Spider-Man

Insomniac’s Spider-Man and Why AAA Games Still Matter

Last September, Sony released Spider-Man, the 35th video game based on the popular Marvel comic book superhero. The game, developed by Insomniac Games (Ratchet and Clank, Spyro the Dragon), retailed for $59.99 and was exclusive to the Sony Playstation 4. It took two years to develop the game and its production is estimated to have cost around 100 million dollars.

Triple-A (AAA) is the classification used for a video game that receives the highest budget from a publisher, both for production and for marketing. An AAA game is expected to be of the highest quality and to earn a high profit to justify its expensive costs. In short, an AAA game is the video game equivalent to a blockbuster film.

AAA games like Spider-Man are expensive and time consuming to make. Their premium retail price can be expensive for the consumer. You might ask, with the decline in console sales, why developers are even making AAA games at all? As it turns out, AAA games are still worth creating, for numerous reasons.

AAA games generate excitement for the industry

At 2018’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Spider-Man gained 37 awards from industry news outlets. It topped dozens of  “most anticipated games of 2018” lists. Despite there being hundreds of games released a year, only AAA games typically get this kind of attention. More media coverage means more gamers paying attention to a game, which leads to more excitement for a game – which can result in big sales on release day.

AAA titles are often used as a vehicle for launching a new intellectual property. When Tomb Raider debuted in 1996, Eidos went all in on their marketing and licensing for the action/adventure game, putting the character on everything from action figures to magazine covers to shower gel bottles.

With commercials that looked more like perfume ads than for video games, Tomb Raider demanded attention. Eidos even hired a real-life actress to play the character for media events. Thanks to Eidos’ media push, Lara Croft appeared all over the news. For a few years in the 90s, Lara was the face of video games. Launching a new IP is always a huge risk, but when it pays off, it pays off big.

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AAA games create jobs

As of 2018, there are 22 major publishers who make what can be considered AAA games — employing over 300,000 developers in the industry. The majority of working game developers in the United States are working on AAA games.

AAA games don’t just employ game developers, however. Think of all of the people related to the creation and release of these games – marketing, PR, legal, cutscenes, publicity material, advertising material, commercial directors, and more. There’s a reason why the credits on AAA games are so lengthy.

AAA games influence the public’s perception of gaming

The extraordinary marketing budget for AAA games allows their publishers to reach more consumers through a variety of advertisements. Consumers are bombarded by ads through television, internet, magazine, billboards, and even buses. Thanks to this constant stream of advertising, this means that the majority of games that consumers are exposed to are primarily advertised AAA games. Ask consumers and the media about which upcoming games and they will most likely respond with AAA titles.

Almost half of the top 10 games for 2018 were console exclusives. The truth is, AAA games are what sell consoles for the big three (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) and as long as consoles dominate store shelves such as Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy, these will be the games the consumers will be exposed to. While consumers can purchase smaller, independent titles elsewhere, learning about them and finding them in the store can sometimes be difficult.

Spider-Man Game

The AAA single player experience is still a thing

In 2017, EA cancelled their AAA Star Wars game, citing that a “linear adventure game” wasn’t relevant to today’s multiplayer audiences. However, if the success of games such as Spider-Man (3.3 million copies in opening weekend), Red Dead Redemption ($725 million opening weekend), and God of War (5 million copies sold to date) are any indication, the linear adventure game experience is far from dead. According to gamers and game designers alike, linear narrative games are still the best way for game designers to tell a story.

Single-player experiences allow gamers to live out the adventure of a character, which is one of the most exciting aspects in gaming. Have you ever wondered why so many shooters like Fortnite and PUBG display the player in first person? Because it is supposed to be you, the player. However, most story-based narratives will show its character using a third person camera, because it is the best way for the player to see what the character is doing on their adventure and how they carry themselves throughout.

Out of a 2017 survey, 9 out of 10 best known characters were in games that used a third person camera.

While some may complain that AAA games are ruining the industry, the truth is that big-budget titles like Spider-Man keep consumers excited for games, employ game developers, and make the video game industry the highest-earning entertainment industry in the world.

The Rise of Superhero Films

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“Wonder Woman.” “Iron Man.” “The Avengers.” “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The past decade or so has seen an influx of superhero films based on comic books — major big-studio movies starring the highest-paid actors in the world (think Jennifer Lawrence and Robert Downey, Jr.) and outperforming any other movies released. This week, the world will enjoy a new addition to the superhero film repertoire: “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” featuring the work of NYFA alumnus Francesco Panzieri on special effects!

While 1990s blockbusters like “Jurassic Park,” “Titanic,” and “Braveheart” were standalone epics based on books or historical events, today’s highest-grossing films are primarily superhero movies, based on a combination of factors such as escapism, cutting-edge special effects, and an older, wealthier population of comic-book fans.

The most significant, and grim, factor behind the rise of superhero movies has been the economic crash of 2008. There were popular superhero movies prior to this, such as “Spider-man” and Christopher Nolan’s excellent “Batman” series reboot, but following the economic downturn — in which many people lost their jobs and homes — superhero movies went into orbit.

People suddenly wanted escapism into a different world where the hero always triumphed and where distinctions between good and bad were easy to tell. Blockbuster epics with tragic endings like “Braveheart,” and “Gladiator” fell out of fashion, as no one wanted to compound the grim economic situation with an equally depressing movie. Comic-book superhero movies, in which the hero triumphs over evil, became more appealing to the general public. (While our economic downturn is not as severe as the Great Depression, it’s notable that the popularity of comic books in the 1930s mirrors the popularity of superhero movies today.)

With the rise of computers, special effects have become more realistic and believable — something that previously limited superhero movies. Compare the stiff, lumbering shark of “Jaws” — a movie that had exceptional special effects for its day — to the beautifully computer-generated creatures and atmospheres of today’s superhero movies.

Special effects designers have a wider range of options to work with, as well as better software and technologies, than they did 20 years ago. Need Captain America to soar to the heavens? Stand the actor in front of the green screen and virtually create the sky behind him. Need Ant-Man to fly through Iron Man’s suit and sabotage it? That can be achieved realistically as well.

Whereas “Titanic” required a replica ship, today’s computer generated imaging can produce entirely believable superhero action scenes through the digital manipulation of pixels.

The third factor in the popularity of comic-book superhero movies is the older age of the audience. Today’s superhero movies — even if they’re rated PG-13 — are primarily made for adults who grew up on comic books and now have a disposable income. These adults are mostly Generation X-ers and Millennials who read comic books as children during the 1970s-1990s and now have the money to see films and buy paraphernalia. While kids can beg Mom and Dad to buy movie tickets and Mom might possibly agree, adults can always purchase tickets and attend films — creating a great source of potential viewers who have fond childhood recollections of their comic book superheroes and villains.

What are your favorite superhero films? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’re ready to learn more about creating incredible films, study filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.