Many games seem not to be meeting sales expectations this fall. Big titles like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Titanfall 2, Watch Dogs 2, and Dishonored 2 have reportedly sold far short of their predecessors in the UK (where sales are tracked more stringently) and, given company comments, likely in North America as well. There are many possible explanations for this, but one that interests me is the idea that gamers are getting sick of the AAA publishing model and are voting with their wallets. Instead of trying to keep up with all the latest mega-releases, we're buying the one or two games that interest us most at launch and otherwise saving our money for a later sale or a bargain-priced title.
What do I mean by the AAA model? You know, it's those $60 blockbuster titles that tend to be graphical spectacles. They all come with multiple pre-order options in order to entice you to buy the game at launch, and are usually also saddled with extras like season passes for DLC and even in-game microtransactions. Many of them launch with loads of bugs and sometimes require months of patches in order to work as intended. Of course confusing pre-order schemes, tons of DLC, buggy releases, and microtransactions have never been popular with gamers, but in the past it feels like we were more willing to suck it up and deal with the mess in order to play our most anticipated games right when they came out.
It feels like things have really come to a head this year when it comes to these huge releases, though. So many of them have been crammed into the last few months of the year that we've really started getting picky with our money. Add in hardware releases like the PlayStation Plus and PSVR, and gaming budgets are stretched even more thinly. It's at times like these that you start to remember that all these AAA games end up with GOTY versions, all DLC included, for a bargain price a year or so after release. Maybe it's just not worth paying for everything upfront just to play at the same time as everybody else?
Traditional console gamers are getting a bit older, too, especially the audience for more RPG-ish titles like Deus Ex and Dishonored 2. Graced with more patience and cursed with less time, we're less likely to take the plunge on a game right when it comes out. It's not our fault that publishers tend to measure a game's success or failure on its launch sales, nor is it our fault that they've decided all games need to sell for $60 and hock a sight-unseen $20-$40 season pass. Maybe some of us have decided to get off that pricey treadmill, lowering sales numbers for our second- and third-choice games.
What I'd love to see is for publishers to do some deep digs into why people decided not to buy their games at launch. It's definitely not about the quality of the games themselves - critics and gamers alike agree that this fall's AAA crop range from good to excellent. I suspect many of us intend to get around to these titles sooner or later, but it's just all too much at launch. Whether we're annoyed by DLC, in-game microtransactions, or have just been burned by one too many buggy releases, the AAA formula that has been propping up the largest publishers for so long is beginning to falter. Let's just hope that these publishers learn the correct lesson from this year's lower sales. It's not really the fault of the base games themselves, it's the way they're being packaged and sold to us. It's time to dial the AAA nonsense down a notch and focus on selling quality games with a minimum of bugs, straight-up.