EA: Triple-A Industry Reduced to 25 Studios

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EA: Triple-A Industry Reduced to 25 Studios

richard hilleman

According to Electronic Art's chief creative officer, Triple-A studios have decreased while the number of developers remains the same.

If you're trying to gauge the health of the videogame industry, what would you measure it with? For better or worse, growth is usually the go-to response. Most of us examine expanding markets, increasing sales, and other size-related factors while determining whether everything is hunky-dory for the year. So when EA's chief creative officer, Richard Hilleman, states that the number of Triple-A studios has decreased this generation, that means the market is unstable, yes? According to Hilleman however, the industry is actually supporting the same number of employees across fewer expanded studios, which might indicate stability for the upcoming generation.

"What is true today is that there are fewer AAA games being built than at the same point in the previous generation," Hilleman writes. "I've done some calculations that say there were about 125 teams in the industry worldwide working on what I'd call a AAA game on a console, and that was 7 or 8 years ago ... That number today is well south of 30; probably in the 25 range. What's interesting is that, if you look at the composition of those teams, the numbers are exactly the same: those 125 teams became 25; the size of the teams increased by a factor of four."

Hilleman attributes this change to the gradual shift between standard and high-definition televisions. As HD became the norm, certain teams expanded to better produce enhanced visuals, while other studios dissolved or switched markets entirely. "This has everything to do with the standard definition to HD change," Hilleman continues. "If you look at the math, that change is about content - richly about content - and as we evolved, our costs went substantially up. And the number of people on teams with that kind of vision went up by necessity."

Hilleman suggests that, since HD televisions have effectively overtaken the market, this upcoming generation may be a more stable one overall. "I don't see that kind of content-oriented change coming in this next generation of platforms," he explains. "As a result, I think we were on a path that made me nervous, but it seems to have stabilized." Of course, whether this stability is sustainable remains to be seen. The very definition of Triple-A games has always been a nebulous concept at best, and it's entirely possible that some upstart new technology could arrive and upset the balance.

Source: Dice Europe 2013, via Games Industry International

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This is astonishing news...

EA has a chief creative officer!?

EA is complaining that AAA gaming studios are decreasing in number. EA. The company that kills studios?
But in a world with Tripwires, Mojang, Team Meat, and there still being enough AAA to go around:

erm... we do have even LESS AAA devs because churning out the same game over and over again is not being a tripple a dev team.

That aside: good. I do not need tripple a developers. I need good developers that make good games that are fun and bring soemthing new to the table, not the same game over and over again. thx.

Now, go to microsoft, i hear they are out of feet to stuff in their mouths.

Hrmm, all I read was "EA kills 100 studios in 8 years"

Kinda sounds more believable.

Kmadden2004:
This is astonishing news...

EA has a chief creative officer!?

i'm pretty sure that pic is actually the Area 51 scientist from Independence Day...

Sleekit:

Kmadden2004:
This is astonishing news...

EA has a chief creative officer!?

i'm pretty sure that pic is actually the Area 51 scientist from Independence Day...

OMG! NINJA'D SO HARD!

hahaha, I was gonna comment on that too!

Crazy, huh?

EA, don't you think you've been closing a few too many studios already? Saying "there's only X" when you're responsible for closing a damn lot does make sound like an asshole... OH WAIT, it's EA, I forgot.

Well, that makes sense to me. If your industry deals in millions of dollars, it doesn't seem likely that 125 studios would last long. Cannibalization is an expected occurrence.

I mean, how many blockbuster studios are there in Hollywood?

lacktheknack:
Well, that makes sense to me. If your industry deals in millions of dollars, it doesn't seem likely that 125 studios would last long. Cannibalization is an expected occurrence.

I mean, how many blockbuster studios are there in Hollywood?

the big Hollywood film studios are more analogous to the big "Publishers" than the development "studios" (especially given how they attempt to govern distribution within the industry) but you should note that most of the real creativity in the film industry nowadays comes from...dun dun dur..."independents" in one form or another...

Question is: Are these AAA games any good?

The answer is 'no, no usually'.

We shouldn't be worrying about how many AAA studios there are, but 'reputable' studios.

Kmadden2004:
This is astonishing news...

EA has a chief creative officer!?

That's nothing. Apparently the 'A' in EA stands for Arts. Can you believe that? Arts.

I like how they turn it into amazing detective work when they are the main motherfuckers who butcher studios and stuff everyone on the same conveyor belt production line.

Fanghawk:
"What's interesting is that, if you look at the composition of those teams, the numbers are exactly the same: those 125 teams became 25; the size of the teams increased by a factor of four."

Hold the phone here... am I reading this right? If so:

125 teams became 25.

25 is 1/5 of 125.

Team size has gone up by a factor of 4.

1/5 of the teams remaining, with each of the teams being 4 times larger.

4 x 1/5 = 4/5 = 80% of the total people remaining in the AAA industry.

80% =/= 100%

Either EA doesn't understand math, doesn't realize what they said, or they're knowingly contradicting themselves; because by their own admission the AAA industry has lost about 20% of its workforce yet somehow is exactly the same size. In any case, something is definitely wrong here.

And having less triple A studios is bad because? I do get he feeling triple A games are more for the ego of the industry rather then for customers but yet it's the customer/used games/pirates that gets blamed for studios going under and killing gaming.

His summation may be mathematically correct, but the problem is those 25 studios are likely to continue to create about the same proportion of games that are out-of-the-ballpark awesome and games that are cry-into-your-beer bad. And a studio with four times the headcount is a studio that can ill afford those bad games.

Sleekit:

Kmadden2004:
This is astonishing news...

EA has a chief creative officer!?

i'm pretty sure that pic is actually the Area 51 scientist from Independence Day...

for some reason that actually made me laugh out loud

V da Mighty Taco:

Either EA doesn't understand math, doesn't realize what they said, or they're knowingly contradicting themselves. Any case, something is definitely wrong here.

Not to support EA, but I had understood "gone up by the factor of 4" to mean "original team size plus four times that again", meaning you'd end up with five times the original team size (i.e. it's not "multiplied by the factor of four" but "gone up by four times its value".

Nonetheless, indeed I don't see the problem here. In fact, I'd argue that ONLY getting rid of "triple A" denominations can be a remedy to exploding budgets stifling creativity and quality.

Monsterfurby:

V da Mighty Taco:

Either EA doesn't understand math, doesn't realize what they said, or they're knowingly contradicting themselves. Any case, something is definitely wrong here.

Not to support EA, but I had understood "gone up by the factor of 4" to mean "original team size plus four times that again", meaning you'd end up with five times the original team size (i.e. it's not "multiplied by the factor of four" but "gone up by four times its value".

Eh, I can see that now that you pointed it out. It probably could've been worded better, however, to avoid the confusion.

Ah, EA buys out and closes a studio, blames us for closing them. i see your back to your old tricks here.
also 25 studios is enough, we dont need 125 studios.

I don't see the problem here...
Because there isn't one! It's interesting in itself thou, many few less studios but the same amount of work.
This is like in a small village there are 3 grocery stores, 2 "vanishes" but the third one grows bigger and everyone from the 2 other stores get work there. No harm done, everyones happy!
I guess this is how it works today, smaller companies being "bought" by bigger ones, thus creating "less companies" even thou nothing significant really has happened.

Guffe:
I don't see the problem here...
Because there isn't one! It's interesting in itself thou, many few less studios but the same amount of work.
This is like in a small village there are 3 grocery stores, 2 "vanishes" but the third one grows bigger and everyone from the 2 other stores get work there. No harm done, everyones happy!
I guess this is how it works today, smaller companies being "bought" by bigger ones, thus creating "less companies" even thou nothing significant really has happened.

Nothing significant. Just monopolies and monoculture.

So thatīs why there are so few interesting AAA games out there, back in the day i could find plenty of cool expensive games but recently itīs been tougher and tougher. No wonder everyone is making the same game.

luvd1:
And having less triple A studios is bad because? I do get he feeling triple A games are more for the ego of the industry rather then for customers but yet it's the customer/used games/pirates that gets blamed for studios going under and killing gaming.

Well said.

All the truly interesting developments in gaming tend to come from small to mid range developers these days, and the gamers who hang on E3 news for exciting ideas are just barking up the wrong tree.

The indie scene has exploded, both in popularity and success. Developers have left the big studios or been forced out by their unsustainable financial models and in the process have formed an increasingly strong new market, that caters more to the diverse tastes of gamers, just without the ridiculous motion capture and big budget stuff that none of us really care about anyhow.

Maybe there's room for a small number of "AAA" Hollywood style titles each year in a larger industry of small to mid range games that dare to be something interesting. But probably not if they keep insisting on blaming the consumer for not buying it.

Sleekit:

Kmadden2004:
This is astonishing news...

EA has a chief creative officer!?

i'm pretty sure that pic is actually the Area 51 scientist from Independence Day...

He doesn't look that much like Brent Spiner tbh.

Also EA can't complain they are the people that have killed some of the best studios to have existed.

AAA industry is just so problematic right now.

EA is just pissy that there are not enough Triple A developers to buy-out and suck DRY and their current IPs are losing its appeal excluding the Battlefield series

Fanghawk:
Hilleman attributes this change to the gradual shift between standard and high-definition televisions. As HD became the norm, certain teams expanded to better produce enhanced visuals, while other studios dissolved or switched markets entirely. "This has everything to do with the standard definition to HD change," Hilleman continues. "If you look at the math, that change is about content - richly about content - and as we evolved, our costs went substantially up. And the number of people on teams with that kind of vision went up by necessity."

Yeah, I don't see any of that as a good thing. Enhanced visuals do not mean better games. Often it's quite the contrary, because you have to skimp on content in order to accommodate all your enhanced visuals.

This news doesn't surprise me since probably 60-70% of the 50 or so 360 games on my shelf are cult classics that failed to set the world on fire and pretty much quickly became bargain bin fodder.

Small indies are great and all but they can't fully fill the shoes of the game studios that went tits up this gen. I'm pinning my hopes on a big return of the mid tier flourishing again with a healthy mix of indie, crowd and publisher funding sources.

EA probably thinks Darkspore is a AAA game.

Well, at least he's not blaming gamers for this one. I don't entirely know how TVs could play a big part in it, but then again I'm not a market or industry analyst so whatever.

V da Mighty Taco:

Fanghawk:
"What's interesting is that, if you look at the composition of those teams, the numbers are exactly the same: those 125 teams became 25; the size of the teams increased by a factor of four."

Hold the phone here... am I reading this right? If so:

125 teams became 25.

25 is 1/5 of 125.

Team size has gone up by a factor of 4.

1/5 of the teams remaining, with each of the teams being 4 times larger.

4 x 1/5 = 4/5 = 80% of the total people remaining in the AAA industry.

80% =/= 100%

Either EA doesn't understand math, doesn't realize what they said, or they're knowingly contradicting themselves; because by their own admission the AAA industry has lost about 20% of its workforce yet somehow is exactly the same size. In any case, something is definitely wrong here.

The wording he uses implies that his numbers aren't exact, that he's "guesstimating" at best. Still, it wouldn't surprise me if his numbers were off...certainly wouldn't be the first time.

Mick P.:

Guffe:
I don't see the problem here...
Because there isn't one! It's interesting in itself thou, many few less studios but the same amount of work.
This is like in a small village there are 3 grocery stores, 2 "vanishes" but the third one grows bigger and everyone from the 2 other stores get work there. No harm done, everyones happy!
I guess this is how it works today, smaller companies being "bought" by bigger ones, thus creating "less companies" even thou nothing significant really has happened.

Nothing significant. Just monopolies and monoculture.

Truth therein. This reduction in the number of studios is not a good thing, and it's just a diagnostic of how bloated and unsustainable the business model is that 80% of the industry vanished in a few years. Also, if it's true that the move to HD forced 80% of the developers to focus on MOAR GRAPHICS, then it's no wonder that creativity in all other areas (sound design, level design, art design, gameplay mechanics, narrative, etc) has taken a nose dive.

Again, even if the same number of people are working (which is seriously doubt considering the amount of layoffs we've seen just this year), losing 80% of all studios can't be a good symptom. AAA crash is almost imminent at this point.

Is that picture actually Richard Hilleman, or is that someone cosplaying as Pickles from Deathklok. Seriously, cut that goddamn hair; you're embarrassing yourself.

As for the statistics, perhaps he is right, but perhaps he should look into how many smaller studios and indie studios are around now. Perhaps there's less AAA studios because AAA games today are a much more dangerous venture, and that AAA game budgets are bloated to the point where making one profitable is incredibly tough.

He's the chief creative officer... isn't he supposed to be smart? This news kinda falls under the 'erm... duh' category.

Why are only console games included? Also, what does AAA status even mean here?
The Creative Assembly, Relic, and Firaxis all make excellent games on the PC and they probably aren't AAA games by cost definition. However, I find them graphically excellent and really fun to play, so what does it matter?

Yeah, but if the whole point of reducing the number of AAA studios out there is to reduce the cost of producing top-quality current generation games, I don't think they are quite doing that. If the studios that are remaining have more people working at them, that means more money has to be put down in order to pay those people, so you are probably paying the same or possibly more by having more people on board for each studio.

Granted, I supposed the payoff is that with more people working, you can divide the work up better and get the right people working on the parts of the game they do best to make a really good game. That's probably where the EA Chief Creative Officer is saying the industry is now stable due to the reduce studios. That is, assuming these studios will be smart and use their employees reasonably so the game can be as good as they can make it, so its really up in the air still if any of this is true or not.

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