Is AAA the only way?

CynicalFan's post on the Perception/SG-1 thread got me thinking. Is there room for smaller 'niche' studios in the Industry, or is AAA the only way to go?

There certainly has been a long history of studios who decide to make a AAA title and who, for various reasons, strike difficulties along the way. We also hear that the buzzword of the moment - 'next-gen' means that development effort for such a title will only increase. Can Australia possibly compete?

The rest of the IT industry has been debating these issues for a while now, with outsourcing leading to offshoring etc. I'd be interested to hear sumean's views on the future of game development here in Australia.

Is AAA the only answer, or will smaller, lower bugdget, even indie titles be the ay of the future?

Pantmonger's picture

To a large extent I think the games industry mirrors the film industry more and more with each passing year. As such I think you will find that the large AAA titles will continue to be the most pushed and sold a lot of them will be generic and safe pap, however I think you will find that indy developers will be able to make a small market for themselves just as independent film does. And the occasional indy project coming up with something new and innovative enough and ?now? enough that it makes a mint (Blair witch esk). At which point AAA titles will assimilate the idea and start churning out generic clones. Rinse and repeat.

Pantmonger

Caroo's picture

I'm hardly an expert.. but as i see ONE of the many things that COULD happen:

Things will only get more tighter and tighter in the industry until talent intake becomes an "elitist only".. Those who cannot get in will start up there own schools and Indy projects. 1 in 20 of them will succeed. Developers will continue to get screwed over until 2009 when the PS4 comes out and budgets will be too expensive for anyone (yes even EA) to manage.

The only ?real? survivors will be Sony and Microsoft and a few developers who have a good deal of luck and self funding..

Australia will be.. With the exception of 4 studios will totally be out of the games picture.

After all that pain. The whole industry will implode.. Most companies will dissolve and hopefully.. If we all learn from our mistakes we can start anew..

Of course.. This is all speculation and thoric bullcrap!! Maybe things wont be so bad.. This is based off the animation industry.. Did you know we used to have a Hanna-Babera studio here? Know we have.. well? nothing to our name. Not even Disney.

Maybe...
(what a bitch whinge XD)

In short.. AAA titles for now.. but nothing lasts forever!

LiveWire's picture

Ahh yes, this debate, it's been a bit of a nuisance in the US lately from what i can tell of various websites, and I?ve noticed a few thread on sumea over the past few months relating to these sort of issues.

My opinion is it sucks balls. Big time. The over emphasis on the next great thing in computing power and graphics has more cons that pros. Our games look great (or have the potential to look great I should say) and can become more and more visually and aesthetically immersive ? which is great, and I look forward to playing such titles and to be amazed by them. But the price for this is terrible! Development costs and team sizes are skyrocketing ? despite what epic might say about small teams etc - though they are right to do so with their tech, but that wont last forever, not once gamers want every shirt, can and pebble to be unique and modeled in minute detail ? no amount of toolsets will eliminate the need for more artist to get the content done in the first place before it even reaches the tools.
Thus we move into the big budget =low risk = low innovation = same old same old debate. So the smaller companies will triumph right? Yeah, maybe a few, but when you have the big budgets speeding millions to make the visuals and content loads higher quality than everyone else, and giants like EA buying out all the IP and sports and movie licenses and marketing everyone else to the corner or right off the shelves ? who?s gonna by the little indi title? Who?s going to know about it? Yeah, a few core gamers that look for that sort of thing, but not the casual gamer who sees the pretty pictures on the box in the center shelf and says ?wow, from my limited knowledge of games and willingness to be sucked into the advertising campaigns, this looks good! Hell, it looks much better than those titles on the bottom shelf with the second rate visuals and no big licenses?.

So the indi?s might sell a few, and they might survive because of that, but they may never earn enough to put their ideas into a big title ? nor will any published want to risk a big title with new ideas.

And why does this piss me off? Because as much as I enjoy and will continue to buy the next big AAA title, I also want to play new and innovative titles. Games the likes of which I have never played before. And I don?t want them to be plagued by cut backs and silly bugs simply because they weren?t allotted the budget to finish it like a AAA title.
And nor do I want the cost of games to rise because of rising development costs ? we pay to much already and one reason I don?t by many games, particularly short or unknown games, is because they cost so much. I would try out as many unknown titles as I could, but $100 is a lot for something I might not like. It?s not like a movie I can pick up for 20 bucks. Thus I mostly only buy titles I have either done a lot of research into, or it?s from a dev that I particularly enjoy. And I?m sure there are millions of others of like mind.

And finally, my biggest gripe: one day in the future I hope to move into design, perhaps eventually make my own ?dream game?, as I?m sure we all would like to do. But the problem with that is in the word ?future? ? the further into the future we got the more and more likely it I?ll ill be on an production line pumping our some random asset for a game I don?t even know for EA?s next round of sports titles. And the if I ever get to do any design ? what?s the chance that I?ll get to do any cool idea of my own. Most likely it will be ?here are the publishers pre-approved design ideas, assemble and submit?, in which case I would rather not be doing it at all.

/end doom say

Of course that?s just a very dark, extreme view of the future, and I don?t think it will get as bad as all that, at least I hope not.

unknownuser2's picture

A different perspective on this, and something I have thought about alot over the past year is the following:

10 years ago, the games were pixellated messes, the gamer hoping to start a career in games could start of learning to write some basic code, or push some pixels around to achieve what they needed. It was essentially starting from a place very low to the ground, and at that stage the distance from ground to greatness, was not so far.

Nowadays, should someone wish to get into a career in games, most likely they hold and have no interest in creating something that is so close to the ground. And rightly so, as the distance to greatness is so much further away from that starting point, it puts them in a position of eternal catchup. Ie they will never be amonst the big boys if thats where they wish to be.

Im not quite sure what the best solution is for this as technology continues to grow, the entry level position requires knowledge of far greater things. Its really that simple.

10 years ago no games programmer would have been working on realtime deep water wave simulation or atomic level phsyics for game objects - nor would they have ever needed this knowledge to make something thats was right near the top end of things.

A classic example of this was when i had a discussion lately with my father, who some 15 years ago built and programmed 2 computers by himself, he wrote his own language and soldered and built each component, he was quite renowned on a small scale for doing so and featured in a couple of magazines way back when. But soon after he quit programming altogether to persue a career in Aeronuatical communication. Just recently i asked him - why dont you get back into programming - games are big you know you might need to brush up on your skills though... so i sent him some phsyics and water pixel shading stuff, along with some really advanced HDRI / SSS, Water simulation stuff and his reply was simply :

" Jesus christ what the hell do you want here, a Programmer or a f**kin scientist? "

And after laughing heartily - I realised the depth of his somewhat comical reply. My old man was right.

In 10-15 years time, when games are simulating reality in every way, the master games programmers of today, will essentially be, Scientists, Geologists, Phycologists, Physisists etc etc etc all rolled into one ( not quite! but basically ). Ultimately you have in one way or another, someone or a team of people who essentially are the backbone for recreating a life simulation. And in oder to achieve this you need someone, or a team of people with that knowledge - which can only have been achieved through years and years and years of experience and study.

Where now does that leave little timmy who wants to be a top games programmer or artist. No longer is the distance from ground zero to greatness a few weeks of programming and a few weeks or even days of drawing up some 16 x 16 pixel block men. It has become "I have to learn to write realtime fluid dynamics, I need to learn to write physics interation between objects down to an atomic level or, I need to know how the human muscles function in order to be able to recreate these things realistically, i need to know exactly how these animals move in real life, how their bones move and what they look like in all extremes.

Ultimately the point I guess im trying to make is, no longer is it plausible to enter at ground zero *IF* and i say *IF* you wish to be near the top of the games industry.

Although making basic games usually associated with the indy development side of things, can still bring you money, if thats what your after.

If you do want to be up with the best, but currently are happy to make basic games and push pixels around on a screen like they did 10 - 15 years back to hopefully to give yourself some firm grounding in 'the games industry' and work your way up, your kidding yourself - your giving yourself some firm grounding in the games industry as it was 10 - 15 years ago and thus putting yourself 10 - 15 years behind.

You need to get up to speed with whats happening right now, and beyond whats happenign right now.
Decide what your end goal is to be, and forge your path to suit, no matter which direction, game design/ art/ code /QA. Its all the same. It comes down to whether you want to be right up in amongst the best of the best making games that have 30 million + budgets or making games for free or for a few bucks and releasing them on the net for some personal satisfaction on a 'less grand' scale.

Whatever the decision is - the more time spent hovering around unsure, the more time others are leaving you behind. Make up your mind, grab the bastard by the horns and ride it till its dead.

AAA is not the only way, and indy is not the only way. The only way is the one you make for yourself.

What can one man do against the might of EA you ask ?

Answer: Plenty.

farmergnome's picture

What will become to the games industry, when as Hazard said, people wont even bother learning the basics, wont even care about actually making games, more just as becoming a corporate tool for large-scale development? And most importantly, people who genuinely want to make fun games, will be deterred by the state of the commercial industry in general, since who wants to be a shit-kicking employee for the next big licensed release for sub-par pay?

Bring on overtime and Madden 20065609340693!

www.farmergnome.com

Daemin's picture

I have to say excellent post HazarD!

Basically it just boils down to people becoming ever more specialised and educated for making games. Where as 10-15 years ago you could have one or two people making a game, with both doing art and programming (just take a read of some of the "old timer" games credits, Richard Garriot, Peter Molyneux (sp?), Sid Meier - they made the whole game almost themselves) you now need a team of 20-30 or so in total, each contributing but one small thing to the game.

This is evident because we now used 3rd party game engines, 3rd party physics and sound libraries, 3rd party (or contract) art assets.

In short I believe that the people making games will only get more and more specialised, and whatever they cannot do they can get some 3rd party to do it for them.

lorien's picture

Agreed, excellent post HazarD [:)]. It also leads on rather well from points Yusuf and I been making for quite a while now, which are very similar to the sorts of points that Chris Crawford made in his really neat paper "The Education of a Computer Game Designer" http://www.erasmatazz.com/library/Game%20Design/The_Education_of_a_Game_...

Your dad sounds a lot like mine btw HazarD.

Red 5's picture

Another in agreement of an excellent post HazarD :)

I also agree that jobs within the industry are becoming a lot more specialised, especially as the trend to outsource content continues to grow... my own business is living proof that there is now plenty of scope for niche companies to go about their business and mix it with some of the largest developers/publishers in the world.

I believe that we're experiencing some quite exciting times right now that are full of opportunities. Of course there is the usual weeding out process that always occurs with the transition from one generation of hardware to the next, but that is healthy for the industry... it gets rid of the trash so-to-speak.

As far as AAA titles being the only way to go? I think every developer who values themselves as an innovator and is serious about building a solid business with security for their employees, should be aiming for big budget AAA work.

groovyone's picture

quote:As far as AAA titles being the only way to go? I think every developer who values themselves as an innovator and is serious about building a solid business with security for their employees, should be aiming for big budget AAA work.

Why? Why does a developer HAVE to do AAA games to provide a solid business / security?

Developing AAA games is not a measure of success, it's simply a measure of capability and budget.

There is room for both AAA and smaller budget titles they both meet different needs and target different markets.

Take company PopCap games for example. They do not do AAA games, yet they are considered a successful, stable business with security for their employees! They've found their own place in the market and are very successful.

Red 5's picture

Hey groovytone, I never said it was a measure of success or capabilities and of course there is room for both. I'm only speaking from my own personal experience, and it's a fact that we get a far higher level of job security from working on AAA titles than from anything else, and the reason why we won't accept anything else.

Having this attitude might sound elitist but think of it like this, if you become partners with publishers/developers who only produce big budget AAA games, chances are they'll be around longer and spend a lot more on development than those who choose to produce budget games. It can also lead to opportunities that might otherwise be very difficult to obtain.

On the other hand I realise that it's close to impossible to jump straight into game development and expect to land a AAA deal, but one thing I do know is that it can become a vicious cycle for devs who get stuck in the budget title routine to escape from if they ever want to have a chance at scoring a large budget contract, I've seen it happen time afer time.

Of course there's absolutely nothing wrong with developing moderately budgeted games, there's obviously a lot more studios producing non-AAA games than those who do, and some are extremely successful.

unknownuser2's picture

Im in complete agreeance with Red 5.

Far more job security with AAA and big budget, weve encountered here over the past 12 months of Kalescent Studios life, the level of professionalism from clients has ranged from absolutely disgraceful to very structured and streamlined.

The disgracefuls i'll be forthcoming and say, go along with the lower budgeted projects in every case so far. This is purely from our experience from dealing with clientele all over the world. Its a case of which one to I wish to expose my team to ?

Developer 1) Disorganised, Unstructured.
Developer 2) Streamlined, Organised.

Ill take Developer 2 thanks. After having accepted both kinds for many months, now we are all in agreeance that its simply a case of working with professionals.

Too many times have we had to take on board an role of educating non professional clients for very little to no reward and in some cases being frowned upon for suggesting improovements, so its by our own choice as a team we simply refuse to do this any longer.

It does sound elitist - but there is still room for the smaller budget games / clients too.

In both AAA / Middleground / Indy there are Professionals and there are Non Professionals.

Ultimately we are happy to work on any level as long as there is a level of professionalism about the client and the project.

lorien's picture

quote:Originally posted by Red 5
I think every developer who values themselves as an innovator and is serious about building a solid business with security for their employees, should be aiming for big budget AAA work.

Might as well say my piece as someone who's worked on a couple of high profile indie titles (acmipark and escape from woomera- though I only did a tiny amount on efw):

Don't take this the wrong way Red5, but I feel the word "developer" better fits the people who develop a game, not the studio that employs them. This matters because individual developers may value themselves as an innovator (and I suspect an innovative studio is one with lots of innovative developers). Also imho there are many more strings to the bow of making games than building a solid business and security for employees.

I've been rather involved in the art/indie games scene of Melbourne for the last 2 years or so (and those who've been to freeplay have some idea of how it is expanding). I think it is important to nuture, in part becuase it is away from the pressures of commercial development that the game ideas I find innvovative emerge from.

Can you imagine a commercial studio making efw? [:D] Though I haven't talked to many people employed in the games industry about it (except for the team themselves), most of the indie/art developers consider efw to have been a complete success simply by starting work on it. It made a point loudly enough to get a number of people on the Australia Council fired, and it never made it past a single level demo. It also got publicity that few AAA titles could dream of, and the jerks like Andrew Bolt (Melbourne Herald Sun jouralist) who slagged it off only increased the publicity.

There's been an email circulating from a good friend, it was looking for programmers to work on a project called "The Kill Yourself Game". It's not suicidal, but self-hatred is a large part of the game dynamic. Again something that there is no way in hell a studio that makes AAA titles would touch, but the ideas behind it are imho as good as efw, though without the same political edge.

To me it comes down to the basic question "Why do you make games?", and if it's to earn a living that's fine of course, but this certainly isn't the goal of a lot of those I've been talking with in the Melbourne scene.

There is also acmi as a venue to get these odd/contraversial titles displayed, and Helen Stuckey (screen event programmer in charge of games @ acmi) is a real champion of unusual games.

I'm sure I'll do more ranting on this topic in future, particularly in regards to protecting the art/indie nature of freeplay and doing my damdest to prevent it from becoming another AGDC.

I don't really play AAA titles anymore, nore do I bother watching Hollywood movies- particularly those from Pixar and the like. Lots of flashy graphics and no depth or ideas behind them. I'd rather completely crap graphics and sound with interesting idea/storyline/gameplay anyday, but then my all-time favourite games are Nethack http://nethack.org/ and Elite http://members.chello.at/theodor.lauppert/games/elite.htm

Red 5's picture

quote:Originally posted by lorien
Also imho there are many more strings to the bow of making games than building a solid business and security for employees.

Most definitely lorien.

I've obviously trodden on a few toes with my statement so I will try to clarify how I see it...

Innovators: I'm speaking purely in technological terms here, not artistically. Having the enough cash flow to afford a full time tech team made up of people who know how to push the boundaries.

Solid business with security for employees: We all know there is little job security in just about any line of work these days (except maybe the undertaking business) but game development in particular is a super high risk business. More developers lose money (or only just break even) than make a profit.

From what I've observed, studios who develop only AAA games and who have close ties with one of the big 3 publishers tend to have more long term stability and operate at a higher profit than those who don't.

But!... I'll be the first to admit that most of the fresh new original ideas coming into games is through indie development.
AAA games aren't about originality, they're only about profit.