The AAA title can’t be made obsolete by digital, mobile gaming, and indie development… For now.
Everything’s dying, apparently. Everything’s old and tired; to put it more dramatically, we’re an industry comprised of reluctant dinosaurs trying to accommodate the plucky homo sapiens who’ve had the nerve to just evolve seemingly out of nowhere.
Third party publishers and developers are falling through the cracks, thanks to some unforeseen changes in the way games make money. The mobile and digital markets have left things in a largely unfathomable state of affairs and the ocean of AAA products is shrinking substantially as a direct result. Big names and big firms suddenly look very flimsy indeed. Guessing who the next casualty of the financial situation will be has become industry analysts’ favourite subject for article writing.
Over the last couple of years I’ve noticed consoles have become a contentious issue within the games industry. Can they survive the winds of change that sweep away third party publishers and developers like so many dry leaves from a desolate sidewalk? When producers of good quality AAA content fall by the wayside (like THQ) and, more pertinently, established companies are trying to come to terms with how they can market their instant hit products (such as Activision-Blizzard and EA), is it even feasible for the AAA platforms to continue their existence?
This aspiring journalist and gamer believes so.
If someone comes up to me and says, “The console as you know it will be obsolete in a few years,” I’d tend to agree with them. If someone suggests, “The console won’t exist at all after the next generation’s finished with,” I’ll smile, shake my head and respond with the succinct opinion of, “B*llocks.”
People put a lot of stock in the how, as in how this content is produced in the first place, and for a long time we’ve been used to gigantic corporations controlling every facet of this process. It costs a lot to bring a multi-platform AAA product to market (the last time I calculated this the figure stretched well into double-digit millions, and that wasn’t even for major annual releases like Call of Duty) and the core gaming crowd has become accustomed to the shiny disc in a box. But I put it to you, humble reader, that ‘how’ doesn’t matter in the long term.
Right now the bigger companies are trying to figure out what they can do to modify their production of AAA content, in order to keep themselves investable in the eyes of the market, and this will likely involve cutting costs by reducing the quantities of – or indeed, doing away with – the hard copy product. Gamers still buy their boxed discs, with ‘premium’ packages and downloadable extras providing incentive, but the simplest fact to understand in this whole mess is that digital packages are cheaper to produce. The AAA gaming experience is still one that can sell and it has the potential to sell big, raking in vast quantities of revenue if the right conditions are met.
As much as we can drool over tablets and mobile phones, the AAA gaming experience cannot be found on these. Not yet. The AAA title is one that sits squarely in the crosshairs of the ‘hardcore’ gaming community; those who will pay for a device that hooks up to their HD TV’s, or a high-end gaming PC, and stay absorbed for hours on end.
The PC user might suggest consoles will be made redundant by high-spec machines in a few years, but then again that argument never seems to get any older and the comparatively cheaper consoles persist in flying off the shelves. What’s more interesting is that PC platform owners, like Valve, are leaning towards console manufacture.
The way consoles work right now isn’t the way they will work in, say, ten years’ time. But they will be around in ten years time and the foreseeable future, for as long as we cannot stick the tech into our brains and switch between reality and virtual worlds at will. I – and many others – will dabble in smaller games and mobile devices, but first and foremost we are core gamers and we will spend a great deal of disposable income on that AAA experience for home gaming entertainment.
If consoles aren’t going to disappear into thin air then it’s only reasonable to assume that they will change as the years move forward; after all, the Xbox 360 of today is a very different animal compared to the one we first saw the better part of a decade ago. I expect the same will be said of the Xbox 720 – or whatever it’s going to be called – when we reach towards the end of the next console generation.
Of course, consoles won’t just be restricted to playing games. Even now they are adapting themselves, changing to suit the needs of a new generation of consumers who have families or who want to consume media in different ways. This evolution is being perceived by some as a desperate move to justify the console’s existence, but there’s a reasonable argument that this perception is due largely to the state of flux the games industry is experiencing. Consoles have always evolved, changing to suit the needs or whims of their gaming audiences. The Dreamcast was the first console that attempted to champion online gaming, squeezing the likes of Phantasy Star Online and Quake 3 Arena down a tiny dial-up connection. In some ways it was a failed experiment, but it paved the way for online console gaming as we know it today, and I like to think it isn’t too absurd a suggestion that Microsoft’s and Sony’s attempts to incorporate multimedia functionality in their consoles will pave the way for future consoles to do more as well.
So there it is: the console will adapt and grow, as it always has done. The touchscreen changed a lot of things, but it’s no substitute for the classic gaming hardware we’re used to.
As for the AAA title, how it will remain commercially viable, and what companies of today can survive to see it through, that problem is a far more complex piece of analysis we will have to address at a later date. It’s too soon to say who will still be making high budget games in a few years, but the demand is there, so the consoles will be there. In due course when the dust settles the publishers, developers, and platform owners, will continue to do what they do best: making premium content for gamers who cough up more cash for their hobby.