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Monthly Archives: November 2012

When you hear something is “A, AA, or AAA” what immediately comes to mind? More often than not you hear it as a mark of quality or how large something is. If you happen to be in the games industry though, this will probably bring to mind the amount of money being spent on a particular project with “AAA” being the greatest dollar amount spent. It can also refer to the size of the team or even with a particular company known for producing certain types of games. This means when you hear about something being an “AAA game” you are being told that a large studio is putting a large amount of money down to create a game. Companies such as Epic Games, Bioware, and Bethesda are known for their “AAA” titles such as “Gears of War, Mass Effect, and Fallout” respectively. All of these titles had multi-million dollar budgets and large teams creating the content.

Then you have the indie game developer. “Indie” games are those usually made with much smaller teams and with much, much smaller budgets. In fact an “indie” game may just be one person working on it in their spare time because they want to make a game. It may also refer to a new company, one that has not made a “AAA” game before or does not have the money to do so. Companies like Mojang and even Paradox are some of the indie companies that come to mind. Games like “Minecraft, Fez, and Braid” all are examples of those smaller, “indie” companies.

Which of these is the “right” method for games development? Personally I believe that both have their benefits and their disadvantages and that neither is the one design to “rule them all.” If you think back just a short period of time in the life of game development, especially on the PC front, almost all games would have had the title of “indie” by today’s standards. Its only as the industry grew that “AAA” titles started to become the norm. Now we are back to the burgeoning “indie” industry side by side with the “AAA” industry.

One of the major disadvantages of a “AAA” company is that they have to have a successful game. Many of the high end game companies are on the stock market so they have shareholders they have to report to at the end of the day and make sure they score a profit. This means that they can take fewer risks on new properties because they have to guarantee that profit. Its why we seem to have a massive amount of “sequelitis” on our hands when it comes to games.

I think a measured balance between the two will be the next path the industry takes. You will always have your “AAA” studios and “indie” studios but studios that do not have shareholders and who have a median amount of funding to dedicate will start becoming the norm. Thanks to the “Indie” scene and the current generation of Consoles and PCs we have seen what smaller companies can create again and make millions doing so.

If game companies are willing to spend less on a project but fund more of them, they are more likely to hit one out of the park and make the money they want. That is called “diversifying” and it is not something the game industry seems to know a lot about. While it is all well and good to make “Super Game 14,” which will possibly be a success for shareholders, would it not make more sense to make three separate games that might all be a success themselves?

This is the path I would like to see our games industry take; one of diverse games rather than just “AAA’ and “indie” games. Perhaps one day we will see all of these games on one shelf together.

Downloadable Content, or DLC as it is often referred to, is what has apparently become the “in thing” to do for game developers. Basically the practice is to release a game and then release expansions or add-ons to it over time, supposedly enhancing the game and increasing its longevity. The problem is that consumers often feel as though they are being taken advantage of in both the pricing and what the add-ons contain.

A famous example of this is Mass Effect 3, a game released by Bioware. One of the perks of pre-ordering the game or buying the game brand new was a code that allowed you access to a whole set of missions and a new character for your squad. What upset some consumers was that the code for the mission and character were already on the disk that shipped with the game and was not actually something that needed to be downloaded. This meant that those who bought the game second hand were being punished for buying used!

That has been one of the big arguments about DLC; the fact that it can be used to “punish” people who buy games second hand. Since the publishers do not see any money from the second hand purchase, for instance buying it used from GameStop, there has been an onus on them from shareholders to find some way to profit from these sales. DLC allows them to do that since it does not need to be bundled with the game itself in order to be sold.

Personally I have no reservations about buying DLC like that after buying a game as long as the content is worth it. Adding a whole set of missions or a character to a game I am enjoying seems to me to be worth $9.99 which is the standard price for most DLC. What upsets me is when DLC is not worth the money at all for things such as different costumes or maybe for a weapon or two if they are at the standard price. I do not mind supporting game companies with my dollars as long as they make it worth the entry fee.

What gives DLC a bad name though is charging for things that are already on the disk after the fact. One recent fighting game already had the characters built into the disk but the only way to unlock them was to purchase DLC for the game that unlocked them. This means you were paying for content that you had already paid for by purchasing the disk. This was not content created after the fact to extend the life of the game or entice second-hand purchasers. This was content already created and shipped out with the game that you have to spend extra money to get.

If more publishers follow the earlier example and actually come up with content that extends the game and is a true add-on then I think DLC will be a positive influence on the gaming industry. You will see your beloved franchises expanded instead of abandoned after release and the industry will see an influx of money which can go to making more stellar games. If DLC follows the other route then you will see nothing more than consumers who think they are getting ripped off and who want to spend less money on gaming. Which do you think is going to be the preferred method?

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