Ubisoft Toronto studio head Jade Raymond thinks there's still innovation in the AAA space, but sees it threatened in the future by the continually rising costs of development. In the lead up to this month's launch of Ubisoft Toronto's debut Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Raymond shared her concerns with Digital Spy.
"I think the big question to me, as the expectations of these big triple-As keep on growing and the consoles become more powerful and teams get bigger, is how do we keep the costs in line," Raymond said. "That's for sure one of the things that is going to stifle innovation eventually. Anytime you want to make a big triple-A, you're spending, let's say $100 million, you're not going to want to take a chance. It's got to be, I'm making the next Call of Duty or the Assassin's Creed and I know it's going to make 'X' amount, so we'll make money. I think that's the tougher thing."
Her solution for maintaining innovation in the AAA space is a two-pronged approach. First, bring development costs down.
"I think it depends on what type of game you're making, but all games I think we have to invest in tools to make people more efficient, to perhaps make 10 times the amount of content that we were making before with the same amount of effort," Raymond said. "That's the only way we're going to keep up. So there has to be a big investment there."
Next, investigate some alternative business models.
"The reality is the industry is changing, the way people are consuming games is changing, the expectations are changing," Raymond said. "More stuff is online. What does that mean? There are some games like The Walking Dead which are starting to have interesting episodic [content], but that doesn't apply to all games. What's the business model that makes sense to you? What's going on with free-to-play, what does that mean for the console market?"
Raymond name-checked Team Fortress 2 as one particularly effective treatment of the free-to-play business model. The game's microtransaction hats don't impact competitive balance, and Valve's decision to let players create and sell their own hats has made it so people in the community are making money off the game as well.
"I think that's a great business model to investigate for some games," Raymond said.