The rapid evolution of the gaming industry has brought about a myriad of genres, platforms, and experiences for players worldwide. With the rise of technology, we’ve seen games transition from simple pixelated adventures on arcade machines to cinematic masterpieces with storylines and graphics rivaling that of blockbuster movies. Amidst this vast ocean of gaming options, a certain category stands out, commanding massive budgets, colossal teams, and worldwide anticipation with each release – the AAA games.
These aren’t just any regular video games; they represent the pinnacle of gaming excellence, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in interactive entertainment. As you dive deeper into this article, you’ll understand what sets AAA games apart, their historical evolution, and why they remain at the forefront of the gaming conversation.
Every person you know tells you about a new game with a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars. You are facing a triple-A project. What are AAA games, why are they so expensive, and where did they even come from? Let’s find out more in our article.
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What Does the Term AAA Games Mean?
To begin with, it is worth understanding the terminology.
AAA games (triple-A) are an unofficial class of projects in the video game industry, developed by a large studio and financed by huge budgets. Such games designed for the masses are considered the highest class because of their elaboration, scale and high-quality graphics.
Their direct opposite is narrowly focused indie games from independent developers, which are created at the expense of a small group of enthusiasts at their own cost or with the help of donations.
There are several conventions, thanks to which you can determine the class of video games. What features distinguish aaa-projects from the rest:
- Huge budgets ─ Creators of AAA games spend millions of dollars on developing and marketing their projects. The risks are also exceptionally high, as payback requires huge sales of copies of the games. However, more often than not, the right pitch and loud advertising pay off the investment, even if the game is not a breakthrough in the industry. The budget of such a video game can be equal to the production of a blockbuster, and today, it starts from 50 million dollars.
- Multiplatform ─ AAA-class games are released on all popular modern platforms: Xbox Series S|X, Sony PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC—the exception – exclusives for consoles. However, even in this case, developers get their extra fee for the potential loss of profits.
- A large staff of highly skilled professionals ─ Hundreds of coders, artists, designers, testers, marketers, and even musicians can work on the creation of a single game.
- Thoughtful continuation of the series paid content and battle pass ─ To maximize revenue, the creators don’t limit themselves to just the finished game: they work out a long-running financial model to make players want to invest even more money in the project. The same beautiful clothes can cost as little as 10 dollars, but the cost of developing such content is small, and gamers will only be happy with their character’s new clothes.
- Wide audience ─ Developers initially study the video gaming market and calculate trends to capture a large audience. Most often, these are first-person shooters or Action/RPGs.
- Expensive advertising campaign ─ The game development budget is often even lower than the costs for advertising and PR. These include collaborations with famous designers and restaurants, banners on social networks, giant posters on the walls of houses, contracts with bloggers and streamers, an abundance of trailers, and much more.
More often than not, AAA games on PC are famous worldwide. Some of the most sensational triple-a projects among critics are GTA V, Red Dead Redemption 2, Elden Ring, TES: Skyrim, and others. And the costs of such games are only increasing—an exciting fact: Destiny’s budget with all add-ons and promotions amounted to about 500 million dollars.
History of AAA-Projects
Remember the first computer games? These are simple video games with minimalistic graphics, knowledge about which was passed on through pirate game stores and word of mouth. Compare that to how much the industry has advanced with realistic visuals, complex storytelling, orchestral soundtracks, and unique technologies like eye-movement capture.
AAA games were first heard of in the late 1990s when American developers began using the term at gaming conventions. One of the most expensive video games of those times was Final Fantasy VII (1997) by Squaresoft – its development and advertising was estimated at 80-145 million dollars.
In the late 2000s, the price of game development on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 also grew significantly, especially at the expense of sequels. For example, spending on Halo 3 was 30 million dollars, and all 40 million dollars for advertising. As EA Games wrote in their white paper, during this period, the number of AAA game developers decreased from 125 to 25, and at the same time, the labor costs of such titles quadrupled.
The next generation of consoles marked even more lavish spending on creating progressive video games. For example, the budget of the still-relevant Grand Theft Auto V totaled $265 million, and it continues to grow through the release of new DLC.
Why AAA Games Are So Expensive to Develop
There are many cost items when developing AAA games:
- The budget is spent on a huge development team – anywhere from a hundred to several thousand people, including outsourcing.
- Development from scratch can take several years. Creators have to think about the world, game design, and the concept as a whole. The more time spent, the more the company pays its authors.
- Costly modern marketing to attract as many customers as possible.
Introducing new technologies to leapfrog the industry is also expensive.
Prospects for AAA Games
It is difficult to predict the prospects of AAA games because it is a giant industry with risks. Companies have no right to make mistakes, as players and critics will not leave unnoticed failures. As a result, studios are disbanded, and ratings drop.
Gamers often scold AAA-project creators for hackneyed themes, lack of something new, and many remasters and sequels. The market of indie games only grows due to players’ search for unusual projects, the “soulfulness” of authors, and learning new mechanics. If companies start to introduce some innovations, reach out to new audiences, listen to the desires of today’s gamers, and stop focusing only on their profit, players will return. But the game “series” will not disappear even in this case.