Why it's time to stop hating AAA games

In the past few years we’ve seen a swell of hatred for what the games industry calls ‘AAA games’. For those who don’t know, AAA games are the biggest blockbusters of the year; the multi-million sellers with the multi-million dollar budgets. Think Call of Duty: Ghosts, GTA 5, Battlefield, or FIFA. They’re the most highly-polished and popular games available, and for the most-part they get the biggest scores. And--similar to other media like films and music--that popularity can bring resentment.

Let’s look at an example. Call of Duty is the embodiment of AAA gaming. It’s the best selling series of this generation, and each year it brings us a game that averages between 80-95% scores with the vast majority of critics. Yet here are a few comments left by real people about the announcement of this year’s Call of Duty Ghosts:

“COD: yawn”. “I can barely contain my excitement... NOT”. “Can't wait! To not play it”. “Pretty sure though that there will be some "bros" out there who's panties get wet from this announcement lol. The series died after Black Ops / Modern Warfare 3 to me. Now it's just like Guitar Hero; "Oh hey look another one! Too bad I'm not buying it ‘cause it's the same old shit!" lol”. “Let it fucking die. CoD4 was the only good one. You guys seriously need to dust off your creative departments”. Yup, people love to hate Call of Duty. In fact, there’s a lot of hate for AAA games in general. Just check out this 13 page forum thread on Steam called ‘I can’t stand AAA games anymore’.

Even the developers themselves seem set against AAA. Assassin's Creed 3 creative director Alex Hutchinson describes AAA games as a “massive arms race” and says the push for AAA games to outdo each other is “a cancerous growth”. Deus Ex creator Warren Spector has described the process of making AAA games as “soul crushing”.

Well, it’s time to stop hating on AAA. Why? AAA games are the lifeblood of the games industry. Without mega-budget games like Call of Duty, which have broken into the mainstream consciousness and put game sales on a par with many blockbuster movies, this industry would be far smaller than it is now. Without the same amount of money running through the industry, games would be less ambitious in scale and scope because finance allows development teams to grow, and buys time to push technology as hard as possible.

Yes, sales of games have been declining since 2009, but thanks to truly great AAA games like Mass Effect 3, BioShock Infinite, and Skyrim the bar for quality and content continues to rise. Not only that, but the sales of more successful games allow publishers to allocate money and resources to better DLC, riskier sequels, or original games (so, sales of Skyrim helped Bethesda fund Dishonored). It's thanks to AAA that the quality of core games continues to grow, even while the industry declines and diversifies into areas like digital download and mobile.

One argument often leveled at AAA games is that they stifle creativity, and while the AAA games need to be commercial enough to turn a profit on multi-million dollar investments, indie games can afford to push creative boundaries and sell fewer copies. Sure, it’s true that middling games like Army of Two and Dead Island feel very derivative, but true AAA titles are just as innovative as the indies. Look at smart narrative of BioShock, the visual fidelity of Uncharted 3, or the ambitious interactive features of the LittleBigPlanet series--these AAA games are constantly bringing us new ideas and ways to use our technology.

Another reason some choose to hate AAA is popularity. As game series’ like COD grow in popularity they become adopted by more mainstream players. Sales increase, budgets go up, and the series begins to feel more and more AAA. Suddenly, that game series floods into popular culture; onto the news and mainstream media, increasing the influence and awareness of video games as a whole. All of a sudden, people know who Booker DeWitt is when you start ranting about him at parties. Great, right? Well... there's a flip-side.

Popularity can also lead to core fans accusing the series of ‘selling out’ to please their new-found audience. It’s something rock bands have been putting up with for decades, regardless of whether or not their musical direction changed. Once a player feels like the latest game in a franchise isn’t being made with them in mind, resentment kicks in. After that, it can be impossible to regain that core support regardless of how great the final game actually is.

Yes, some AAA series have made concessions to a more mainstream audience, but rarely at a detriment to the overall quality of the game. Take Mass Effect as a prime example. ME3 is a better game for all its crowd-pleasing shooter additions than the original. AAA aspirations took that series from ‘decent sci-fi RPG’ to ‘genre-leading RPG trilogy’.

Ok, we’re not saying that AAA games are faultless. Square Enix recently described sales of its latest AAA blockbusters Tomb Raider (4.5 million) and Hitman Absolution (3.6 million) as disappointing, clearly indicating that there can often be an imbalance between game budgets and sales. Maybe Square expected too much from Tomb Raider and Hitman, maybe it overspent on them. When publishers bet too much on a single project they can end up making a huge loss, which is when the AAA model falls down. Projects are cancelled, development studios close, and other publishers become even more risk averse.

The problem isn’t the game; it’s the way that game is made and marketed. It’s the expectations placed on that game. During a recent interview on this site, Fallout creator Brian Fargo said: “I think that when those [Square Enix sales] kind of numbers are considered a failure--because you’re doing in excess of $100 million at retail--you have to start looking at the way you’re doing things. I think that this business spends way too much time looking at GTA 5 and World of Warcraft; numbers, but I’ve always found that to be a waste of time.” Simply, if you're making Army of Two, don't expect it to sell like Skyrim.

So don’t hate AAA titles. They are the biggest and best games of this generation, and without them our industry would be treading water, serving up titles created on modest budgets, and pumping out endless clones of Angry Birds. Do you fancy more ‘Birds? No. Then give AAA some love. Without it, developers certainly wouldn’t have the resources to develop more hardcore, middle-tier games like Deus Ex Human Revolution or Dark Souls.

It’s AAA games that are leading the charge into the next-generation, and I can’t wait to see the breath-taking titles coming on PS4 and the new Xbox. No, they won’t be perfect, but they will bring serious excitement and fun… and surely that’s what gaming is all about.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000
  • Strauter - January 5, 2015 12:10 a.m.

    I am really upset with this game!!! I have beaten this game four times on survival mode and I have all the map fragments, documents, keys, etc. It shows me that I get the rocket launcher and then machine gun, I did get them, then I go to next game+ and get the poster ofsEnsation then I go to the chair, I climb out of the back of the ambulance and go through the little part till I get to the little shack to go through the mirror, I go to the chair to up grade. After I do that then I go to the room with the map fragments and they glow red. I then click my "a" button and it shows me I got the high powered sniper rifle and the burst pistol. Then I look at my inventory and I dont have these weapons!!!!!!!!!!! I only have the rocket launcher and the machine gun!!!!!!! Is anyone else having this problem? If I'm doingssomething wrong please let me know!!!!! If my game has a glitch or something I wont be as mad!!!!!! If it isnt a glitch or something else I'm breaking this game CD and I will not play another game from this company!!!!!! I have beaten this game 4 times and I have just wasted my time!!!! I am really mad!!!! Help!!!!!!!
  • stillwatergiant - June 4, 2013 9:07 p.m.

    Just thought I would say that Brian Fargo didn't create Fallout he was the CEO of Interplay at the time and so had nothing to do with making the game he was however involved in the development of Wasteland. If AAA games didn't exist the industry would be in a lot better shape because of the massive amounts spend on game development and marketing, for example F:NV had more spent on marketing than on development, have made quality go massively down as games cannot try anything different and must appeal to every one to make back the money spent on them. This is the reason that games get dumbed down. If studios don't do this then they go bankrupt or can't attract publishers this is exactly what happened to Troika who made some of the best RPG ever made but their games didn't sell much although they all made a profit and because they didn't want to dumb their games down or make games they themselves didn't want to play they went out of business.AAA is the reason that games like D:HR had melee weapons removed and replaced with cinematic takedowns and had skills systems removed and had quest arrows added it's to make sure that absolutely any one can play and finish these games.AAA is the reason the entire genres like survival horror,stealth and cRPG's have vanished or are now rely on kickstarter or barley ever come out and if they go are so dumbed down that it misses the point of that genre. So yes I do hate AAA games and they have massively damaged the games industry.
  • ScipioAfricanus - June 4, 2013 8:57 p.m.

    Thank about logical fallacies there, buddy. Triple A games are bad not because they are popular, but because of how they affect the developers around them. So many great games franchises have been discarded or tarnished in favor of getting money of the "Call of Duty audience" or whatever playerbase pays up their entire paycheck on mediocre, yearly released, DLC-infested, Dorito chewing, Mountain Dew chugging, 9.5 garbage. And to even imply that smaller games with reasonable budgets owe their thanks to that, is entirely false and idiotic of you to say so.
  • Jewlord - June 4, 2013 8:44 p.m.

    AAA game means the majority of funding was spent on marketing and paid reviews. Which means the game was poorly funded and hastily made. It's not my fault if AAA games choose to be bad, which they usually do choose. Good thing the majority of people are too stupid to realize this so american companies can keep screwing them over just like in american politics. Good Goyim keep buying the AAA game, keep making the AAA game article, watch the western game market become ruined with horrible quality.
  • jv9ufxcy - June 4, 2013 6:10 p.m.

    I'll stop when: The games become worth the hype. The Marketing budgets don't exceed the development budget. The reviewers start being honest. The forum writers stop trying to guilt trip us into buying shitty games.
  • RhinoBlindado - May 22, 2013 5:37 p.m.

    Wait, am I getting this right? Deus Ex is a middle-tier game? Dark Souls? What the fuck man.
  • fakelot-alotte - May 18, 2013 8:23 p.m.

    people don't hate AAA game they just hate bad games like cod that that don't bring any innovation(engine docent support mirror reflections) and congratulations on overreacting to a post by so random "gigadrive08"
  • AtlanteanLancer - May 17, 2013 2:54 p.m.

    i dont hate AAA games i jusst dont like COD AAA means high polish and production but not necessarily threading new ground an expensive production demands sales i remember when people praised AC 1 for being a brave production requiring 1 million copies sold to brake-even, yet it wasn't a shooter, it risked with a historic/sci-fi setting and a new hub approach then AC 3 hits the market and people start complaining how theyr milking the franchise well yes, that's how it goes, you take a risk, then establish a continuity it's true, every entry brought changes and refinements, the formula is still there but dammit, they make predictable standardized stuff and publish regularly and if you liked the previous, you risk little ps the bastards screwed up on the extremely sub-par Revelations, a forgettable entry
  • AtlanteanLancer - May 17, 2013 3:14 p.m.

    the AC series needs a fresh new approach, mechanics and all
  • sandplasma - May 9, 2013 11:19 p.m.

    I came here to hate and this is what I see. I guess I'll go hate elsewhere!
  • shawksta - May 9, 2013 4:54 a.m.

    A "stop hating" article in the week of hate? Oh the irony. I have nothing against AAA games, especially if they turn out good. But I frankly hate how far they and gamesites push them and shove them up our asses. I know its advertisement but ignoring other games entirely and pretend they never exist Piss me off, especially when "Best games" of anything articles circle jerk around them, its already bullshit Spike TV never highlights Japanese games as much as they do American devs. #WeekofHate
  • Jacko415 - May 8, 2013 11:27 p.m.

    Wow. Seriously? Fuck the new GR staff...
  • avantguardian - May 8, 2013 11:03 p.m.

  • bongo_christ - May 8, 2013 8:53 p.m.

    "Hatred"?? I don't 'hate' AAA games. I don't like the 'one's you mentioned for a variety of reasons. My main problem is with AAA Publishers like Activision, EA and UbiSoft. As a PC gamer, I feel that they generally don't make games that interest me, and the few that do...I mean, everyone knows what a nightmare Diablo 3 has been...and that all these problems that are ruining the game experience are due to a set of business decisions from the top of the chain, that I would say are consumer unfriendly. Ubisoft with their horrible DRM and dysfunctional UPlay, keeping in-game features locked for offline play, EA with their dodgy DLC monetization schemes, Origin, DRM and season passes, etc... They're soulless corporations only interested in generating mega profits, and certainly not in releasing new & innovative experiences for gamers to buy and enjoy. They've found their 'mainstream' audience that delivers them 10 million+ sales on 'blockbuster' games, but I think they've also in the process, killed off the potential for any sense of creativity or advancement in game mechanics for big budget games. I disagree that their existence and success has had a flow on effect for the rest of the industry as well. Sure Dishonored is one example of a new IP that's done well, but how many others??? Activision are making megabucks, but you couldn't name 1 game they've published this generation that supports new ideas and fresh concepts for gaming. The money isn't circulating, it's going into shareholders pockets and into increasing the funding for the next Call of Duty, etc.. But that's all fine as far as i'm concerned....because there are so many great independently developed games that DO focus on a 'pure' and varied gameplay experience rather than trying to deliver an ever greater spectacle. The recent successes of Kickstarter & crowd funding in general show that if you've got a great idea and some cred behind you, that you can make any game you want happen. I don't begrudge Call of Duty because it's popular, I just think it's a rubbish game that panders toward spectacle over substance, and blind jingoism over self-examination and taking a critical approach to the subject matter. The comparison to music doesn't add up. I mean Minecraft sold 10 million...Terraria, Binding of Isaac have sold more than a million copies, etc.....yet people, as far as i know, don't call them for 'selling out'. If you're an indie with talent, vision and a great concept you can potentially sell millions of copies of your game, whereas that generally isn't true of popular music...I mean, do you want to create something that is 'safe' and that is 'palatable' to this imaginary 'mass audience'...or do you want to make something new and challenging??? I mean, I don't really get why you'd want to get into some pursuit like music or making games or movies or whatever...if you're not going to push yourselves creatively...if you're just playing it safe to make lots of money. Because you might as well become an accountant or just get into the investment property game or something. That's where I think Activision should go to be honest.
  • ZeeCaptain - May 8, 2013 6:21 p.m.

    Where are you getting these ideas GR? Do you truly have such a skewed vision of what your fan's likes and dislikes are? We don't hate AAA games, just that they never change. COD Ghost is most likely Black Ops 3, and Black Flag might as well be AssCreed 3 DLC. I have never heard tell of Infinite being overrated, though I've never played GTA so I can't begin to contemplate it. Now what you chose to call AAA I just call filler, and I don't believe the industry will die without these AAA thrillers. Now everyone here is entitled to their own opinion, but one more bad article and I will cease to be a GR minion.
  • HeyShutUpThisIsntBrett - May 8, 2013 4:33 p.m.

    It's really funny how some of the commenters are confused on the meaning of the term "AAA." AAA literally mean's that it was a big budget title which sold well. It does not mean anything about the quality of the game, which would be impossible to do since quality is 100% subjective.
  • Lucky256 - May 9, 2013 12:26 p.m.

    Yes, AAA means that a game has a big budget and that it has high sale predictions. But should't a game that has that title also have good quality? And quality is not subjective, quality means it's a polished product. Fun is 100 % subjective. As in minecraft may be a damn fun game, but it sure as hell isn't top quality performance-wise. Just as some people might not like GTA IV, but there's not a single doubt in the actual quality of that game.
  • ashley-walker - May 8, 2013 2:29 p.m.

    Wow. Hardly ever see articles where the first sentence is the only really accurate thing in it. "In the past few years we’ve seen a swell of hatred for what the games industry calls ‘AAA games’." For what THE INDUSTRY CALLS 'AAA games'. Not -real- AAA games. A big name makes a knock-off of a game it released last year and the year before last and calls it a AA title despite it being repetitive and unremarkable, and then people wonder why it's hated. C'mon, get a clue, Andy. People don't hate the real AAA games, the good ones. They hate it when someone decides to call something a AAA game despite it being a pile of horse crap. But then again, you called this an article and it was a piece of horse crap, too, so maybe you're a little too close to the problem.
  • talleyXIV - May 8, 2013 6:06 p.m.

    AAA is a title for the production value not the actual quality of the game.
  • rob-moir - May 8, 2013 2:27 p.m.

    I don't hate "AAA games" and I don't know anyone who does. If the industry at large is worried about the response its getting to its roster of triple-A titles then perhaps it needs to take a long hard look at what it's doing with these titles. I'm looking forward to GTA 5 because it's a type of game I really enjoy and have fun with, but perhaps the people who are "hating on it" are tired because it *is* quite an old structure and in a lot of ways it hasn't developed much. I know that's why I'm not bothered by COD-type games any more, but that doesn't mean I'm "hating on" COD because it's a triple-A game, it means I'm chosing to spend my money on other types of entertainment. Like Watch_Dogs - I'm not sure if that's a AAA-game or not but I am sure that I'm looking forward to it enough to pre-order it. Turns out that if the industry makes stuff I want to buy then there's room in my heart and wallet after all. Funny that.