Simply put, AAA games are those that have huge development and promotion budgets, and that are usually produced by big names in the gaming industry. The “AAA” is supposed to imitate the classification in the movie industry with A movies being high-quality bestsellers-to-be, and B movies being mediocre, not widely promoted, or shot by an unknown director. Logically enough AAA games are also the primary candidates to become bestsellers.
Let us make it clear, there is no specific set of criteria, which, when met, signify that the game deserves an AAA title. However, we can still outline some trends and characteristics that most often pertain to AAA games.
The fact that AAA video game relies on a budget of millions (and at times even billions) of dollars narrows down the scope of studios that can handle this to a handful of big players. Think of Ubisofts, Activisions, and Electronic Arts of the world. These studios are hired by game publishers (or investors) who are primarily concerned with return on their investments, so they hire best of the best on all stages of the process (architecture, plot, gameplay, graphics, marketing, promotion, endorsements, etc.) to guarantee success. Therefore, studios working in AAA gaming industry have extensive teams of highly qualified and experienced professionals specializing in particular areas or aspects of the game creation process. Teams have a luxury of being customized based on the list of requirements posed for each particular product, which ensures top-notch quality and minimal learning curve.
AAA game often features a soundtrack or music theme recorded by a famous artist or musician. Overall, the importance of the audio component of the game should not be underestimated as it plays a great role in creating ambiance, mood, and perception of the virtual world in front of you. Delivering at this level requires a combination of talent, creativity, and perfect sense of appropriateness (which usually come at high cost).
The amount of investment typically associated with AAA games demands sales to be high to pay off. Powerful, often aggressive, advertising campaign is destined to guarantee that. You will see cool game ads in the cinema before the movie starts, in a magazine (not necessarily a gaming one), in a retail store, on social media – everywhere the target customers could possibly see it. These ads will be designed by an expert ad agency that will create a series of commercials that will be consistent across all media channels used, and will reinforce each other.
It takes an all-star team to create an AAA all star game. Take it or leave it. No compromise is possible, and changing horses at mid-point is not an option. The deadlines are determined well in advance and are tied with publishing, distribution, and marketing campaign, so postponement is highly unwanted, not to say unacceptable.
It is a common practice to outsource part of the development team or the team in its entirety overseas. However, as stakes are high, it is critical to build strategic partnerships with remote teams or sub-contractors. You cannot pick the team at random and give it a multi-million-dollar project to work on. You research, you meet in person, you negotiate, you scrupulously elaborate all requirements, terms and conditions, liability, risks, and you communicate regularly throughout the process. Trust and reputation are key ingredients contributing to the success of such venture.
The teams like ours are a rare combination of top-class specialists with unique skillsets and expertise, close-knit teams and committed managers, international experience, versatile portfolio, and impeccable reputation. And although tens of millions of dollars may be too much for our league, we can deliver AAA quality for mid-size projects in their tens or hundreds of thousands.
These games should be massive in every aspect possible – audiences reached, terrains rendered, missions given, villains eliminated, excitement experienced. People have certain level of expectations about AAA games, and it’s better to exceed them by a lot – wow-effect is what makes people adopters, referrers, and returning customers.
Many of present day top-notch games extend into duologies, trilogies, etc. by appending sequels, prequels, special editions and anything else that helps make it last forever. Once you hook gamers, it is much easier to seduce them with the next part of the series.
It’s not uncommon for AAA games to be multi-platform, meaning that they will have editions for PCs, game consoles, and mobile devices. This vastly increases the market and relieves some stress that may come from understanding that the game you would really like to try is not compatible with the hardware you have.
AAA games may not be perfect, but they inevitably result in a populous following, hot discussions on the forums, awe, criticism, and publicity. They make a dent in the history of gaming (weather sensational or catastrophic). Implementation and promotion go hand in hand to create value for the customer and explain why it is desirable.