AAA, or triple-A, is a classification used within the gaming industry to refer to games with extremely large budgets that are expected to be high quality and sell a large number of copies.

In previous years, the not-so-unreasonable expectation would be that these games were playable at launch. But with gaming now being a constantly online hobby, updates and day-one patches for broken games have become commonplace, leading to a ‘release first, fix later’ mentality.

The recent release of horror first-person shooter Redfall by Arkane Austin has been mired in controversy.

The AAA game faced mixed-to-negative reactions from gamers and critics alike, with many drawing attention to its gameplay, graphics, and numerous bugs. Following this poor reception, Xbox boss Phil Spencer admitted his disappointment with the game’s disastrous launch.

As the last few years have shown us, Arkane Austin may be able to improve the game in the future through updates and patches, but one thing remains clear: playing AAA games at launch is no longer an option for most gamers.

A recent AAA game trend

Redfall is just the latest in a growing list of games that failed to meet expectations at launch. The recent sequel Star Wars Jedi: Survivor was met with positive reviews but was nearly unplayable for many PC gamers for the first few days of its release.

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By GlobalData

Before that, Cyberpunk 2077 was perhaps the decade’s most famous example of this trend. On release, the game was broken and failed to live up to the hype and the extremely high standard set by the studio’s previous games. It performed passably on PC but was so broken on consoles that Sony removed it from their online store and refunded buyers. Even earlier than that, Destiny 2 and Sea of Thieves were both accused of lacking content at launch.

Thanks to patches, updates, and ongoing support, these games are more than playable now, and they frequently appear on Steam’s most-played list. But consumers rightly expect the game to be finished at launch, not a year or two after release, especially after paying $70 for a new title – and with players unable to rely on a studio’s track record, buying a new game in 2023 is a roll of the dice.

After all, Arkane had previously published the Dishonored series, and Cyberpunk 2077’s developer CD Projekt Red published The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt—all considered by many to be gold standards of their generation.

Embarrassment for Microsoft

These issues will only receive more scrutiny as the industry explodes in popularity. GlobalData forecasts that gaming will become a $470 billion industry by 2030, up from $197 billion in 2021. So, it is no surprise that Xbox boss Phil Spencer felt the need to speak out on the recent controversy surrounding Redfall.

On the Kinda Funny Xcast, Spencer admitted, “The critical response was not what we wanted”. He also accepted that Microsoft should shoulder a portion of the blame, stating: “We didn’t do a good job early on in engaging Arkane Austin to really help them understand what it meant to be part of Xbox and part of first-party, and use some of our internal resources to help them move along that journey even faster.”

This controversy is especially embarrassing for Microsoft. Arkane was one of the big-name developers acquired by Microsoft when it bought parent company ZeniMax Media in 2021, making Redfall one of the first games to come out of that acquisition. Redfall is also one of 2023’s big releases for Game Pass, Microsoft’s gaming subscription service. This has left many questioning the value of a service that, so far, has failed to deliver exciting exclusives.

Spencer pledged that they were going to work on the game to bring it up to scratch and make it more playable, but he admitted that these games are expensive ($70 by themselves, or between $10 and $15 a month for Game Pass) so work would need to be done in the future to ensure this does not happen again.

Hype and impossible deadlines

With many games being released in broken states but with the potential to be great, many players wonder why games are not simply delayed until they are ready. Cyberpunk 2077 has helped to rebuild CD Projekt Red’s reputation thanks to constant updates, repairs, and communication. Still, it leaves you wondering why it was originally released in such a poor state. The answer is twofold: hype and unrealistic release dates.

Big games have legions of fans, meaning they will usually sell regardless of what state they are in. For example, thanks to incredible hype, Cyberpunk 2077 became the fastest-selling PC game of all time following its launch in 2020. If a developer can make money and break sales records when releasing a faulty product, they are unlikely to spend the money needed to fix them until forced to do so after facing a post-release backlash.

Tight and unrealistic deadlines leave game developers struggling for time. The last few years have seen countless stories of abuse and ‘crunch’ (compulsory overtime) by major developers to hit those ever-important deadlines. Gaming is a multi-billion-dollar industry and hitting the right release window can make or break a game’s fortunes. It cannot be released in a busy period, and it must be released while the hype is at its maximum, which means a delay is out of the question.

Phil Spencer stated that in the future, Microsoft will consider two questions: What can we learn, and how can we do better? If it wants to maintain its rapid growth trajectory, the rest of the gaming industry will do well to follow its lead.