Podcast-in-Video: What the heck is wrong with AAA games?

We're facing a dearth of great new games.

1 min read

One of the interesting things about this year has been the contrast between AAA-remakes (think Resident Evil 4) that have been really very good, and the original games (think Redfall or Forspoken) that have been terrible.

So we discuss what might be the cause of this on the podcast. Is it a lack of creativity, a change to the way games are made, or something entirely different?

Let us know your own thoughts in the comments!

And don’t forget to check out the full podcast.

Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

  • As a 54-year-old lifetime gamer who has often avoided AAA’s through the years, I couldn’t disagree more — except about the fact that Redfall is dreadful.

    Fortnite doesn’t have a “better” anything loop. It sounds like you guys are just getting tired of big, new games. 2023 is the year of the very-good-to-great full-priced game, in my opinion. On the flipside, indies that are as interesting as the best slate of indies we were getting during the indie golden age 5 years ago are far and few between.

    I’m not sure what you call AAA, but in the first half of the year I have been and continue to be *VERY* excited about the $60-70 USD games coming out. We have such a variety of games — it’s like you guys are talking about different games than the ones I played. For me it’s not “engagement”, it’s pure “enjoyment”. We have:

    – One Piece Odyssey (easy but fun),
    – Monster Hunter Rise (PS/XB ports),
    – Fire Emblem Engage,
    – Forspoken (which had a poor story but was EXCELLENT as an action game with language switched to French and banter turned to minimum),
    – Dead Space remake

    – Hogwarts Legacy,
    – Theatrhythm Final Bar Line,
    – Wild Hearts,
    – Yakuza Ishin,
    – Octopath Traveler II

    – Wo Long (which you remembered a few minutes into the podcast),
    – Bayo Origins Cereza,
    – Atelier Ryza 3
    – Resident Evil 4 remake

    – SW Jedi: Survivor

    – Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

    – Street Fighter 6
    – Diablo IV
    – Final Fantasy XVI
    – Master Detective Archives: Rain Code

    Later this year we presumably will get Stellar Blade, Atlas Fallen, Armored Core 6, Baldur’s Gate III, Spidey 2, maybe even Pragmata, and a few other surprises.

    If you all think this slate of games are terrible, “soul-less”, “utterly generic”, and for “engagement” & “metrics” only — then yeesh. I think you’re starting to lose sight of how fun big games can be. I am having a blast. These games are fun!

    • I wouldn’t call the majority of those games “AAA” to be honest. They might be “full priced”, but really they’re smaller-scale projects that don’t really aim at the mainstream audience. They’re more B-tier niche plays. Which are the games that I *have* enjoyed this year.

      Of those you list, I’d think of these ones as AAA:

      Forspoken (I shared my feelings on that one in the podcast)
      Dead Space (Excellent, but remake)
      Hogwarts (I’ll never play that one)
      Wild Hearts (Must admit, haven’t played this one)
      Wo Long (Very good game. The highlight of the AAAs this year)
      Resident Evil 4 (Excellent, but remake)
      Star Wars (Didn’t think it was worth the 150+ GB hard drive space, to be honest)
      Zelda (Review coming soon!)

      And then whatever else comes out later this year. There are some perfectly fine games in there, but the real point behind the podcast episode was to explore why there isn’t really any *new* ideas being executed well.

      I am generally tired of the AAA space, but there’s usually one or two games that catch me deep every year, and so far there hasn’t been anything in *that* space that I would say is brilliant enough to inspire me all over again. It’s been a very good year at the mid-tier so far, though.

      • Haha, I guess it sounds like I don’t understand what AAA means in this context. I even think of Bayonetta Origins Cereza as AAA in its project scope (though not in its gameplay style obviously), since it was expensive taking several years in development at Platinum, was inventive with how to use Switch tech, and plays very well. Sounds like we agree on a lot of those $60-70 games you think of as B-tier niche games.

        I’m really happy with Japanese third-party games recently — the bigger ones — and less impressed with western AAAs like Redfall. I was hyped for Starfall a year ago, but that June 2022 showcase gameplay looked terribly boring and by-the-numbers, and everything I’ve heard since has been pretty uninteresting. I’ve usually only found 3-5 big western games worth playing every year, ever since the 90s, and that hasn’t changed. Spidey 2 should be great, and I’m definitely interested in Atlas Fallen, which looks to feature a western spin on the Forspoken-style gameplay I enjoyed so much.

        I lament the continued development of dozens of AAA games-as-a-service in the west, and I’m unlikely to play many of them. But the best single-player games from the west are great experiences! … (games like Redfall and probably Starfall notwithstanding). A nice complement to the fun games coming out of Japan imo. I’m having a great time with gaming in 2023 — far more fun than I was having in the late 2000s/early 2010s, for instance, when Japanese companies were trying to make western-style games (often falling flat), and western companies were mostly making brown and grey shooters. So many cool games to play these days!

      • Been thinking more about the editorial stance of the four of you in this podcast … and I still can’t quite believe it. The point is YES there are garbage AAA games like Redfall, and YES there are many AAA games (and other smaller games as well) whose goal is “engagement” — but there are also several great AAA games every year (a few from the west, a few from Japan and increasingly from China/Korea).

        In 2022, Horizon Forbidden West, God of War Ragnarok, Plague Tale Requiem, Elden Ring, Bayonetta 3 and Sonic Frontiers were all great games that were big/expensive, successful from sales/critical/player-satisfaction standpoint, and all about enjoyment of the game.

        The same in 2023: we have Hogwarts, Wo Long, a couple of fantastic remakes, the upcoming Diablo IV (which does prioritize engagement but also sounds like almost everyone who plays is having an amazing time), the massively exciting upcoming FF16, and other upcoming games like Spidey 2, Atlas Fallen from Germany, Stellar Blade from Korea. Many of these are new IPs, or distinct changes in tone/gameplay from earlier games in a series. (Successful IPs have fallen prey “sequel-itis” since the late 80s anyway, that’s not a new development.) Anyway, these new games and games like them are pretty exciting stuff … and to me, they are in many ways better AAA games than we were getting a few years ago when I was mostly playing indies, handheld game and Nintendo games. More good games releasing today than I can possibly play: a mix of the good AAAs, good AAs, indies, and retro re-releases. And as I said, my analysis of the world videogame market these days suggests that the indie scene is in far greater peril than the AAA scene … as long as other AAA companies don’t follow Jim Ryan into the dark and doomed-to-fail abyss of live-service game after live-service game that we will see releasing over the next 3 years from Playstation Studios. That will not be pretty, I predict.

        There’s nothing “wrong with AAA games”, only with *some* AAA games. Which is something I would have said in the 2000s as well, and certainly through the 2010s. Just because you guys don’t like these games doesn’t mean they’re bad games, and are only about “padded content” or “player engagement” or “clever monetization”. The executives of the big videogame companies on the other hand? Yeah, I’m not too excited about those guys. What the heck is wrong with the executives who run AAA publishers? That’s a podcast topic I could get behind, haha!

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