The recent news of Irrational Games closing down so Ken Levine can focus on downloadable story based games has me thinking that the success of AAA games is taking its toll on some of gamings most prolific figures. The list of big names quitting the business or leaving their current situation reads like a most wanted list of top talent from the industry. I think the time, effort, and man power that goes into making AAA titles puts a strain on creative types. Compounding the problem, once a title proves a hit and the studio gets back their financial investment on all that time and money, they are reluctant to put that same talent towards new games and instead burn out their visionaries with sequel after sequel of the same title.
Just think… Ken Levine is closing down Irrational Games after spending roughly the last 10 years making Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite. The co-founders of Bioware, Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk have both quit the gaming industry after the completion of the Mass Effect Trilogy and the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Cliff Bleszinski left Epic Games when he seemingly quit the business in 2012 after the release of the third Gears Of War game; the series he worked on for the final 5 years of his career in gaming. Assassin’s Creed creator Patrice Désilets left Ubisoft part way through Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, which would become the 3rd Assassin’s Creed game released in 4 years. While the split between Call Of Duty Modern: Warfare creators Jason West and Vince Zampella got very ugly in the end, it appears to me that the split originally started because West and Zampella were not happy with their talents being used to continually make very similar modern military shooters in the same vein as Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2 and were planning on leaving the company. Even Bungie split from Microsoft so that they would have the opportunity to move on from making Halo games after their 5th installment in the series.
With the team sizes it takes to make AAA games, publishers are throwing several studios at the same project to attempt to release popular game sequels at record pace. In todays gaming world Ubisoft has 8 different studios working on Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. Call of Duty: Ghosts had 5 different studios working on it, including Raven Software and Neversoft who put out their own releases in the past.
Hopefully with the new generation of systems we will see companies taking risks on more new projects like Titanfall and Destiny instead of all the sequels and reboots; however, it seem the trend likely to continue. The Xbox One launched with 10 AAA titles, 9 of which were sequels or annual franchises. The PS4 launched with 9 AAA titles, 8 of which were sequels or annual franchises. The 2 big original titles were Knack and Rise: Son of Rome, neither of which were on my purchase list. There is a little bit of the chicken or the egg question here… Is this a result of a lack of resources going into new titles causing many of them to fail on launch, or a lack of people buying new titles so less money is being put into them?
Either way, if this trend continues, we will likely see more top talent going in different directions. So far some have left to make mobile games with their ten best guys, while others are switching studios to work on new projects. Worst of all, some are leaving the business all together… and I guess I’m partially to blame because I sure hope Todd Howard comes out with Fall Out 4 and the next proper Elder Scrolls game before he burns out… and a next-gen Borderlands game from Randy Pitchford would also be nice.