Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Jade Raymond Muses on the Future of AAA Games

Good to know that at least one person in the industry doesn't have their head up their ass. No. Seriously. I'm not being sarcastic for a change.

Even though it wasn't that long ago, I do still remember watching Jade Raymond on The Electric Playground. Of course, she's been much, much more involved in the industry than being a game journalist. Her work and success with the first Assassin's Creed game made her a person to watch in the industry, and although she's kept a fairly low profile, she's taken time to speak up about the future of her work now that she's finished with the production of Splinter Cell: Blacklist.

Raymond started off by saying that, "I think it's hard to say [there's no innovation] when you see games like Watch Dogs and The Division being announced, which I think are big triple-As and I think are innovating," And I do give some credit for that. Watch Dogs at least looks like it could be something fresh concept wise, depending on just how deep the hacking and control systems go.

Of course, any joviality I have regarding potential originality went right down the tubes with the announcement that even though the game isn't even out yet that Ubisoft already wants to make a damned franchise out of it. There are plenty of people, like for example Cliffy B., that keep saying that with the costs of games climbing higher and higher that sacrifices have to be made. In his case he was talking about the used market, but others have pointed out that things like being able to take risks on titles and make more original works also go out the door too.

To that end, Raymond had this to say regarding the situation of balancing, or perhaps the better word is leveraging, innovation and cost of production:

"I think the big question to me, as the expectations of these big triple-As keep on growing and the consoles become more powerful and teams get bigger, is how do we keep the costs in line?

"That's for sure one of the things that is going to stifle innovation eventually. Anytime you want to make a big triple-A, you're spending, let's say $100 million, you're not going to want to take a chance.

"It's got to be, I'm making the next Call of Duty or the Assassin's Creed and I know it's going to make 'X' amount, so we'll make money. I think that's the tougher thing."

Bigger budgets by their nature mean that less risks can be taken, at least that's how things work. Nothing can be a guaranteed hit, although there are certainly safe bets, and that's what it all really comes down to. I've said this hundreds, maybe thousands of times (at least it feels like that many); not everything needs a ludicrous amount of money to be successful. Games like Dark Souls have proved that, the indie scene proves that. The issue is that when every venture becomes an all-or-nothing potential, then you're never going to have the incentive to think outside of the well established safe zones.

Raymond does see potential in more non-traditional ways to make money, citing episodic games, "More stuff is online - what does that mean? There are some games like The Walking Dead which are starting to have interesting episodic [content], but that doesn't apply to all games." As well as microtransactions in games,

"But if you look at Team Fortress 2, they're making a lot of money of off hats and stuff like that. The community loves it, there's a lot of extra value in there.

"People in the community are making money, and I think that's a great business model to investigate for some games.

"I think there are a lot of different things to look at that do make sense, I think you just have to be careful it's not a straight copy and paste from what's going on."

Holy shit. Hold the phone for a second. Read that last sentence again, dear reader. Please, just humour me.

"you just have to be careful it's not a straight copy and paste from what's going on"

Well fuck. Maybe someone, if only even one person, understands that just because something is successful in one particular dynamic that doesn't mean you take it and fucking apply it to everything like a two year old smearing shit all over the walls because they think it's amusing. I really wish that I wasn't getting this excited over someone having common sense, but given that period when EA and Ubisoft were trying to shoehorn microtransactions and online passes into fucking EVERYTHING I think that being pleased that someone is actually paying attention to trends without the intent to just jam them into anything is, well, good and surprising.

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