and worse and we are only really left with the indie scene to satisfy our gaming needs. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for a game to have a huge budget, however. BioShock Infinite and GTA V had gigantic budgets that are similar to the biggest blockbuster movies out there and they are pretty great games, in their own rights. But both of these games didn’t play it safe. Both had pretty controversial ideas that they implemented and that kept them interesting.
Maybe the AAA community wakes up and realises that massive budgets aren’t the only thing needed to make great games. We are also stuck with the growing pains of the next generation so things can get better as time goes on. The Last of Us only came on the final stretches of the previous generation and we won’t easily see something with the same caliber in the first year, that’s for sure. Meanwhile, we have the fantastic indie scene to sedate our hunger for good games.