Pursuit of AAA is a 'cancerous growth' - AC3 dev

Assassin's Creed 3 creative director Alex Hutchinson believes aiming for graphical fidelity and scale will make AAA games "nothing more than the last of the dinosaurs."


The Assassin's Creed franchise is one of the biggest in the business both inside and out. Its latest entry--Revelations--shipped over 7 million units and represented a step forward in terms of graphics power and scale within the series. But according to Assassin's Creed 3 creative director Alex Hutchinson, this represents "cancerous growth."

The Assassin's Creed franchise is one of the industry's biggest.
The Assassin's Creed franchise is one of the industry's biggest.

Speaking at a 2012 Game Developers Conference session titled "Designing Games to Sell," Hutchinson said he envisions two "dystopian" futures for the game industry. One, he said, is where the only games that sell are focused on analytics and are obsessed with making money.

The other, according to Hutchison, is what he described as a "massive arms race," where studios are "pushing for graphical fidelity and working on the sheer scale of games."

"We think about [this push] as kind of cancerous growth," he said. "I think that will leave the AAA blockbusters as nothing more than the last of the dinosaurs."

Hutchinson concluded his talk by offering an ideal aim for video games.

"In my mind, video games need to have the goal of educating people, entertaining people, or at least being artistic," he said. "If you're not pushing any of these things...then I think we're in for a rough patch."

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Avatar image for sebeachy

I don't want to see games designed to make millions. That is where the movie industry went, and now we get Michael Bay $#!t every year.

Avatar image for Neo_Sarevok

@ SaudiFury That's why I love indie developers and Japanese visual novels. Some mature audiences need thought-provoking titles that challenge the concepts of good stories, creativity, and or gameplay. The first Assassin's Creed game did this very effectively. It was innovative in its wall-climbing mechanics, historically detailed architecture, gorgeous animated combat, and interesting protagonists. The game pushed the boundaries of action adventure. Now, the developers just keep hammering out sequels with the exact same idea. Problem is, you can only scale so many buildings before it gets cliche. I think it's similar to why some movie fans enjoy bad movies. Mystery Science Theater 3000 demonstrated there is a huge cult following for niche movies. Not surprisingly, there's also a huge market for niche games.

Avatar image for XxKing_BlazexX

I don't get it. What does AAA mean?

Avatar image for Sepewrath

Says the person making Assassin's Creed 3 lol. I can sort of agree with what he said, but its odd for a person in that position to say it. I mean I doubt AC3 will be lacking in visuals and all the marketing bulletpoints. I would say, the arms race is fine as long as there remains room for the mid tier game to be successful. If that goes, where you either have to be some lightning in a bottle indie game or Call of Duty to succeed, then gaming is in trouble. The Assassin's Creed series isn't exactly helping that situation lol.

Avatar image for ---Cipher---

Why do I get the feeling developers are just going for brownie points with customers. Gamers have been touting this for years now and very few developers have been trying to improve. Similar to politicians, you can spout change and innovation and improvement but I don't see any changes coming and actions speak louder than words. I boycott Ubisoft for their drm and thus assassins creed, but I follow the game and what fans have said. AC hasn't done anything but exacerbate the cancerous growth. Stop PLAYING politics and brown nosing your customers while doing exactly what you preach against.

Avatar image for blue900

Well the masses has never been that eloquent so are we surprised by this? C'mon this is a generation that has been making COD a biggest selling game over titles like Uncharted and Batman. Action w/ guns (easy mechanics) is just more satisfying to the masses than an actual story.

Avatar image for nate1222

I'm inclined to agree with Hutchinson. While some AAA games have been fantastic feats of creativity with captivating stories, others have been just slickly produced turds. Example of the latter: the CoD franchise. These practices, imposed by hardware makers and mega-publishers, are destroying developers and leaving the industry only in the hands of the most corporate elite. It's doing its damnedest to snuff out true art. It's like Hollywood and the music industry...all over again. I'm kind of ambivilent on the issue. I loved Final Fantasy X (PS2), Fallout 3 (PC) and am looking forward to see where this "Project KARA" is going -despite not being a PS3 fan. Yet, there are more examples of 'slick production over creativity' than I care to count. Alotta 'pander to insecure adolescent males via machismo' crap that puts me off as a 30-something gamer who appreciates great story and good aesthetic.

Avatar image for NicoLikesSoda

*cough* Call of Duty. Even though I play :/ BUT it is true. These arms races for the most sales are getting a little ridiculous

Avatar image for BillyColeman

i look at capcom in my book most of there games have the power and epic story to keep fans happy. or a guy like suda 51 hes games dont all ways have the epic graphics power like no more heroes but its story is so crazy that alone makes up for it

Avatar image for SauhlGood

newsflash: alot of gaming purists have been sounding this very same horn for a couple of years now!

Avatar image for SaudiFury

AAA is going nowhere, just like summer blockbusters and other big budgeted TV shows are not going anywhere. the problem with most AAA projects is just like most summer blockbusters. They aim to entertain the masses, to entertain the masses you have to cast the widest net and go for the lowest common denominator. You have no room to be educating or being artistic with a AAA title, at least not while gamers are still in their 20's or younger.

Avatar image for BillyColeman

represented a step forward in terms of graphics power Revelations lol yes ok sure. the game did look very old like all most less then haflife 2 he calls that power??? Alex Hutchinson may want to re think what he was saying. as tekkens kazuya says power is everything and in Assassin's Creeds Revelations case it was lacking in graphics @ power so fail

Avatar image for 7_armageddon_7

Many are inclined to agree with him, saying that gameplay quality should come first and foremost. The Wii had this very idea in mind: focus on the games, not on the graphics, i.e., avoid the "cancerous growth". But time and time again, gamers/people mention graphics as a major (read: important) weakness of the Wii, which tells me that people want great gameplay, but the graphics must still be pretty good overall.

Avatar image for FoeCrusher

Well there certainly doesnt seem to be nearly as much variety the last few years with seemingly every ip being reconceptualized as a shooter.

Avatar image for AuronAXE

Picture things this way. A movie makes $1,000,000. That movie could have costed $100,000. A video game makes $1,000,000, it probably costed $900,000. Thats the issue with AAA games, they're just so damn expensive to make. Really sucks. Personally I just want to keep having those AAA games, but if its killing devs then I'd rather not.

Avatar image for Minishdriveby

I've been feeling this way for quite some time. It's gotten to the point where I think the medium has gotten extremely stupid. I can watch a film and come out entertained, new insights and and artistic vision. Video games need to adapt to this format. Sure mindless fun is good at times, but I do want a thought provoking game for once.

Avatar image for chillas99

Who is pushing for graphical fidelity? Is this guy mental? Progress in graphical fidelity has been held back for several years now thanks primarily to the industry's slavish worship of the console. The current console cycle has gone on so long that you can now pump out higher FPS at greater resolution with a budget PC than with a PS3. Virtually no developers are taking advantage of the capabilities of the PC, so then - what exactly are they working on?

Avatar image for Deltaforce2665

@dxBIGBOSSxb "Assassin's Creed 3 creative director Alex Hutchinson" Yeah this is related to AC3

Avatar image for gamerx100

he probably didn't get a salary raise after AC2 make a gazillion $. i want my games big and grand, if he can't deliver, then step aside for some who can. otherwise, stop charging $60 for some average looking game.

Avatar image for Leir_Bag

He may be right, but if I can only buy a game every 5/6 months, then I better look for AAA, right? If every game costed only some pennys, I'd be just awesome. Then, Tablets and smartfones can offer us that, only their games are just not appealing to any gamer (there are exceptions... but, like, only two). So... Our world isn't perfect. I'll keep looking for AAA.

Avatar image for ziproy

It's about time people realize the problems. I've been seeing a collapse coming for a while now but there's still time to prevent it

Avatar image for dxBIGBOSSxb

One day I hope to have a pet Lizard... what does this have to do with the post? I dunno. What does this post have to do with Assassin's Creed that makes me care? For all I know, this is just more video game politics that can relate WITH ANY GAME on a post.

Avatar image for parrot_of_adun

@ Bhargav_pvs To be fair, graphics are not really something being "pushed". Games stopped pushing for better visuals sometime in '07 or so. Most of the waste that is so stifling is the focus groups and advertising costs. The development itself isn't wasting any time on pushing visuals, just keeping up with a 5 year old standard.

Avatar image for starduke

That's funny. Ha!

Avatar image for NeverMore0

Sounds like he just doesn't want to spend a ton of money creating an epic game. That's fine, you can make good games that aren't graphically intensive or large in scope, but don't go telling us that we shouldn't enjoy games with high production value.

Avatar image for Bobzfamily

@Nzilla Agreed. I also find it ironic that this was one of the directors of a series which has seen installments with very little distance between themselves release every year over the past three years. On another note, AC3 looks to be quite fresh and I find myself looking forward to it.

Avatar image for daabulls23

Bigger isn't always better. But it's still nice once in a while.

Avatar image for Blackheart_RE

He's saying that 'cause he's probably gonna be working on a tight budget.

Avatar image for McBoogerballz

@Nzilla right, angry represent the entire spectrum of not-AAA games.. You are so smart

Avatar image for iPostMaReviews

@DevilD2005 -_- so someone has to go out of work to even conceive having an opinion of his own?

Avatar image for Bhargav_pvs

He's right...:) I've this feeling from a long time. I mean, just running behind the "graphic fidelity" of the AAA games. They are getting away from the point of what a game actually is. Lets just hope the game design studios will get the point soon.:)

Avatar image for iPostMaReviews

Entertaining people? Sure. Educating people? Eh, may pass, depends. Artistic? NOPE.

Avatar image for DangerousRobber

Everybody else > this guy

Avatar image for Nzilla

Psh, I love my AAA games. They represent 90% of my gameplay and purchasing. Don't abandon us hardcore gamers to make a thousand different versions of angry birds. I'll trade every single cutesy artsy $1 game ever made for another Half-life 2, Skyrim, or Mass Effect 3.

Avatar image for Mellowcow

Oh gee, another smartass who wants to tell others what they're supposed to do. Join the line behind David Jaffe, thankyu!

Avatar image for fend_oblivion

"One, he said, is where the only games that sell are focused on analytics, and are obsessed with making money" ^ That pretty much describes most of this gen.. But rest of the article is pretty much 100% correct.

Avatar image for RockySquirrel

I love artistic games and games with large/deep scale, but it's the sloppy little lingering mistakes that bring some AAA's down. I know that these games are large projects, but animation glitches and irritating in-game bugs keep some games from reaching more awesome levels of entertainment.

Avatar image for Sgthombre

Amen, sir! While I support the movement of graphical technology, the focus on graphics is really detrimental. People should understand that better graphics does not equal a better game. Look at the PSP. It blew the DS out of the water in terms of graphical power, but the DS has been proven to have the far superior line up of games. Still not convinced? Which game is better, System Shock or Darkest of Days?

Avatar image for parrot_of_adun

@ZeroX91 It's ALWAYS been gameplay>graphics>story. People have only recently begun to expect a great story with every game. For quite some time, how it played and how it looked were easily paramount.

Avatar image for alexLmx6

As with everything, balance is key. Do enough selling to make money without being greedy, make the game look as good as possible so long as it doesn't take away from other elements, make the game world only as big as you have content and story to fill it with, etc.

Avatar image for DevilD2005

Says the creative director of a franchise that makes these games. I am sorry, but how can you have a game that runs on standalone expansions running yearly and claim that AAA is a cancerous growth unless I dont understand what it means to be AAA.

Avatar image for ZeroX91

So when exactly did it become graphics over gameplay and story anyways?

Avatar image for Grovilis

@Crazyguy105 Some would argue that it's partly Minecraft's art style that gives it flavor. There are plenty of games that rely on that retro feeling so it's totally subjective. That's what art is. Regardless though, it's an indie game that obviously goes for gameplay over graphics which is something that these low budget companies SHOULD be doing to get their ideas out there. Once they get their cash, it would then be time to up the graphical quality.

Avatar image for anticusho1984

guess this means no DX11 support for AC3, good visual is part of a game than enhances the experience but it's not all, there are games that do not need the latest graphics to create a good atmosphere like Last story and also a more artistic approach does not requires the best graphics, I still love how okami looks in PS2 despite SD and outdated graphics

Avatar image for parrot_of_adun

There's something to what he's saying, but most of this seems to have been made up without any real thought. Games SHOULD strive to get bigger and better looking, it's just not for everyone, nor is it some sort of race. Not nearly enough people are participating in this "arms race" to make it worrisome for me, there's plenty of diversity, even if some genres have worn out their welcome. If these are the last of our dinosaurs, our mammals are going to be gravely disappointing little runts. I'd hate to play in an industry with little more than "indie" style 2D platformers. We have balance. And I'm glad there are those few who still try for the best and biggest, even though it's become somewhat unpopular (I mean, the last great visual benchmark is nearly 6 years old).

Avatar image for Vari3ty

Unfortunately I think he is right. Already we're seeing the "free-to-play" games becoming popular, games that are constantly begging the player for money. And as for AAA games, there are fewer and fewer new IPs with each passing year, as the established AAA franchises consistently come out on top of sales charts. I can only hope that somehow the current trends change, but I don't see that happening.

Avatar image for vadicta

Indeed, sir. It's all aesthetic. Put more money in art design and not technical power, and let's step back from this expensive ledge.

Avatar image for Crazyguy105

I agree with him. But that doesn't mean we should let developers get away with pulling off awful artstyles like Minecraft. Give us balance.

Avatar image for Gen007

The Pursuit of AAA has already had a profound effect on the industry. Its extremely hard for new and original ideas to gain traction. Id say COD is largely to blame too and im not just hating i actually like COD games up until MW3 that is. COD has made the industry greedy. COD has shown the industry the absurd amounts of money can be be made for very little in the way of hard work and creativity. The thing is though that its an illusion. Very few games can achieve even a fraction of the success that COD has enjoyed and yet so many of the games now are trying to replicate the formula that COD uses even though its futile. Instead of trying to find the next big thing they are riding on the coattails of COD and other successful games. That is indeed harming the industry imo. There are many avenues that games just aren't exploring and its a shame.

Avatar image for donebythebook

Everyone can certainly admire good graphics, as they help the entertainment value of a game. However, it does seem that there's a lot of flash and little substance in AAA titles. And all this flash is just too expensive. Too much glitz and not enough good, new ideas that are implemented well.