Wednesday, August 10, 2011

AAA Games Too Long My Ass

Date: 08/10/2011
By: Nate

Recently, a panel of five discussed the length of AAA games, and these people felt that AAA games were generally too long – at least where social and casual gaming are concerned. There was no talk of “hardcore” gaming, and being that most of the developers on this panel were independent casual game developers, I can understand this. What I can't understand is, with one of the developers behind Broken Sword on the panel, how can the view be so narrow?

Casual and social gaming is big, but Fallout New Vegas made $300 million in revenue – which I'm assuming means somewhere around $200 million in profit.

The panel consisted of these individuals:

Charles Cecil – Broken Sword
Adrian Hon – CEO of story developer Six To Start
Alexis Kennedy – CEO of Fail Better Games
Patrick O'Luanaigh – CEO of nDreams
David Varela – Writer

There's a touch of irony here, of course; people who make casual games are criticising hardcore games and saying how that doesn't fit into casual gaming. Really? No. Way.

Now, this discussion spurred quite a conversation, and I don't think many people had read the article in its entirety – admittedly, I'm in that boat, but I did read it again. And again. And again. Just to make sure that I had a grasp on its entirety.

That said, the discussion brings up a bone of contention that I'm having with AAA titles being passed off as a “hardcore” gaming experience. They're not. To be honest, I think most of the AAA grade stuff we're being sold is only made from A grade product.

I'll explain why. Length, depth and possibly girth. That's what she said.

But it's true. As far as AAA gaming goes, there are issues all over the place, but it doesn't mean that hardcore gaming should be abandoned, especially since it's what the gaming industry built its profits on. And a gaming magazine that has built their own empire on gaming of all stripes, is completely out of line by implying that hardcore gaming might be on its way out.

But there is an issue with the length of AAA games; yes, some are indeed too long, but most are too short. Games that are too long usually suffer from gameplay issues that make the experience go stale because they're used to artificially lengthen the game.

A great example is experience grinding in RPGs, where you need to be a certain level before you can progress, and to do that, you have to fight and kill a lot of things. As a consequence of that, you're stuck in one area doing just that. Maybe for several minutes, but come the end of the game, it can be for several hours. An overly convoluted story, like what is mentioned in the article I referred to, can also make a game too long, because you may get to a point where you start wondering why it all matters, but usually, it's a gameplay thing such as flawed mechanics or copied levels.

Games being too short, that's a different story. And when I say too short, I don't mean that 10 hours doesn't feel like enough. I'm talking about games that can be completed in an afternoon, which many blockbusters are. Sometimes, a game's shortness can actually breed replay. It was fun, it's over, I want some more. 007 Bloodstone was like that. But then you have the disappointments of Halo 2 and 3 and all of the Call of Duty games since Call of Duty 4, where the developers will promise longer campaigns when in fact, they're still 5 hours long, that's something else. Something shady.

AAA Games being too short is a combination of several design choices. One of them is a complete lack of exploration, and that's a given. Another is pressure from the publishers. Not so much to just get the game out of the gate as soon as possible, but to chop it up into sequels so that more can be sold. Or worse, chop it up so that DLC can be sold, so you're essentially buying back pieces of your game that the publisher didn't want you to initially have, like with what appeared to be the case with Dragon Age 2.

The problem is, this is the rule, not the exception, so gamers wind up getting shortchanged while EA, Activision and 2K wind up getting fat, lazy and greedy.

It's a pretty murky situation, and clearly some independent developers want to use a their own smear campaign to hammer the lid shut when this business wouldn't even exist if it weren't for the hardcore gamers. Unacceptable. Utterly, absolutely unacceptable.

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