Why I've Completely Given Up On AAA Titles
“If your time to you is worth savin',
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.”
- Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964)
There was a time when I could lose weeks to the glorious indulgence of a well-polished triple-A game. I would be happy to pay premium price, which here in the UK is usually £30-$40 ($45-$65,) then invest dozens of hours in working through the content.
It felt like great value for money and an acceptable use of my time. Fond memories of overnight marathons playing through Half-Life 2 or Rome: Total War are forever lodged in my brain.
But that was a decade ago and things have changed. I want to be able to look the game industry in the eye and say, “it's not you, it's me.” But I'm not certain that's true. I think it's them.
I suspect that, as we consumers have tightened our belts and been forced to make hard decisions about how we spend our time, game development studios (or more accurately - the publishers) have had to find creative ways to extract money from us. Not content with moderate successes, the corporate need for ever more profit efficiency will almost always be the driving force behind AAA titles.
The same forces that have led to the cynical practice of drip-feeding game content through various “in-app” purchases or other “let the gamers choose how much they pay” freemium nonsense are also the faceless enemies of creativity which make it impossible to see past the rabid hype of the AAA title.
As Indie developer Mike Bithell tweeted recently:
There is nothing noble about letting players 'pay what they want'. I'm sick of seeing it presented as such by f2p folks.— Mike Bithell (@mikeBithell) September 8, 2013
But you only need to look at recent debacles like Sim City, Aliens: Colonial Marines or even the troubled Total War: Rome 2 launch to see that there are no guarantees of quality even at a premium price.
Throwing out sub-standard or unfinished material under the pretence of being a AAA title is certainly not a new practice, but one which seems to be showing no sign of going away.
It won't unless consumers stop supporting it.
Pre-Ordering is for Mugs
The ridiculous practice of allowing the pre-purchasing of unreleased digital content is the damning nail in the coffin which shows the extent of the corporate greed defining the industry.
Pre-ordering a product is only appropriate for the sale of goods which are in limited supply. It makes no sense for the consumer to pay in advance for games available for download in infinite quantities. People who blindly pay for a product unreleased and unseen – whether as a show of good faith, brand loyalty or other weak justification – are simply encouraging this culture of exploitation.
The sad truth is that, somewhere beyond this desperate scramble for the almighty dollar are true, talented artists and visionary creators of content whose work deserves to be experienced. It's just a shame that in order for that to happen, their work has to be fed through a parasitic system which obfuscates and dilutes their creativity to the point where it is lost in a repellent miasma.
The Indie Answer?
However, perhaps there is some hope. In recent months, I've found a lot of joy in a number of indie titles and will be spending my money in that sector in the future.
The problem that exists within the indie developer ecosystem is that, in order for most young development studios to succeed, they have to make the choice between falling in with a pushy ultra-capitalist publisher or going the crowd-funded route. For the consumer, this essentially equates to pre-ordering with a large dose of roulette thrown in.
Add to that the thought that today's successful indie studio is probably tomorrow's EA buyout and I find that I've ranted myself into a corner.
Somebody please give me some positive examples of honest, ethical and noble working practices from the video game industry.
Of course, the irony of opening with the Bob Dylan quote is that the next lines to that song are:
“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again.”
Make of that what you will.