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 HawkX4

Couldn't agree with him more! At least here's a AAA dev that understands what's wrong with our industry. AAA companies is focusing far too much on visuals and interactive movies than they are gameplay (save for a few like Bethesda and id Software). Worse, I'd say their commercial gamble tactics are whats really giving me a terrible rapport with AAA games and now it has spread into the indie game side (abusing crowdfunding and early-access).

Avatar image for penpusher

@SythisTaru or you just hate restrictions being put on your games when you've actually paid for it whilst the people stealing it are bypassing those restrictions ...

Avatar image for solidsnakehd

I like it

Avatar image for SythisTaru

I you don't like DRM you are a pirate.

Avatar image for musicallie44


Pirates could care less about DRM - they just bypass it.

Honest customers are the ones who have to deal with it whenever they play a game.

Avatar image for parrot_of_adun

@Bhargav_pvs That cinematic quality is a HUGE selling point (mostly for the sake of trailers/commercials), or at least I know that consumers go for the games that represent themselves that way. Anyway, nothing about the history of videogames, or even anything else, suggests the future of the industry could suddenly become so homogeneous. We'll always have all kinds of games, no matter where certain trends go. Things might get better or worse, but we'll never have this "one hell or the other" scenario.

Avatar image for Khasym

Man oh man, it is good that Mr. Hutchinson practices what he preaches. Who needs successful AAA titles that can sustain a major game company for months or years depending on their quality. WE NEED MORE ANGRY BIRDS!!! Nothing makes money more than games you forget about before you close them down. Honestly, I never much cared for the Assasin's Creed series. I played the first, and the second I DLed off XBLA. But, I understood WHY people liked the game, even if I didn't. The community at large decided the game was entertaining, and had artistic style they liked. It wasn't analysis, demographics or focus groups that made the game a success. It was people LIKING IT!!!

Avatar image for Rocker6

As far as Im concerned,as long as they use always on-line DRM,they have no right to talk about "cancerous growths"...

Avatar image for Nic345

I'm pretty sure this is common knowledge but its good to see people from the industry acknowledge it .

Avatar image for Bhargav_pvs

@parrot_of_adun Yeah.... You may be right, but just look how the companies are stressing the titles to pick up cinematic reality which won't be that necessary to get a game sold in the market. I've seen the evolution of the gaming graphics so close from the view of a gamer and dev simultaneously. I'm a dev myself and i can tell u, The gaming industry if continues to go on like this, we'll be reaching a saturation point in the near future and so we are trying to make some content oriented than all flash. I really meant no offence to anyone and anything just giving my opinion. I Honestly thank u for letting me know that i may not be correct, I'll consider ur opinion very valuable in my next project. Thanks buddy.:)

Avatar image for nousername66

And the COD franchise is the cancer of all cancers when it comes to gaming.

Avatar image for wars45

well how will ac 3 change from the last 1 not a lot

Avatar image for SaintWalrus

And so rehashing the same game over and over with day 1 dlc is the lesser of the two evils?

Avatar image for parrot_of_adun

I don't think the big problem is the "pursuit of AAA". Think of it in terms of flash Vs. substance. On substance we're seriously lacking, but that doesn't mean there's too much of a focus on flash, it means game companies do their due diligence as flash is concerned, then don't bother with anything else. Flash and substance are not mutually exclusive; we can have both. Publishers just don't bother with anything they can't put in an ad. The modern videogame publisher is the problem here. Publishers like EA, Activision, and . So you know what's really the cancer here, Mr. Hutchinson? You. So long as you work for a company like that.

Avatar image for manhunted

i hate cancerous growths!!!!!!!!!!

Avatar image for babyrhinos

Ugh. I hate talk like this. My heart would break if developers like Naughty Dog, Blizzard, BioWare, From Software, etc, stopped developing console games and moved on to mobile devices. I seriously enjoy stepping out of reality for an hour to just get sucked into a world. From Software's Souls series has its place. It sucks me into a world, and no matter how well-done it is, if I have to look down at my hands to play, I won't be as immersed. Blizzard games are addictive and fun like a sport. StarCraft for instance. A game like that just wouldn't work for an iPad. PSVita games could never work on an iPhone/iPad. That said, there are iPad/iPhone games that can only be done on those systems. They tried putting Angry Birds on PS3, but that was a fail. Thus, all games have their places, and are where they should be. Don't try swapping markets because one seems a tad more successful than the other. Just stick with what the gamers love! :)

Avatar image for hleflore

For a studio in pursuit of AAA titles it can be awful for that company. For every AAA title there must be a balance with so called lesser games. I never understood why developers would create a new IP but not create other tie in games. Create some games that dont have to sell a million copies to break even create titles in the same universe that need maybe 100000 to break even. Was the universe of Too Human devoid of any other stories to tell? Was Shenmue ending unknowable? Could no assets be reused or recycled in a meaningful way? Wont they understand every game is not worth 59.99 some games are good but only worth 29.99 new. Sega had the right idea with 19.99 for NFL 2k5, so radical was the idea that the effects are felt throughout the gaming market even today.

Avatar image for Mr_Bodywave

I believe that in the future you are going to have companies that sell middleware "worlds". Incredibly detailed, incredibly high fidelity. Much like Unreal Engine, Havok, and other middleware, you will have environmental middleware. Where they have modeled the 50 biggest cities in US and biggest 50 in EU, etc. Eventually it will be whole countries or contenants. Race games, sandbox games, etc. Game developers will license that and instantly have huge areas already well done. Combine that with another middleware engine and you have a lot of the "work" finished and can put more into characters, story, gameplay, etc.

Avatar image for lotrtrunks

Ok Alex you have reached Step 1: Acceptance. Now for Step 2: Give Assassins Creed a break for a few years and then Step 3 : Make Next AC a revolutionary creative project Step 4: Repeat Steps 2 and 3

Avatar image for Buck_Swaggler

I think a more accurate statement would be- The greed of game publishers is a cancerous growth

Avatar image for steve4123456789

True words true words, listen to it carefully, and you will see why retro gamers exist. Games are not about 1 short buzz then never touch it again, then trade it in. People need to look to the past to see where things went wrong.

Avatar image for sladakrobot

I am an old-school gamer and i've seen every/have played on every console and many of its games till today! Being AAA does guarantee maybe only graphical fidelity nowadays.I wished they would spend(not limited to Ubisoft) so much time and money working on the design,intuitive controlls,plot and storytelling and replay value. Because i am looking for these things when i buy a game.

Avatar image for DeFiLeDTitan

All you can really ask from a game is to entertain you. Whether or not it's from the story or endless mind-numbing online in cod is based on individual tastes as consumers. For me, the AAA titles seem to do this quite effectively, so I find it very hard to complain. But, maybe that's because I will not pay full price for a game except for a very few cases. Ironically, AC is one of those few exceptions. BTW, cod is a good game. It's fun, endless violence and that's just great. I see no real difference in it than I do in a war movie. If it's not your cup of tea that's fine, but always harping about it just gets old.

Avatar image for YukoAsho

Not sure what the point of this guy's rant, but the problem is that we now live in an era where anything smaller is expected for free, thanks in no small part to iOS' free or $0.99 tripe. Rayman Origins is a step in the right direction, but until companies realize that it's OK to release games on disc that don't have trillion-dollar budgets, than we're going to sink into the hole even deeper. People want large, engaging experiences, that's not going to go away. But when most of the money in the industry is spent HD-ifying everything, there's a real problem. And then people wonder why I'm hesitant to see a new console emerge?

Avatar image for Sigil-otaku

@J_Dangerously I like my AAA games too but what he states is correct. Whereas I envision the point where games companies are smart enough to have there AAA games as the flagships and more experimental stuff on the side the problem we see is games like Battlefield, Crysis and COD at war in market they never innovate in or never do anything but up the ante on merely production costs and graphics. I like Halo for example, it's a brilliant franchise that does try change things up (equipment, armour abilities, forge, match recordings etc) but even halo has suffered from the AAA problem of being rushed. Halo was actually a franchise with a lot going for it, despite being an FPS they chose to make it have atmosphere, great music, a unique sci-fi setting and at least an attempt at a story but even though it ended up good still I feel it could have been a bit better with more time between each game. I like AAA games though and it's good when devs do put the backing into a game and make it a AAA because that's when they try and make it good all round but overall there's a point that we do have to worry whether we enter an arms race of graphics and not gameplay. Gears of War for example didn't just have good graphics, it tried to do well by refining the cover mechanics and setting it's gameplay around that and it worked. Gamers should be looking at gameplay more than AAA graphics.

Avatar image for visionedorange

i may have missed the point of this article but i agree it takes more than a year to make a proper, NEW game imo for example if you look at garbage like cod it comes out every year and each sequel remains the same as the previous, same with the ea sports games, assassins creed seems to be one of the only series that sort of gets away with it they gotta be careful tho not to slip into that cycle or recyclin content for full price

Avatar image for FlyingAce1016

I do love me some assasins creed no matter what anyone says, and this looks to be changing enough things to make this game different they aren't milking a series, they just haven't finished the story yet

Avatar image for J_Dangerously

Contrary to all the wannabe Andy Warhols out there, I like my blockbuster AAA titles.

Avatar image for Tseng

Amen brother...

Avatar image for inaka_rob

@Yomigaeru I agree with you 100% but 99.9% of the people working on these games have NO say so in the DLC and marketing of the game. Even guys like directros and lead game design HAVE to do what the studio tells them to do or they wont get paid or EVER get hired agian to do another big title. Take for example the newest Dues Ex. When playing that game I feel like its one of the few today that was made FOR gamers, BY gamers. They had lame pro-order bonuses like a mission that seems like it was just plucked from the main game and then sold back to us. No one who made that game had ANY say-so in it, or they would not have a job. "hey you get to make money, make cool games, but you have to let us (square enix in this case) sell the game how WE want to" Only a few people and compaines like Doulbe Fine and guys from Re-spawn (ex infinty ward) speak up. Look what happenes when do disagree with the big wigs who sign your paycheck. you get fired like ALL the top guys working on the new rainbow six. and as long as COD makes 1 billion from just hitting the copy machine and turning the random-DLC mahcine. we have already lost. no point in getting angry at guys like Alex Hutchinson. you have to get angry at the guys who sign his check, and how are you going to hurt them. there are too many mommies and little boys who will buy anything and everything EA and Activision and Squareenix will tell them to buy.

Avatar image for inaka_rob

yeah.... some of us have been saying this for years now, and we get shot down, even modded becuase of we tried to express that we feel the game compaines AND the media are just treating us like sheep.

Avatar image for supertom221

I dunno if Alex is just trying to impress gamers who got sick of Ubisoft's DRMs and AC's downhill milking, but eitherway, he is right. This industry is getting worse every day. By the time this decade ends, We might be looking at the Hollywood industry reborn in the form of games. I don't want that, you don't want that, nobody wants that.

Avatar image for supertom221

@emperiox Agreed brother. They treat us as pirates, Then pirates they shall have. I had the copy of the first AC for PC, the only one that didn't try to butt**** me. When I saw what happened to AC2, I just pirated it. GOTY edition my a**. I bought Brotherhood for PS3 because I couldn't be arsed to go through all that DRM crap again. Downloaded Revelations, didn't play more than 3 hours into it. Barely even worth the bandwidth I wasted on it.

Avatar image for darkcomedian


Avatar image for GDB123DIE

Okay. Yes. He's being a tad hypocritical but at least as a game developer he's admitting that he's apart of something that has grown stagnant and redundant. And don't most of us complain about these same issues? I think the issue with the AC games is that they tried TOO HARD to make something different and 'artistic' to the extent it has the shakiest plot and endings that leave me wanting to punch a kitten. I enjoy the series but i see everything that's wrong with it. If he's learned from all of what he's saying then we can expect AC3 to be a breath of fresh air, if not i'll be thoroughly disappointed that he can talk this way about something but not follow through with his own projects. Time will tell.

Avatar image for Tasssha

I will just play the game and let others worry about such things!

Avatar image for emperiox

@JDCAce55 I'm sure that Ghost Recon Online is a fun game. However, I don't like free to play games often because they're full of hackers, spammers, and general gamer douches that I want to punch in the face. I wanted Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Future Soldier because of the campaign. As a PC gamer, I may pirate the next Assassins Creed simply because of the fact that I'm sick of Ubisoft treating me like crap. Keep in mind that I've NEVER pirated ANY GAME EVER before. Why would I want to give Ubisoft my money when they keep treating me as a second rate minority and a pirate?

Avatar image for dstv

cancerous growth......lol.....4 games in 4 years now that's a cancerous growth

Avatar image for souljah333

does anybody know if they are bringing back the assassin's guild where you recruit assassin's and upgrade them

Avatar image for 4rcher91

One thing unique about the AC series, is the way it seamlessly blends fiction with real historical settings and figures. It's also quite artistic and fun to play. Here's hoping AC3 would continue to give such values to gamers.

Avatar image for monson21502

well no duh... even the paid reviewers are getting sick of the same games over and over this gen. alot of cool franchises came out this gen.. but since they milked them so much i am already sick of 90% of them

Avatar image for PumpkinBoogie

Very interesting and honest take, especially considering this is coming from someone that works at such a big name studio like Ubisoft. I admire his frankness, not to mention he makes some very valid points.

Avatar image for S-181

hard words. ac 3 had better be good now.

Avatar image for Kevlar101

Adizzar, if I could dislike your comment 1,000 times, I would. So count that 1 as 1,000.

Avatar image for adizzar

wow... like the AC developers are ones to talk..

Avatar image for Buffalo2867

Games stagnate because there isn't that much money in the business. Lets face it, its almost an honor system industry in which any idiot and their dog can figure out how to pirate a game. If you think having that option doesnt cut deeply into sales you have a far more favorable opinion of humanity than is warranted. Add to that a poor economy and a plethora of other options to get your entertainment in and its not hard to see why the industry is going how its going. Its easy to blame corporations or whatever else but the truth is we gamers have nobody to blame but ourselves. We do not support creative or niche games and so now the only games left are the ones who squeeze every penny and go for mass market appeal. This guys right. Its already happening. We will soon enough see nothing but a few AAA titles. Games will focus on production values ratherc than creativity because they can't make money doing otherwise. And I know in some peoples self entitled magic fantasy land game developers shouldn't worry about money and should be HONORED to go to their 9 to 5 for free to provide you with games but the real world doesn't work that way.

Avatar image for SilentK36

@Yomigaeru I agree with your thoughts on DLC and what it was meant to be and how its utilized, though what Alex H. says is the main issue (a game comes before the DLC...which is another topic in itself). Many games are coming out aiming for AAA status and sales, you can see it in all the games people say are comparable to "this game or that". This should be indicative of a lack in variety out there because studios are going for the game type that's hot and selling. We shouldn't discredit his idea because he's apart of the 'machine', if anything his speaking on it should say that much more!

Avatar image for FORP87

@Yomigaeru- I totally agree with you, DLC are by far the most dangerous and destructive element in the videogame industry.

Avatar image for GamerLegend10

I need to change my pic, too many people use it now, and not necessarily people i want to be mistaken for.

Avatar image for No_SuRReNDeR

@Yomigaeru --Well put sir!!! I rather preferred your comment to the actual article...