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Splinter Cell director: “lower case aaa” is the future of the industry

Monday, 5th November 2012 01:10 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Splinter Cell: Blacklist director Patrick Redding believes traditional “AAA” development isn’t sustainable, and will be replaced by lower budget “aaa” releases.

Speaking at the Gamercamp festival in Toronto, as reported by GamesIndustry, Redding said games like Minecraft – low budget but flexible – are the future.

“The market as a whole is going to undergo a critical shift in priorities, a shift away from the absolute primacy of graphics and production values and content creation toward systemic depth,” he said.

“This trend is going to trigger a reality check for developers like me who work on established franchises with a large succession of sequels, and it’s also going to be a call-to-arms for smaller game creators.”

Factors contributing to this shift include increasing development costs, digital distribution and player demand. Redding said the resulting “aaa” games will prioritise systemic design and open-ended gameplay. The developer warned that “aaa” creators will have to give up authorial control and accept that additional resources won’t always solve design issues.

Fittingly, Redding concluded by saying that Splinter Cell: Blacklist is definitely a AAA title but uses some systemic design, such as in its AI and lighting-based detection mechanics. He considers the forthcoming stealth action effort an example of how AAA production values can serve more interesting design.

Blacklist is due on PC, PlayStation 3, Wii U and Xbox 360 in northern spring 2013.

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7 Comments

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  1. xxJPRACERxx

    The end of AAA titles will be the end of gaming for me. But I’m sure AAA titles will always exist.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. TD_Monstrous69

    So, he preaches from a high horse on how AAA development is unsustainable, and needs to change (though he is correct), yet he’s working at an 800+ staffed studio, making a AAA game (though I get, not all of those people are working on Blacklist). I don’t think I could find more of a contrdiction than the argument that Patrick Redding’s making.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Erthazus

    Better to have lower case AAA then stupid linear shooter with 50 million marketing campaign or Splinter Cell:Blacklist which is trash anyway.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Cobra951

    Someone will always strive for the top, If the current big-money people in game development get bored with it, others will take their place in due course. There may be lean years in the interim, to be sure.

    Minecraft is a terrific example of how to do it too. Mojang could build a AAA empire now, with that little gem as its cornerstone. And if it’s not them, it will be someone else who grew their business with the right idea at the right time.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. TheBlackHole

    People said the same about blockbuster cinema.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. TheWulf

    It would be nice if someone would actually come through on ideas like this, wouldn’t it?

    I see the triple-A scenario as being a bit of a cancer of our past-time, it’s not creative, and it tends to appeal to the lowest common denominator. None of the highest, which… as you may or may not be able to guess is fun. None of that shit. It has to be about PR, and marketing, and most importantly of all? Spectacle.

    If you look at the core of any true triple-A release, it’s always spectacle. No Russian comes to mind. Oh, and hey, Assassin’s Creed III isn’t about “USA! USA!” either. Tomb Raider III? Let’s turn that shit into torture porn. Triple-A gaming has somehow become the embodiment of British rags like the Daily Mail. What they were saying about games and gamers is somehow what triple-A is supposed to become.

    But if you focus purely on triple-A, you’re ignoring indies and small developers who create simply wonderful things. You’re also ignoring first party developers who might be permitted to work on something that won’t be entirely successful. So you’re ignoring To the Moon, Pid, Little Big Planet, Bastion, Trine 2, Magicka, and Vessel.

    Those games have true character and personality, they have a soul rather than being built upon foundations of PR and spectacle. They’re not simply fun to play, they each amount to a genuinely memorable gaming experience. Because they’re focused into a narrower beam, you have each respective creative lead trying to do something that matters to them, rather than trying to cast out the biggest net.

    To the Moon is a fine example. It was funny and poignant in equal memory, and no other game has remained as firmly lodged in my mind as that one. It was a game that toyed with your emotions like a cat might with a dead spider. It taunted you, it teased you, it gave you potential, possibility, and actually honest to fucking goodness drama. Drama that would make Downton Abbey jealous. And it rounded that masterpiece off with a Disney ending – because those who stuck with it through the emotional rollercoaster it provided deserved to feel happy at the end.

    This is just something that one developer wanted to do. That’s Kan Gao. I could hug him for that. And games like that are almost the anti-thesis of what it means to be triple-A.

    Then you have silly games, games which are just there to make you laugh, smile, and feel good about everything. Zeboyd are a fantastic example of this. Cthulhu Saves the World? Penny Arcade 3? They’re just amusing. It’s something that you couldn’t do with the mainstream because it’s victimless humour, it relies on the game being… how to put this? An identity. It’s like a stand-up comedian. You have some who rely on schlock, circumstance, schadenfreude, and spectacle…

    And then you have those that don’t.

    Indies and small developers have long realised what needs to happen: You need smaller projects, with less money. You need more of them. You don’t necessarily need casual products, but you can have something that can last four hours with a budget that’s only 10% of that of Assassin’s Creed III and it can make you ten times as much as AC III did. How? Niches, that’s how. There are under-served niches out there right now.

    And these niches don’t buy into the spectacle, instead, they pick up whichever games appeal to them the most. You have a large subsection of gamers today, young and old, who are removing themselves from the mainstream in order to play games which genuinely appeal to them, rather than playing prolonged advertisements for the game they’re actually playing that they’re told they should feel good about.

    This subsection, I think, is forever growing and it’s becoming nontrivial.

    A while back indies harked the rebirth of the home computer era of gaming, where you had people who made games not in offices, but in bedrooms, garages, or in any space they could find. This was the kind of person who decided that, hey, they wanted to make a game and all they needed was the Internet to do it. Because with being able to work with people from all four corners of the globe, the Internet is all you truly need.

    And I think that’s scary for triple-A development, which is becoming ever more the dinosaur. And for them, it’s a matter of either evolving or facing extinction. The film industry has already faced the same thing, and has at least begun to turn things around. The problem with the games industry though is that they’ve had people like Valve innovating for them, which has given them a cushioned period of prosperity.

    A bumper zone, if you will.

    But that’s eroding, now. They’re looking at their profits, and they’re realising that these games just aren’t working. Look at DarkSiders II. A ridiculous amount of money was poured into advertising that but it didn’t sell well enough because it needed a ridiculous amount of money to even break even. A lot of that is due to marketing and PR, and that DS II was, at its core, a niche title. Worse, they felt they had to pad it out to make it seem longer just to fit in with mainstream notions of value.

    But what if they’d had less people working on that? A smaller game, not quite as insane with graphical fidelity, and none of the advertising and PR? It would have been a humongous success. Why? I think the niche that buys that sort of game enjoys it. Torchlight II didn’t require a massive advertising campaign to be a ridiculous success, and considering what advertising and being mainstream cost Blizzard, I’d be willing to bet that genuine profits (not just revenue) is looking rosier at Runic Games than at Blizz right now.

    So what these triple-A developers need to do is break their studios down into smaller pieces. They need to also fire most of their marketing and PR people. Then they need to look at what niches haven’t seen a game in a while and develop one for such a niche at a reduced cost. That’s the future. That’s been the future for a while, but you know how dinosaurs are, they languish and they’ll kick at the tar as best they can.

    But things need to change.

    I’ve already fallen out of love with the mainstream. I did a long time ago. Riddle me this: Why should I bother playing Crysis 2, which is all about spectacle, explosions, and things that don’t appeal to me, when I could play To the Moon?

    I picked those games just for being relevant in their release year. But it’s a fair point. Moreover, I think the climate is just changing in general to be more favourable towards indies and small devs due to how they’re making niche games. Because niche games have an identity, a personality, that thing that makes them uniquely them. Whereas the mainstream is ever woefully generic. A lot of the game faces whose articles I Read didn’t cite mainstream games as their games of 2011. In fact… the name I heard most?

    Bastion.

    bastion was the game of the year for 2011.

    And if you’ve played that game, it’s easy to understand why.

    Bastion is a fine example of an indie developer knowing what they wanted to make and then putting that together. There was genuine artisanry involved for them to take something from their collective imagination and to form it, like clay, into something you won’t quite have played the likes of before.

    Smaller works. Less centralised. Not so big, not so PR-laden, not so full of spectacle. Just groups of people working on what they love to work on. And working on it because they think it’ll be amazing, not because they got the memo from their PR department as to what’s selling right now. It’s almost art and fun versus a form of sterility.

    So let’s call the mainstream the Borg, and the indie/small devs I’ve spoken of as the plucky Federation who’re always undermining them and proving how much better they are. I find that that’s not only an amusing metaphor, but an incredibly fitting one. You have studios like EA, Activision, and Ubisoft trying to assimilate everyone in sight, but instead of adding to their distinctiveness, they just make all of their inductees as generic and as empty as they are.

    So I’ll take my flawed but spirited little Federation vessel over a giant, faceless Borg cube any day of the week.

    And I can only hope that the mainstream really is beginning to realise that being the Borg isn’t really that helpful to anyone. Least of all them, because the profits aren’t there. Sleeping Dogs? DarkSiders II? And even Assassin’s Creed III is likely not going to meet profit quotas. Same for the upcoming Tomb Raider, and so many others.

    We live in interesting times, and only those with money to waste (like EA and Activision) can really keep going the way they are. The rest? THQ, Take-Two, Ubisoft, and more are finding that they can’t.

    I hope this just doesn’t turn into an era of mainstream mobile games, instead. Look at the indies/small developers, they know what they’re doing.

    @5

    Except that that already happened. A long, long time ago.

    Each big ‘Blockbuster’ you see these days is having less and less of a budget. And you’re seeing more niche films which are meant to appeal to smaller audiences, rather than the giant, catch-all films of yore. If you look at the box office forecasts, you’ll find that the bigger a film’s budget, the more inconsequential the profits.

    This is why films have been doing more with less, lately. And when I say lately, I mean for the past good few years. And it’s going more and more that way all the time.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. DSB

    @5 Blockbuster cinema did kill an awful lot of studios along the way, and the ones who made it only survived by rethinking the way they made movies.

    I’m also not sure anyone will be in a rush to replace the games publishers as they go down, in the same way.

    #7 2 years ago