While Fall Guys did have a sizeable investment with Devolver Digital, one of the premier indie game publishers, its budget would be dwarfed twice over by a big AAA title's. Mediatonic, a 250-person team, were the minds behind Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout.
According to reports, Fall Guys was able to generate $130 million in revenue in just the first month of its release. It also became the most downloaded game on PS Plus.
Among Us had a similar trajectory, with it becoming popular on both PC (Steam) as well as smartphones. The success of these smaller indie titles is sure to have sent shockwaves around the gaming industry and has likely made developers and publishers re-think their approach to game development.
What does the success of Fall Guys and Among Us mean for the future of games?
There has long been a conversation surrounding the sustainability of AAA games and whether game budgets are justifiable, given the success of smaller games such as the ones mentioned.
There have been several emerging trends that have led to the growing concerns surrounding the viability of the bid-budget AAA title.
Games as a service (long-term support)
Earlier, a game would be its most complete form right out of the box, and the player would essentially be paying for the experience one time and one time only. The DLC arrived soon after, with developers offering more content to the players through additional purchase and, occasionally, for free.
Publishers like EA were the first ones to adopt the "games as a service model", most famously with Destiny. Essentially, players would be purchasing the base game with the prospect of EA building on the game with future content.
This essentially means that players would be buying into a service with long-term support of the game long after its release. This provided an opportunity for the publisher and developers to create future content for a concrete fanbase.
If someone were to look at the landscape of gaming in 2020, they would look to games, such as Fortnite, which are free-to-play titles that offer tons of value to the player both in terms of content as well as long-term playability.
Thus, AAA game publishers now have to take a long, hard look at their products and see whether they would be able to compete with the likes of Fortnite or Apex Legends.
Free-to-play games like the ones mentioned are made on a portion of the budget of big AAA titles but the returns are similar if not more for the publisher.
Risks involved with big-budget titles
For example, The Last of Us II had an extensive and taxing developmental cycle with over $100 million spent over multiple years. The risk involved with putting out a game as massive as that is simply astounding as there is no guarantee for success.
Games often bomb at the market and sometimes even result in the developer or the studio shutting down. The risk involved will surely have studios re-thinking their approach and whether the AAA bubble still exists.
Pricing of games
With rising costs of AAA game development, the cost of the game itself is bound to increase, which may not go down well with the consumer base. The standard AAA game is currently priced at $60 and with next-gen titles now around the ballpark of $70, audiences are extremely concerned.
Several top executives in the gaming industry and, most notably, former PlayStation boss Shawn Layden have expressed concerns regarding the sustainability of AAA games.
Layden also explained that the length of these games also poses an interesting challenge that studios must aim to curtail. He said:
"It’s hard for every adventure game to shoot for the 50 to 60-hour gameplay milestone because that’s gonna be so much more expensive to achieve. And in the end, you may close some interesting creators and their stories out of the market if that’s the kind of threshold they have to meet… We have to reevaluate that.”Published 12 Oct 2020, 18:35 IST