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The problem with AAA games and their overpriced actions

ART BY SHIRLEEN KWONG
By JOSEPH MENDOZA
ARTIST

  Video games, in moderation, can be a beneficial experience for people of all ages.

  As the video game industry skyrockets with revenue every year, more and more people are growing up with videogames, and continue to play them throughout their life. According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), over 164 million adults play video games and three quarters of all Americans share a household with someone who partakes in gaming. 

  As video games become increasingly popular, lucrative companies such as Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, Tencent and Activision Blizzard are producing more games to keep up with demands. These companies all produce AAA, or Triple A, which are games such as Anthem or God of War.  Essentially, these are the equivalent to a blockbuster film title. 

  Ever since the releases of the Wii and Xbox 360, new AAA games have cost 60 dollars at release, not taking into account any expansions, downloadable content (DLC), season passes and everyone’s favourite: microtransactions.    

  Microtransactions are in-game items that are not included with the initial purchase, and can be bought with real currency instead of in-game currency. Now more than ever, it seems that major AAA gaming companies crank out “new” releases every year such as Call of Duty and Fifa, but the question remains: do games need to cost as much as they do?  Unfortunately, all signs point to yes, and many people speculate that they should begin to cost more. Unfortunately, the fact remains that people most likely are not willing to pay that sort of money. 

  First of all, inflation alone should account for an increase in price. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average prices in 2020 are 32.09% higher than average expenses in 2005. This means that one dollar in 2005 would be approximately $1.32. Although that does not sound like a major difference, it should result in new releases costing nearly 20 dollars more at $79.20! This is only considering the face value, how much it is going to cost the consumer, but we can not ignore the costs on a developmental side.

  For starters, a game has to run on either a third party engine, such as Havok, Unity,  Unreal Engine, or an engine developed by the game company themselves. When it comes to developing a personal game engine, it is essential to stay competitive by developing new, stand-alone features that make your engine distinct; therefore, an experienced team is necessary. In addition to the team of employee developers, a computing power to process a whole world with specific gravity and functions rounds the minimum expense to an approximate ten million USD. For example, the original “Call of Duty,” with its poor graphics compared to today’s standards, cost 50 million to produce, so just the engine alone would cost one fith of the development cost.  

   The alternative of a third party engine also can charge a significant amount due to royalties. As these computing systems and engines become more advanced with new renditions becoming available daily, it is crucial for AAA companies to invest in the latest and greatest in order to stay competitive, a possible difficulty on a $60 release. 

  Imagine this massive expense in tandem with paying for employee salaries and benefits, a studio space to work in, advertisements, promotions, various workplace necessities and taxes. As our consumers become more demanding of innovative features such as 1440p, 60 frames per second and quality gameplay, it can be hard to stay in competition with the mere 60 dollars per copy, especially for AAA companies. To put this into perspective, as of March 31, 2019, Sony Interactive Entertainment had a total of 114,400 employees! Employees that need to have salaries, benefits and a space to work. 

  Consequently, this brings many companies to result to funding through microtransactions, season passes, DLCs and bonus content. Although, in some cases, funding through such means can be deemed necessary, such as a split between a large company and a smaller company, the degree we are seeing microtransactions taking a hold on the industry is ludicrous. 

  The upfront danger that seems to be ignored is how shipping a game with planned DLCs and time-gated content emanates the fact that companies are shipping an unfinished game. This is apparent in titles such as the Destiny series with its dependence on purchasing previous additional content, separate from the original release,  that consumers may have not had interest in due to the poorly driven story-lines and minimal content releases. And, in order to partake in other expansions or seasons, you guessed it, players have to dish out more money to play a game they’ve already purchased. 

  This is where increasing the static AAA game price of 60 dollars comes into play as a solution. If this old method of generating revenue is broken, companies can charge more, by providing a full game experience on release, resulting in an increase in player retention throughout the entire game’s lifespan. As for cosmetic microtransactions, they still have a place in our games, but the second someone who dishes out more money has an advantage over someone who does not, it becomes an issue of “Pay to Win.” Players should still be able to invest money in order to make their little playable character or avatar look sharp to a certain extent. A simple solution to this balance is to make all cosmetic items unlockable by free-to-play players after a certain set of in-game tasks, while an option to pay for either early access or to bypass all steps a free-to-play player would have to take. 

  In a perfect world, this is the ideal solution, but in the words of Ben Gilbert of Business Insider, in a transcript titled, “Here’s the reason most new console video games cost $60,”, “I think both consumers and game publishers to an extent benefit from the $60 price tag, not necessarily because it’s $60, but because there’s a standard. There’s an expectation. You can go in knowing that the next ‘Call of Duty,’ the next ‘Madden,’ whatever, is gonna cost the same as you paid the last year or the year before that. So it’s not like it benefits me that it’s $60. It benefits me knowing that I’m not gonna spend more than a certain amount of money.”

  Personally, although these do seem like necessary changes, I have a strong doubt that these AAA companies will change. So, in the meantime, I think I’ll just stick with Coolmath Games.

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The student-run newspaper of Glen A. Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights, California.

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