AAA games or Triple-A games are games that have been produced by or developed by a major publisher, therefore, having a greater development budget than others.
They’re equivalent to blockbuster movies and became an easy way of referring to games with bigger budgets in the ‘90s.
This article will help you better understand what a Triple-A game is and how most games are classified.
There’s a general misconception that AAA games are better than others, but we’re here to eliminate the idea that all AAA games are inherently good based on their budget and graphics.
By the end of this article, you’ll know everything there is to know about how AAA games work.
Understanding Video Game Classifications
Truthfully, AAA games are an unofficial term given to games that a major publisher develops. They tend to be more heavily marketed and have a larger budget when compared to other games.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other classifications used. In this section, we’ll be talking about what other classifications have been used and what they mean.
While it is not necessarily a common syntax used by gamers, AAAA games are a step above AAA games.
Quadruple-A games are essentially used by those who work on more recent consoles, such as the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
At least two companies started using this designation before the latest consoles were announced.
However, it has been difficult to judge AAAA games as there are still very few New Gen exclusives that haven’t also been developed for the previous generation.
Overall, the term Quadruple-A game is generally used as a buzzword to generate sales for newer games on newer consoles.
Triple-A+ Games are a step above our usual AAA games. They often have the highest production values and are the highest selling on the market.
However, there is more to an AAA+ game than the budget and selling points.
AAA+ games have additional methods of generating revenue and usually cover purchases that are added to the base game. These include DLC, subscriptions, and season passes.
These models utilize in-game purchases and are similar to MMO games, where players can purchase additional content to improve their gameplay experience.
This classification of games generally combines their AAA production values with a Software as a Service business model to ensure that all players are kept engaged.
AAA games have been around since the ‘90s and are those that have the largest budget that has been put aside for them.
Most AAA games are made in-house by production companies, with specific teams used to develop certain games.
These AAA publishers have their own in-house teams and are seen as blockbusters compared to other classes.
Unlike AAA+ games, they aren’t based on the amount of DLC and season passes that can be utilized but may have additional DLC later on.
You may find that most AAA games are sold on most major consoles or have agreements with other companies to ensure they sell well.
Overall, Triple-A games generally earn an impressive revenue that goes into the millions. While AAA+ games can go into billions, this doesn’t mean that a game is doing particularly well.
In fact, most AAA games do well because there is a larger marketing budget to increase the success of each game.
Double-A games are considered mid-market ones that are typically made outside of large first-party studios and by larger teams of indie developers. These teams tend to consist of 50 to 100 team members.
While a major publisher often backs Double-A games, it doesn’t mean that they are specifically part of that same publisher. This allows them to have more freedom than you would expect from a AAA game.
These games are often sold at a cheaper price when compared to the $60-$70 range of AAA games.
However, there is one downfall of being a part of an AA team, and that’s how you can be constrained by financial targets, so all decisions need to be made with the investors in mind.
Triple-I games are an uncommon classification used to describe indie games with a relatively high budget and ambition. .
Often, you’ll find that Triple-I games have staff who have worked on AAA titles to help make these indie games work.
There have been some games that weren’t a commercial success but did gain a cult following. Much like B-movies, these games have been praised for their success afterward, with their limitations adding to the game’s charm.
While they may not be successful, they often do incredibly well in sales and may utilize these to gain more of an audience.
The lowest description of any game has been described as shovelware. These games have been made to sell, but not with great care. Most film-to-game adaptations fall into this category and are very rarely considered successful.
These were notorious in the 2000s but appear to have been dying out in recent years.
However, some games are made by quickly throwing the same designs and textures together without caring about the game’s quality of life.
A Brief History Of Triple-A Games
Back in 1997, the AAA game class was incredibly new. There hadn’t been many examples of a blockbuster video game before, but the first one to stand out was SquareSoft’s Final Fantasy VII.
At the time, Final Fantasy VII cost between $40 and $45 million to develop.
It wasn’t just any game; it also utilized cinematic CGI production, movie-like presentation, an orchestral soundtrack, and innovative gameplay that made it stand out as an art form.
Even the marketing budget exceeded the production budget, which cost between $80 and $145 million.
With the release of Final Fantasy VII, other companies were inspired to follow narrative-driven approaches more often.
More budget was added to games to make high-quality cutscenes to give each game a cinematic effect.
Every AAA game started to compete with one another to improve their graphics and impress gamers to persuade them to play their games.
Over the years, AAA companies started to focus on their existing IPs.
Each game in a series costs even more than its predecessor, with games such as Grand Theft Auto having its fifth iteration costing at least $265 million on its ad campaign.
More AAA games wanted to increase their properties and even introduced more open-world games to give their audience more to do.
However, AAA games have also provided a danger to the industry, with the scope of the games providing a major risk for even the biggest studios.
Failures of AAA games have led to the destruction of the studios that made them succeed.
With more risks involved, some AAA games stuck to what they already knew, such as Call of Duty, which began to focus on what players already enjoyed.
Since then, more independent studios have focused on making their own games, while some AAA studios have stagnated in recent years.
Do Triple-A Games Guarantee They’re High-Quality?
While AAA companies try to maintain a high quality, it isn’t always guaranteed.
In some cases, there have been developers who have focused too much on ensuring the graphics were of high quality that they forgot about the storyline and mechanics.
The opposite can also be said, especially if AAA publishers have been struggling to hit their release date.
Crunch time is a significant issue for Triple-A companies, and that is because they often are pressured by corporations to put the game out on time or else they may lose out on sales.
This can lead to issues with fans, who have often noted that they can handle game delays if it ensures the game is completed without any issues.
As mentioned previously, some AAA games also are designed to stick to the status quo of an already established IP.
Some people may put off a specific game series if it feels like it is simply the same game again but with slightly different skins.
What Kind Of Budget Do Triple-A Games Have?
Triple-A games have the largest budget and are developed by the largest studios, and because of that, they have a budget that is often higher than $80 million.
However, for many of these games, it depends on the genre and format. For example, let’s take a look at Rockstar Games.
Rockstar Games have made blockbusters such as Grand Theft Auto 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2, of which both of those games went above $100 million. Back in 2013, Rockstar spent over $128 million to market GTA V.
Even Red Dead Redemption 2 had a higher budget that was between $170 and $240 million.
These games often have hundreds of hours of gameplay and have a team of over 100 people to keep the game and its servers up and running successfully.
Most of the budget for AAA games tends to go toward the marketing campaign instead of the actual game itself. Even Final Fantasy VII spent more of its budget on marketing than on actual development.
How Long Does It Take To Develop A AAA Title?
Triple-A games aren’t a quick process. Most of the games begin development almost as soon as the previous iteration is announced.
Most AAA games are made from existing IPs, and while the previous game is still popular, they tend to announce the next game immediately.
However, some companies don’t do this, with Square Enix and Rockstar taking their time when developing a Triple-A title.
Developing a Triple-A title can sometimes take a minimum of five years. Square Enix took roughly 10 years to develop Final Fantasy XV.
The length it takes to develop a AAA game can lead to concerns about a game being in development hell or crunch time on the other side of the argument.
Nowadays, there is less of a rush to announce a game straight away. Most games are now not announced until they have been in development for some time.
Over the years, too many rushed announcements, such as Final Fantasy XV, have led to a completely different game than the one advertised.
AAA developers are now much more cautious, as there have been too many rushed games being released incompletely.
In fact, many players have voiced their concerns about games getting rushed out too early and thus having a poor quality of life or complaints about DLC being essential to a game’s plot.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Developing A AAA Game?
Triple-A games are essentially the games that drive the gaming industry forward, with flagship titles appearing on each generation of consoles.
They’re some of the most reliable and consistent, with every member of the team having the experience needed to drive these games forward.
With Triple-A funding, you’ll find that these titles can continue to be sustained over a longer period of time, even beyond the initial release date of a specific game.
However, there are benefits and drawbacks to developing a AAA game. In this section, we’ll be going into further detail about some of these examples.
Not all gaming companies can sustain a lengthy production time like those who make Triple-A titles.
While making the game, you can focus on the game without worrying about doing a second job on the side to make ends meet, like with indie games.
Instead, AAA titles allow you to reap the financial benefits of working in a state of financial stability, where companies allow you to take a vacation and increase funding for smaller teams.
Not only do they offer financial stability, but you’ll also find that there are more chances to learn on the job when you make AAA games.
These studios allow you to develop your career and give you a chance to do work in other departments to get more experience.
There’s more structure in your career path, and you don’t necessarily have to move to a different company to work on a different game.
Most AAA studios have other teams that work on other games that allow you the chance to work on another IP without the risk of finding a new job at the end.
As a general rule, you can expect most Triple-A studios to consist of a variety of experienced team members.
Most companies won’t put inexperienced developers and artists within a major title, so you can work with a team who knows exactly what they’re doing.
It’s also a great opportunity to network with others, as if you want to gain experience in other areas, you can request advice from those who have the experience to help you.
Widely Recognized Games
Triple-A titles are recognized throughout the world and are some of the top sellers in the industry. If you’re looking for great recognition for your work, you can easily showcase what you’ve done with AAA titles in your portfolio.
You can easily show off and get recognized by friends, family, and other members of the industry. If you do well, this could be a chance to develop your career even further than before.
Long-term Access To Resources
Triple-A games aren’t only about shipping a game and leaving it out in the wild. In fact, most budgets of an AAA game will allow you to take the necessary steps to improve your game after it launches.
These allow you to engage with the players and listen to their feedback to draw upon it to improve. This improves your company’s reputation and shows that you’re eager to listen to fans.
Quality Of Life
The most important benefit is that with the budget and time you have, you should be able to ensure a great quality of life for your game.
With the resources available to Triple-A game studios, you can employ more Beta testers and have more players try out demos before launch.
You have the resources to engage with your audience to get the feedback you need to improve your game’s quality of life and ensure it’s easy to play.
While all of the options above are some great benefits, the main drawback of working on a Triple-A title is the amount of stress involved.
Most AAA studios have struggled with crunch time, and while they have tried to improve, there are still some negative effects on the industry.
It can feel as though there isn’t a work/life balance for developers. When it comes to deadlines, each company has a different strategy, and this strategy can have a major impact on the health of the developers.
Length Of Project
We’ve mentioned the stress that comes with working on a Triple-A project, and it doesn’t help that these games have been in development for a few years.
A lot can change for a project in a number of years, and it’s easy to find developers who lose their passion for the project they’re working on.
More developers are at risk of burnout because they have been working on the same project for a long time.
Size Of the Teams
Combined with the stress and length of time available to work on a project, the size of the teams can also have a major impact on the success of a game. Most AAA games have teams that have over 100 members of the team.
Everyone is in a high-stress environment, and everyone has their own roles. Many developers go into over time, and not every department understands the other jobs.
Stress can build from the amount of time spent with other developers, and so many may prefer working on a smaller-scale project.
Triple-A games are AAA for a reason. These games already have an established fanbase and a popular IP that they’re working on. Expectations are high, and it can feel like a lot of pressure on not only the developers but corporate too.
If you’re working on a AAA game, fans expect it to be better than the previous games, and many developers need to juggle what to change. Getting it wrong can have a massive impact on the sales of the game and the company’s reputation.
In recent years, there have been a lot more conversations focusing on the compensation given to everyone for their respective parts in development.
For example, there have been arguments about how much voice actors are paid and how much they are paid per session. If you’re part of a massive team, getting lost in the crowd is easy.
There have been cases where team members haven’t been compensated fairly, and the treatment of employees is now even more important with how stressful game development is.
Creativity VS Corporate Greed
Some AAA companies are focused on making more money than they are making a good game. Developers preferably want to have some freedom to do their work, but corporations may want to stick to a specific formula.
Some companies are guiltier of this than others, but fans can also tell when companies stop caring about their IPs. It’s a massive issue in the industry, where Triple-A games appear to be regurgitated with a different skin or have too many DLCs available.
Publishers VS Developers
Most publishers have separate studios that work on the development of a certain game. However, some may not have outlined their expectations correctly.
Publishers are more focused on marketing and may not have a hands-on approach to gaming. If you have a good publisher, the game will likely have a smooth launch.
It’s better that the publishers and developers work together so they understand what they’re trying to produce.
Are Triple-A Games Better Than Indie Games?
While some people may believe that the hefty price for a Triple-A game makes one better than an indie, that’s not necessarily true. There have been many successful indie games that have gained a massive following over the years.
AAA games have a higher risk of becoming stale and repetitive and may only follow a specific formula to ensure they have sales. However, an indie game has more opportunities to become more creative.
One of the most successful indie games is Hades, a game developed and published by Supergiant Games in 2020, followed by its Early Access release in 2018.
Upon Hades’ release, it was widely praised by critics and fans alike for its unique gameplay.
It was nominated for Game of the Year in the 2020 Game Awards and was nominated under nine different categories.
It even won Best Game in the 17th British Academy Games Awards and has been widely praised among the industry for its gameplay and writing.
It competed amongst some of the biggest Triple-A games and still won.
Therefore, it doesn’t mean a game has to be Triple-A to be a great game, as a good development team can ensure that any game can turn out well with time and patience.
While Triple-A games are the flagships of the industry, they are also the ones that have the most pressure attached to them.
Filled with massive teams and the possibility of corporate interference, more Triple-A games are at risk of becoming stale formulas if they’re put into the wrong hands.
The term has been used to describe high-budget names since the late ‘90s, with more pressure placed on the amount of money used to market the game instead of making them.
While they do have a higher quality, it doesn’t always ensure that the game will be good. However, there are still many great Triple-A games being released and leading the industry.
Most AAA titles have their own established fanbase and are under more pressure to succeed as the failure of one game can easily bankrupt an entire studio.
With this in mind, they have no choice but to do well or risk not producing games anymore.
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