The Unique Case of AA Games
Over the past few years, games have been binarily classified as either big budget AAA games with hundreds of developers or indie games made by a handful of developers. With this mindset, the perception of these games has also been altered with most people viewing AAA games as the equivalent of blockbusters with huge action set pieces and indie games being viewed as more creative and unique experiences. This doesn’t allow for much discussion about the games that don’t fit into either of these classifications. With the numerous games that can exist in our current gaming landscape, “AA” games deserve to have a solid place amongst their contemporaries.
Until the end of the sixth generation of game consoles(PS2, Xbox, Gamecube) , there were several games that formed a happy medium between those two extremes. One of the most notable examples of this type of “AA game” was Destroy All Humans in 2005. The game’s creators were well aware of their budgetary restrictions in creating a sandbox game(a game where players interact freely in a large open space). They couldn’t make something on par with the Grand Theft Auto series and so they worked to make something distinct enough to be recognized on its own. Instead of a large open world to explore, the game focused on smaller segmented areas that could be explored to find hidden collectables. As opposed to traditional weaponry, the player is outfitted with over the top weapons like the Zap-O-Matic laser ray and the Ion Detonator grenade launcher. This mixture of creative ideas alongside a humble budget led to the game needing to sell less copies to make a profit. The game’s ideas eventually culminated into a successful franchise of games released on numerous consoles.
With modern game budgets often surpassing $100,000,000 and numerous companies implementing more ways to extract money from their customers like microtransactions and season passes, it seems as though games with lower budgets and less developers should be more prominent. Unfortunately, the risk averse nature of major video game companies makes it hard for them to believe that smaller AA games would be worth the time and effort to create.
Although this attitude has persisted for years, it is fading slightly due to the success story behind Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice in 2017. Despite being independently funded and published by Ninja Theory, it had graphics and a story on par with numerous AAA games created that same year. Though there were a few AA games before like The Talos Principle and the rebooted Shadow Warrior games by Devolver Digital, none made as big as an impact as this one. As a result of this, EA’s newly implemented EA Originals program which gives funding and publicity to smaller independent studios subsequently gave more funding to the studios resulting in the AA games Fe and A Way Out coming out in 2018.
Nevertheless, several AA games are still being made in our current gaming climate. The aforementioned EA Originals has an upcoming AA game named Sea of Solitude releasing in early 2019. Devolver Digital continues to support independent developers in their efforts to make AA games and occasionally companies like Ubisoft release smaller games like Child of Light. Though they aren’t as prominent as they once were, the AA game will always have a place amongst every other game being made.