AAA Game Development Is Unsustainable, Uncharted 3 Director Says

“For AAA development we’re still stuck in that rut, and the ante keeps getting upped.”

Posted By | On 06th, Oct. 2016 Under News | Follow This Author @Pramath1605


Over the last few years, AAA game development has gotten more and more out of control. Games now take hundreds of millions of dollars to be made, with teams of hundreds working on them, months spent on bug testing (to no avail, because the games are still shipped broken, often with extensive day one patches), with multiple delays, and years long development cycles, and only franchise games being made, due to the high risk involved in AAA game development.

It’s a total mess, and something needs to be done before the bottom falls out of the games industry. This isn’t just something I’m saying- the director of Uncharted, Amy Hennig, shares this sentiment as well.

Suggesting that something has ‘gotta give,’ when it comes to AAA game development, Hennig described her own time at Naughty Dog, and the stress that went with it, in an interview with Idle Thumbs’ Designer Notes podcast (via “[It was] really hard. The whole time I was at Naughty Dog – ten-and-a-half years – I probably, on average, I don’t know if I ever worked less than 80 hours a week. There were exceptions where it was like, ‘Okay, let’s take a couple of days off,’ but I pretty much worked seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day.” Hennig also said that the lifestyle that goes with AAA game development is not worth it.

She discussed how AAA game development works at large, noting that the cycle has become untenable, and something needs to give.

“When you go to pitch a game like this, it’s like, ‘Well it better have this many hours, and you’d better have this mode, and you’d better do this.’ Or we could go, ‘You know what, we’re gonna make the best fucking six hour game you’ve ever seen. And that’s all it is. And could you please make that $40?’

“We’re definitely at the point where something’s gotta give… And my hope was that different means of distribution, the fact that everything wasn’t bricks-and-mortar and in a box, it would be that. And I think in some quarters that’s true, but I think for AAA development we’re still stuck in that rut, and the ante keeps getting upped.

“I mean, Uncharted 1; a ten-hour game, no other modes… you can’t make a game like that any more.”

She’s definitely right about that- about all of that. AAA game development is brutal on the developers, and has led to most of the games industry being stuck in a stagnant rut. With the mid tier of game development having died out last generation, high end console gaming is in serious danger of becoming too unsustainable for most companies to bother- and if you think that’s alarmist thinking, you only need to look at the rise of mobile gaming, and just how many companies are content with focusing on that over AAA games.

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  • Clint Hoffman

    While I agree with the sentiment in the story, it’s interesting that some AAA games have a terrible story, lackluster graphics and issues in performance/gameplay. I think it really breaks down in various pros/cons on 3 points:
    1. Game Engine – max performance/minimum effort/intelligent choices : Requires engine that can bolt in new aspects/improvements without major impacts (e.g. replace physics engine for more realistic effects or drop in a Vulkan or DX12 back end)
    2. Experienced/Knowledgeable/Competent Staff : Preferably experience with the Engine as well as game design.
    3. Company (Publisher/Studio/Designer) to recognize and ensure adequate resources are made available. That means enough Staff, Experienced people for the tasks done and a solid game engine.

    I think Naughty Dog does # 1 & 2 points very very well (no puns intended) and mostly because of point # 2. If you are working 80 hour weeks, then their should be 2 people doing your job, not one. If it requires 3 people to replace one 80hr person, then there is a disconnect in communication/tasks and competence. ND fails on # 3.

    Other companies (Edios) get 1/2 points on #1 (potential is there) but either not enough time (e.g. no 80 hr weeks) or enough experience (staff) as they couldn’t overcome game engine issues. For point 3 they simply didn’t have enough funds and were struggling as is.

  • Riggybro

    The thing that I really dislike about most AAA games is they are so BLAH. They play it so safe with story and gameplay. They are (80 hour a week) production line stuff.

    And then people go out and buy them in droves.

    It has basically become like the music/movie industry. Pop/commercial movies stick to a formula which is manufactured to be as m.o.r and unchallenging as possible to make $$$$.

    Then you have a separate category of “independent” for trying out new/unpopular ideas.

    On one hand I blame the companies/their monopolies for taking everyone for a ride. The review sites that spend paragraphs going on about how stale and safe a game is…. then rewarding them a 7 or 8 score.

    But on the other hand the #1 game this gen is COD so… if it’s what people want then… it’s what people will continue to receive.

    • Mark

      Yeah I think graphics and fun factor rule the day now….can’t remember the last game that won GOTY that had revolutionary gameplay and story

  • Mark

    Wow Pramath, this is kinda scary. Just look at how many people work on the 3 different CODs we get now….300!


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