What are AAA games (Triple-A games)?

When it comes to video games, you can not only classify the individual titles into specific genres, but also sort them in terms of their quality and the amount of work behind them. And this is exactly where the term “AAA games” or “Triple-A games” comes into play. These video games form a particularly outstanding category among their peers. But what exactly does this term mean and why are the games so important? In this blog post, we will take a detailed look at AAA games and answer several questions about them.

What does “AAA” or “Triple-A” mean?

The designation of these games as triple-A games is derived from scoring and other rating or rating systems. While A basically already represents the top grade (comparable to the expression “1A” in German), the triple use in the form of “AAA” or “Triple-A” shows an assessment as particularly successful, outstanding in certain categories or generally outstanding on.

Because triple-A games are often particularly sophisticated and pioneers in certain areas - from the implementation of technical possibilities to storytelling. AAA games are high-quality, elaborately produced products that are often based on the most modern advances in game production. Individual titles in this category often take a long time to work on.

A closer look at individual areas for the AAA rating

Below you will find a list of individual points that, taken alone, in combination with each other and when applied completely, ensure that a game can be described as a triple-A game:

  1. High production costs: Millions of euros or dollars often flow into production to bring the technical implementation, graphics, sound and all other individual elements to the best possible level. But a lot of effort is also necessary in view of the time of technically sophisticated and well-narrated video games. The game production of such titles often takes several years.
  2. Outstanding graphics: In order to display the game world, characters, effects, cut scenes and more in the best graphical quality, new technical solutions and the latest graphics and physics engines are constantly needed. By using and exploiting the ever-new offerings, some games now offer a realistic experience. But that also means that games require more and more storage space for their assets and increasingly better hardware for calculations.
  3. Depth and complexity of content: Large and beautifully designed game worlds, captivating and logical stories, immersive gameplay mechanics, differentiated characters and tasks that are not too repetitive are just a few elements that make a game a triple-A game. They are also extremely important so that gamers can get lost in them and have fun for a long time. Hidden content, different options for action, different development strands, skill trees and more also ensure a certain replay value.
  4. Franchises or well-known brands: It's not a must, but large video game productions often go hand in hand with certain franchises or brands. These can be sports games and racing simulations as well as video games based on certain films and fantasy universes. But sequels to popular independent games can also become better and more complex thanks to their income.
  5. Major marketing effort: From the announcement (sometimes years before release) to individual updates during production to marketing for the final sale, a lot of time, effort and money goes into marketing AAA games. Of course, a certain amount of hype should be built up in order to achieve many sales at full price and thus make production profitable.

Examples of triple-A games

Even if the above description might sound as if AAA games are an exception, there are several such titles every year. After all, the video game industry is huge and is produced in many places with big budgets. In recent years there have been e.g. E.g. “The Witcher 3” and “Cyberpunk 2077” from CD Project Red, “Grand Theft Auto V” and “Red Dead Redemption II” from Rockstar Games, “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”, “Fallout 76” and “Starfield “ from Bethesda Game Studios, “Elden Ring” from FromSoftware, various “Far Cry” and “Assassin's Creed” parts from Ubisoft and many more. There are also racing and sports games as well as simulations in various forms.

Technical innovations through triple-A games

Over the years and decades, individual games and game series have repeatedly taken the video game medium to a new level. Initially a ridiculed pastime for nerds, video games are now a billion-dollar market with productions that leave even Hollywood films behind. Over time, more and more technical innovations were driven by and for video games. Here some examples:

  • Graphics and animation: AAA games have driven the development of advanced graphics engines that enable realistic lighting effects, physics simulations and high-resolution textures. Motion capture technology has been and is used extensively to enable realistic character animations. A lot has happened, from simple pixel graphics to 3D polygons to today's landscapes and scenes.
  • Audio, music and synchronization: In addition to the graphics, the listening experience also plays an important role. From ambient noises to spoken dialogues to sound effects, a lot has happened here over time. Video games no longer just make simple beeps and are no longer poorly recorded or poorly localized. Extreme effort is often made to ensure that the audio – including with regard to the soundtrack – is of the same quality as the graphics.
  • Virtual Reality (VR): Games like Valve's Half-Life: Alyx have shown how virtual reality can be used in AAA games to create a more immersive gaming experience. For the most part, VR games are still far from achieving their desired goals. However, this area could become even more important in the future.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): AAA games have developed advanced AI algorithms to create more realistic enemy behavior and more vivid game worlds. AI-controlled NPCs can now make complex decisions and react to the actions of the playable characters. The fact that this is not always the case when the game is released is shown by numerous large games that initially struggle with NPC bugs.
  • Open world technology: Games like Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have revolutionized the way open-world games are designed. They offer a seamless and open game world that allows you to freely explore the environment. Previously there were already open worlds with freely selectable quests and a sequence of events that you could define yourself, but since the Nintendo title from 2017 this has been taken up a notch.

“The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom” as a Nintendo exception

Nintendo publishes its games almost exclusively on its own game consoles. Here and there there are collaborations or apps, but the big titles about Mario, Zelda and Co. remain on the in-house hardware. This is the case even if it may seem outdated compared to other consoles or current computer technology. Because even then, Nintendo still knows how to get the best out of it and surprise with new tricks. This has been achieved for the Nintendo Switch console from 2017 in 2023 with “The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom”.

Although the console does not correspond to the high-end zeitgeist in terms of graphics and computing power, a lot of new things can be achieved in the open-world adventure, which is the direct successor to “Breath of the Wild”. In addition to the seamless travel between three world levels (Sky Islands, Overworld and Underworld), the physics in this game are also remarkable. Various individual parts, some of which are movable, can be connected to build vehicles, set traps, create bridges and other structures, etc. A huge effort has been made here to ensure freedom of play. Six years of development have paid off.

“Cyberpunk 2077” as a former disaster and newly crowned masterpiece

Before CD Project Red released Cyberpunk 2077, the game was marketed as a revolution and hyped to the max. The disappointment was correspondingly great when a rather unfinished game riddled with bugs came onto the market in December 2020. I played it on the PC when it was released and only noticed a few small errors. Overall, I thought the game was good even back then. But on last-gen consoles like the PlayStation 4 it was said to be a disaster, if only because of the shoddy graphics.

Over the years there have been repeated updates, patches and fixes that have not only eliminated bugs, but also improved gameplay and introduced new graphics features - including ray tracing. Version 2023 was also released in 2.0, which was accompanied by the DLC “Phantom Liberty”. With this additional content, which brought new missions, a completely new storyline with additional locations and characters as well as emotional decisions and at least one drastic ending, “Cyberpunk 2077” became the definitive masterpiece for me. In the first run of 2020 I completed the main story in 40 hours, and I have now put over 120 hours into the second run.

“The Lord of the Rings: Gollum” – or: Why Daedalic Entertainment had to fail

So there are a wide variety of examples of triple-A games, from technically not so modern to technically most modern games. However, there are also negative examples, for example of games that were lavishly announced but did not come close to meeting the heightened expectations. The developer and publisher Daedalic Entertainment, which actually specializes in point-and-click adventures, had, for example, B. taken over in recent years with the 3D title “The Lord of the Rings: Gollum”. From building the 3D world to storytelling to controlling the main character, a lot went wrong.

After initial successes from "Edna erupts" to "Harvey's New Eyes" to the celebrated "Deponia" series, Daedalic has been able to make a name for itself since the mid-2000s - as a comparatively small studio from Hamburg. Franchise productions, such as “The Black Eye” or “The Pillars of the Earth”, also came from there. As a publisher for other studios' productions, they were also able to assert themselves on the market. But the task of creating a 3D game around the “Lord of the Rings” character Gollum that could meet the requirements of this franchise was ultimately too much. In 2023 the development department in Hamburg was closed; Since then, Daedalic has only acted as a publisher.

Crunching: Problem of Overwork in Triple-A Production

Unfortunately, the production of AAA games often comes with a big problem: so-called “crunching”. Crunching refers to the excessive workload on development teams that often occurs in the months leading up to a AAA game's release. The developers work excessively long hours, often under immense pressure, to ensure that the game is released on time and in the highest quality. Crunching became an increasingly common problem with ever larger productions, including the consequences such as stress, psychosomatic illnesses, burnout, etc.

This practice has led to discussions about the health and well-being of developers and highlighted the need for better working conditions in the games industry. Although not every game studio acts this way, after the first really media-effective reports and complaints a few years ago, crunching became apparent in more and more places and was addressed by more and more people in the industry and in the specialist press. The high financial expenditure, which has to be quickly offset by as many sales as possible, can lead to time constraints in triple-A productions. However, the quality ultimately delivered suffers as a result.

Conclusion on AAA games / Triple-A games

Triple-A video games are high-quality, technically complex and narratively qualitative games that impress with their graphics, audio, game depth and immersive mechanics. Over the past few decades, AAA games have helped drive technological development in the video game industry, providing gamers with increasingly immersive and immersive experiences. However, it is important to emphasize that this progress often comes with high costs and human challenges. This is a disadvantage that the industry must continue to address.

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