Lather, Rinse, Repeat

The creative process is an intangible beast at the best of times but when millions of dollars are riding on it, every foible, permutation and segment are considered. Focus groups are ground into a paste.

AAA Games in 2010 require large teams, large budgets and a Metacritic rating over 80%. Then and only then is there a good chance of return on investment. These are boxed products, overburdened by the weight of distribution, PR and marketing. These are the blockbusters … The ‘entertainment events’. These are the games that are threatening Hollywood and the ones that even Goldie Hawn is concerned about. These discs have picked up the baton of the multi-million selling albums and blockbuster movies. These games are bigger that books and bigger that Jesus. Who creates them though? and how successful are these ‘imagineers’?

The scale, depth and complexity of AAA games means that the creative spark and flare is both fuelled and extinguished dependent upon the needs of those bringing it to market. The creation of AAA titles is the sum of a cumulative effort in terms of resource and creativity. Groupthink drags original ideas into the mire.

Within music there is a phenomena known as the ‘diffcult second album syndrome‘ or the ‘Sophomore’ slump. The rationale runs like this. Debut albums are often the most thrilling in an artist’s career, a whirlwind of creative brilliance that is difficult to achieve. The reason being that the creative process is untempered by influence, or rules. Artists have a whole lifetime of experience to draw upon and this results in fresh and innovative ideas driven by a desire to create, stand out and achieve. If you want to understand pure brilliance in a debut album, I suggest you listen to ‘illmatic’ by Nas. The album was born from need and struggle. Straight up street music.

Illmatic was born from hunger and desperation to escape circumstance. I cannot think or a single AAA title born from adversity. Quite simply it doesn’t happen. MW2 wasn’t developed to benefit war veterans.

The problem here comes when the artist tries to replicate the visceral thrill of that stunning debut. It’s hard to rhyme with sincerity about the struggle on the streets with fat pockets and a million dollar home.

AAA games conversely seem to benefit from focus testing, PR feedback and sales figures. Assassins Creed 2, Uncharted 2 and Mass Effect 2 have both illustrated that the refining of the original idea can lead to a much more engaging and rewarding experience. This is the point where games become a ‘franchise’ burdened by an even heavier weight of expectation. Some among you, will extol the virtues of games like Braid, and hold up the idea that a single man can make a difference. I agree.  However Braid is a breakthrough indie title and not a mainstream AAA franchise.

Ideas in games often originate from a single point but their execution within the AAA framework is a burden that falls upon many. This is the reason for creative paralysis and the road often travelled.

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