Indies Vs. AAA for Game of the Year

With the proximity to the Golden Globe awards recently, I saw a discussion about the award ability of long-form TV shows versus short-form TV shows (don’t worry; this will wrap back to games in a bit).  The argument that was made was that the quality of mini-series and those TV shows branded as “event series;” i.e. shows with 6-13 episode seasons rather that the full 22 episode seasons of regular network programs, is almost always superior.  Short season shows move quicker, have denser plots, and often their scripts have had more time to be polished.  Even the best full 22 episode shows are going to have some “filler” episodes in which little of long term importance happens.  Hence, from a critical perspective, short form shows have a higher average quality and are more awardable.

The reason that this discussion reflects on video games is that I have felt for several years that there should be separate Game of the Year categories for AAA games and so-called “indie” games, by which I mean more the genre of short form digital games than technically “independent” games from a publishing perspective.  After all, titles like Resogun and Child of Light are published by Sony and Ubisoft respectively, but are small games developed by small teams.  But I digress.  I think there is a fundamental difference in challenge between developing a AAA game like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed or Final Fantasy, and a small scale game like Child of Light or Resogun or Journey.

Large-scale game development has a certain responsibility to deliver  a certain value.  When a game costs $60 at retail, the consumer expects a certain level of content and polish.  As such most AAA games a certain length, a variety of unique game mechanics and a need to hit a broad enough audience to make their money back.  A smaller game can work on a single excellent game mechanic and simply stop when that mechanic is exhausted, even if its only a few hours of gameplay.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s a very different way of building something from what a large game must do.  When it’s strings hook is worn out, a AAA developer must come up with another to continue the adventure.  There is a reason why the Academy Awards have separate Oscars for Film and Short Film.  The type of experience and story for each is unique and what works for one does not necessarily work for the other.  A game like Journey works on a simple strait forward premise that is short enough to make a distinct impression and then exit before it wears out its welcome.  If Journey were a 30-hour, our even 10-hour game, I don’t think it would work as well.

In a way it may seem I am simply making excuses for AAA developers.  To some extent this is true.  A big game almost always has some part of it that doesn’t work as well and drags things down.  It’s simply harder to maintain quality over a longer stretch of time.  Of course, indie developers have their own sets of difficulties, usually in budget and man-power intensive areas such as graphics and scale.  And of course, games don’t fit as neatly into categories as, say, short films, which for the purpose of the Oscars are defined as film of less than 40 minutes.  Depending on the player, a game may take a range of time to complete.  As such, it would make more sense for the game creators to categorize the game themselves, much how Emmy and Golden Globe submitted TV shows decide whether to run a Drama or Comedy.  With the increasing dichotomy of the game space split between small independent creators and huge, AAA game productions, I think it would benefit both parties to be judged only on their own merits rather than try to compare the scale and detail or AC: Unity’s Paris to something small but beautifully artistic like Child of Light or Transistor.  No matter what though,  with the variety of good games, it’s a good time to be a gamer!


It may have been a long winter break, with my life being a bit busy, but the dailydpad is back and the weekly posts are too.  As always, please follow us and send us feedback at and check out Daily D Pad on youtube.  See you next week!



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