Ask any AAA game designer and publisher, and they’ll say that pushing the graphical envelope to stay competitive is a must. Games like Red Dead Redemption 2, The Last of Us 2, and Assassins Creed all need to be cutting edge, and their impact needs to be huge, or else they risk falling behind. While we’re sure the executives and marketers who make this claim are being honest, we’re not convinced that reality supports their statements as there’s plenty of evidence within the gaming market to suggest otherwise.
Examples in the Industry
Take, for example, some of the most prolific and best-selling games of all time. Quality graphics is just one factor of many to take into consideration when measuring the worth of a game and it’s clear, based on popularity and longevity, that some of the best video games have put more precedence in other areas.
For instance, consider Minecraft, which has sold a mighty 238 million copies so far. As much as we love Minecraft, it’s not exactly an aesthetically pleasing game, and in many ways, the graphics are purely functional. What distinguishes it from other games and keeps players coming back for more is its incredibly strong gameplay hook and the customization as available by mods.
There’s also the iconic GTA 5, a game that boasted great graphics at the time of release but could definitely be considered aesthetically dated by modern-day standards. GTA had been one of gaming’s biggest series for well over a decade before the fifth installment, none of which were particularly visually impressive. However, GTA 5 upped the ante with an impressively extensive map, options to customize vehicles, and the inclusion of games like golfing. Though gamers were perhaps enticed by the quality of graphics initially, it was these standout features that established the game as a legend on the market.
Also of note as bestsellers are the likes of PUBG, Super Mario Bros, Pokemon, Wii Fit, Tetris, and Pac-Man. None of these games look great, yet all have the gameplay that makes them stand the test of time. This, we would argue, is a much better target for developers to set their sights on.
The Entertainment Industry
Even outside of video games, in the related online casino industry, games don’t succeed based on their status as being the biggest and most expensive to develop. Classic games such as poker, baccarat, slot machines, and bingo have achieved longevity through adapting to an increasingly online world.
Instead of focusing solely on changing the aesthetic quality of these games, online casinos have instead invested in numerous developments like enticing offers in the form of bonuses such as free spins and no deposit schemes. As a result of the competition in this area, the need for review sites grew significantly as a way for consumers to easily navigate through the market and they provide a rating based on various factors including the bonuses available. In addition, online casinos such as Kasinonetti.com – an online comparison site found in Finland, have pumped money into creating an unlimited category of themes and live-play iterations, which enable players to interact with a real-time card dealer or bingo number caller.
Evidently, developers in the casino industry are more concerned with improving the functionality and range of games available, as opposed to radically rehauling the graphics quality. Just like in video gaming, success in this realm is about being able to relay a specific and targeted vision, rather than casting far wider a net than is necessary.
A Question of Why?
Ultimately, the question of why games keep getting bigger and more expensive is a simple reflection of how some businesses work. Rather than keeping small and maintaining a coherent vision, the goal becomes to keep expanding constantly, to push the financial boundary to new and untested heights. Of course, there are claims that this expansion is necessary, backed up by multi-million dollar market research surveys and claims from billionaire CEOs.
Back in the real world, the people who play these games aren’t so convinced. If market research was all it was cracked up to be, we wouldn’t see flops like Anthem, Warcraft 3: Reforged, or Marvel’s Avengers. In this way, the claims of AAA developers could be more post hoc justifications of ballooning costs rather than arguments based on how the gaming market actually operates.
So, if you’re ever hit with the argument that games should cost more because they’re more expensive to make, maybe don’t take that statement at face value. It’s a choice that developers and publishers make, and it’s not a statement that observable reality supports.