Why AAA RPGs Might Crash Soon: Insights from Industry Veterans

Not long ago, AAA RPGs with cinematic flair and complex game mechanics saw the typical cost of production increase to $70, resulting in a public outcry when the pricing of titles such as Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade was revealed. Experienced game developers have shared their thoughts on what the future of this genre may look like given this financial development.

When individuals spend $60 or $70 of their money, they expect a well-crafted and polished product. CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077, however, launched in an almost unplayable condition, hurting consumer trust in the whole industry and having long-term repercussions for the studio behind it. With such a detailed and intricate RPG, one wonders how the comparatively low price of entry is able to fund all the complex elements, from branching dialogs, cutscenes, and voice acting to character customization.

At a recent PC Gamer roundtable, Pawel Sasko (quest director for Cyberpunk 2077 and the Dragon Age series) and Mike Laidlaw (lead designer) discussed the future of cinematic AAA BioWare-style RPGs. Pawel bluntly claimed that the AAA gaming sector is headed for a wall that it will soon crash into, given the complexities of developing a game like Cyberpunk 2077 and the increasing demands of players.

When God of War released in 2018, its one-shot camera style was a pioneering technique. Players have since asked why other games don’t use similar approaches, without considering the cost it requires. The development of games such as Cyberpunk 2077 and Dragon Age: Inquisition necessitates an abundance of intricate components, an extensive investment of time and the hiring of personnel with highly specific abilities, which adds up monetarily. Consequently, the budgets for these games keep getting bigger and bigger, but the final cost remains around the same.

CD Projekt Red’s expenditure on their most recent RPG was a whopping $310 million. Fortunately, their revenue from Cyberpunk 2077’s sales recouped the entire investment right away. Nevertheless, this is not the case with all developers, and their fate is often determined by whether an individual game is successful or not.

Laidlaw points to procedural storytelling as a possible way to reduce the high cost of creating a AAA cinematic RPG. Gamers are already familiar with the concept, as seen in the procedurally generated dungeons of roguelikes and Diablo 4. Bethesda has announced that Starfield will include procedurally generated quests and locations and Dead Island 2 features a procedural dismemberment system. Strix Beltran, narrative director of Hidden Path Entertainment, believes that using these tools to tell the stories expected of an RPG will make development more affordable. He proclaims that “it is going to be a game changer.”