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Triple A Arms Race

Dane Smith / August 3, 2015 at 8:00 AM / Gaming, Opinions

“Effectively what we see is an arms race between the top studios in the world to invest ever-increasing dollars into larger and larger product development cycles.” I could not agree more with the Just Cause 3 studio head. With improved graphics, and larger memory capacities, developers can do more and more to give players new, original, and immersive experiences. But those improvements come at a cost. Games now require millions upon millions to make in 2015, and it doesn’t look like the Triple A companies are going to be slowing down any time soon.

This arms race is leaving a door wide open. This door is what, I believe, led to the rise of indie developers. In 1995, companies were working with sprite based graphics and 16-bit technology to bring us classics like Final Fantasy. Sprite based graphics are not dead, and we see them more prominently in the realm of the indie game because of how much cheaper and easier they are to produce than full 3D graphics. Graphics are just one example of the ever evolving arms race. Twenty years ago there was no voice acting except for the occasional “Get Ready…GO!” style of dialogue. Music is performed by professional orchestra’s instead of on someone’s computer. All of these additions and upgrades add to the budget of a game.

This retro-style void, while good for entrepreneurs, is one missed opportunity for the big devs to make more money in the world of smaller budget games. How many years does it take to create a Tomb Raider or a Resident Evil 6, two games now infamous for selling a ton but failing to live up to their own company’s financial goals. Yes, people, we’re living in a world where a game selling millions of copies is a financial flop.

Some critics and gamers have decried the Vita dead.  Fire Emblem and Pokemon have proven time and time again for Nintendo that to a lot of people gameplay is more important than graphics. How much would it cost a major company to create a hit SNES-era RPG exclusively for the Vita like Square Enix making Chrono Trigger 2, Konami making Suikoden 6 or even Sega making a true sequel to the Phantasy Star series?

Progress does not mean the past is without merit.

Progress does not mean the past is without merit.

I don’t want to say we’re heading to another industry crash as experienced in the 1980s, but it is disconcerting that major companies are betting their future on a role of the dice. There are no guarantees that any game will prove successful. The coding is infinitely more complex than the SNES-era, as we have seen with delay after delay of Triple A games. Nothing is easy, and it is not as polished and spectacular as the hype would let to believe. See Watchdogs. This is not to say failures did not happen in the past. What I’m suggesting is creating older style games, with a more compact structure and world, should be faster for today’s top devs to create and polish, like Mega Man 9 for example.

We are coming to a breaking point where games are getting bigger, budgets are expanding, but the cost to the consumer is kept low. In 1995 when I was a kid in Canada, SNES games were $100. If you got a crappy game then you’d be out a hundred gold coins. That was the risk. Even the best ones, ranging from Street Fighter II, Phantasy Star IV, and Super Mario Kart, were not what people would call prolonged experiences. Now games the previous few generations have been $60 USD on average. Something has to give. Either companies scale back or games become more expensive.

I hope that in the future the big devs will take a long, hard look at the state of the business and realize there is a place for both retro and new-gen style games. That creating games for both doesn’t put all their eggs in one basket, and helps diversify their business portfolio and helps bunker them in case of a game going bust.

What are your thoughts about the state of the industry? Do you think developers are putting all their eggs in one basket by betting on Triple A games to succeed? Is there a place for small budget titles on the consoles?

Dane Smith

When not behind the TV screen playing the newest RPG, or penning my novel series ("The Lasombra Files" found on Amazon), I'm behind the podium teaching across the world. Licensed teacher by day, gamer and critic by night, motivator for life.