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The rise of triple-I games and how to get ahead

David Cullinane 13 December 2019
Realtime VFX

Every year we are treated to a slew of high-quality new game releases. Often the result of years of development, there is a huge expectation for the biggest titles to perform both critically and commercially. Typically regarded as ‘AAA’ titles, their release is the culmination of lengthy development cycles and enormous marketing expenditure.

The continual marketing efforts in the months (and years!) that lead up to their eventual release, and subsequent ongoing monetization efforts can seemingly make them ever-present; ensuring that all possible exposure to the public are taken full advantage of – from featuring on stage at one of the now many gaming conventions, right through to final launch trailer. Such is the typical marketing life-cycle of the quintessential AAA game.

There’s no doubt about the level of commitment and passion that goes into the development of ‘AAA’ titles from both the publishers and developers. But not having access to the huge levels of resources needed to develop such games is no longer a barrier to creating ambitious, high-quality titles at a fraction of the cost, that can still find a huge audience. The power and availability of off-the-shelf game engines like Unity, UE4, and Lumberyard, as well as many other tools, has led to a democratisation of games development, enabling the rise of some incredibly talented indie teams and the development of incredible gaming experiences.

Whilst they may not have the same level of bombast, nor the same level of marketing resources of your typical AAA release, they are no less important to the gaming landscape. So let’s celebrate the rise of the triple-I game.


What is a triple-I game?
How we categorise games – whether they be AAA, triple-I, AA, or even A and below – is largely subjective, but budget is often a major factor. There is no exact cut-off for how much must be spent on the development of a game for it to neatly fit into any one of these categories, but the amount of resource and scale of the team is a good indication.

Whilst triple-I developers typically might have a smaller amount of resources available to them, the scale of ambition and passionate commitment to the success of the game can deliver big results. However, if they are to achieve the commercial and critical success they strive for, they will need to make every penny count during development. Just because they have less resources needn’t mean a sacrifice to quality. We see plenty of triple-I releases every year, welcomed with great acclaim. One of the standout examples in recent years is Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which was lauded for its incredible script and unique way in which it addresses mental health issues.

Other examples include the acclaimed Subnautica and the recently released The Outer Worlds. There is seemingly a renaissance in their popularity, filling the gap neatly between behemoth AAA games and smaller scoped indie titles.


The triple-I secret
Often with a lower price point than your typical ‘AAA’ blockbuster, triple-I games still provide hours of entertainment for less; what’s not to love? And, freed from the constraints of the juggernaut publishers, the ability to create games for a fraction of the budget can let new ideas thrive.

Ninja Theory’s development of new performance capture techniques with Cubic Motion shows that innovation can pave the way to creating fantastically immersive experiences, fooling the player into believing the game has been developed by a huge team (it was actually developed by just 20 people).

Arguably, with so much money invested into a typical AAA release, it has to have a more ‘safe’ approach to its development and marketing in order to achieve mass-market success that is expected of such games. However, such an approach is no guarantee of success.

But triple-I games are free to explore new themes, experiment with different game mechanics, and generally dive into areas rarely explored. Arguably, there’s a greater freedom that can make for a more diverse range of games which can only enrich the wider market.


Bang for your buck
In order to compete against AAA games, developers of smaller indie titles often need to get more creative in the way they not only develop their game, but also market it. Bringing any game to a crowded market can always prove to be a challenge, especially when it’s a new IP.
But when you have greater budgetary considerations, it’s important to develop a marketing campaign that uses your available funds in the smartest way possible. Remember, regardless of how confident you may be about your game’s quality, you will be in competition against the many thousands of other games on the market.

A final trailer at launch is an absolute necessity. You could do it in-house, but the issue there is your staff will already be stretched thin and you want to avoid the crunch time to put out a trailer you know can be better. If you’re fortunate enough to be invited on stage by one of the big names at a games conference, this trailer is going to be your only way to make a lasting impact. Unknown Worlds have enjoyed huge success with their game ‘Subnautica’, thanks in part to their decision to create a hugely entertaining trailer that has helped propel their game into mainstream success.

There are definitely avenues you can explore to deliver a quality trailer within your budget. It’s all about choosing a company who will work within your limitations and dive into your entire ethos. Triple-I games are an essential part of the gaming landscape and they deserve every opportunity given to AAA games. So why not come out with a bang and let everyone know you’re here?

At REALTIME, we’ve worked with plenty of developers to do just that – deliver a trailer that leaves a mark. Take a look at some of our previous work to see what we’re all about. And when you’re ready to talk, get in touch with me at [email protected].