VIDEO GAMES CATEGORY AAA AS AN INACCESSIBLE ART FORM FOR RUSSIA
VIDEO GAMES CATEGORY AAA AS AN INACCESSIBLE ART FORM FOR RUSSIA
independent scientist, narrative game designer at “pecPoc Games”,
The world's first video games date back to the 1950s. Journalists Dave Thomas, Kyle Orland and Scott Steinberg have chronologically the origins of games in their book named “The Videogame Style Guide and Reference Manual”. However, there is no generally accepted opinion which one is the first.
In 1952, the game program “OXO”, also known as “Noughts And Crosses,” appeared, which was a tic-tac-toe game mechanic. In 1958, the tennis simulator "Tennis for Two" appeared. In 1961, the video game "Spacewar" was released, which most closely matches the modern standards of computer games. [2, p.25] Among developers the game "Spacewar" is considered to be the first one in the world.
Over 70 years later, the gaming industry has grown to become a sector of the global economy, generating billions of dollars. According to the estimates of the analytical company Newzoo, the gaming industry market annually increases by 10-11%. In 2020, its volume amounted to $ 159.3 billion.
The active development of the industry has led to interest from investors and the injection of large investments into video games. Especially high-budget video games began to be assigned the AAA class. For example, “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”, “God of War”, “Cyberpunk 2077”, “Devil May Cry 5”.
In Russia, the gaming industry emerged much later. But the first domestic game turned out to be the most popular in the world. In 1984 the programmer A.L. Pajitnov developed the game “ Tetris”. 5 years later another developer N. Skripkin released the computer game “Perestroika”.
The 80s marked the beginning of the development of the gaming industry in the USSR and Russia. The large projects have appeared, including those released abroad, like "Sphere", "Blitzkrieg", "Corsairs", "Allods".
One of the reasons for the subsequent growth of video games in Russia was the popularity of computer clubs in the 2000s, which provided gamers with equipment and Internet access. In addition, Russia became the first country in the world to recognize video game competitions as a professional sports discipline.
Due to the financial crisis in 2008, large projects disappeared from the Russian gaming market. The industry itself was in decline. Having survived the economic restructuring, from 2013-2014 years the game companies began to appear in the country, but with small low-budget projects. Today, Russia ranks 11th among world markets, according to the analytical company Newzoo.  However, the industry still lacks large AAA-level video games, while this category is actively developing abroad.
The video game industry is a cultural phenomenon. In some countries, it is considered a special kind of art form. More and more investments are pouring into the gaming sector of the economy, which indicates a high potential for growth in various aspects of its manifestation.
Based on the study, this article identifies the reasons for the transition of the Russian gaming industry to a new model of monetization and abandonment of large AAA-class projects.
Development budget as an indicator of project quality
In the process of the development of video games on the world market, the concept of the credibility of projects has appeared, based on the financial costs of their development.
There are three classes of video game budget:
- AAA and AAA + games or Triple-A (high development and marketing costs, high demand and high income, conventionally equated to the film shootings like Marvel’s movies);
- AA or Double-A (overall budget is higher than A-games, but lower than AAA-games);
- A or Single-A (zero or very low cost, development team consists of 1-5 people). 
This classification came from the American accounting system, where each report was assigned a letter budget level. Among game developers and gamers, this classification is an indicator of the status of a project intended for a mass audience. Triple-A games are considered high quality by default and are potentially bestsellers. In most cases, games are only considered in terms of AAA budgeting, and almost never other classes are mentioned.
It should be borne in mind that the standards of AAA projects are constantly changing. In the 2000s, this class was assigned to games, the development of which required a budget of $ 10-40 million.  The world's first Triple-A titles are “Final Fantasy VII”, released on 3 CD-discs, and “Shenmue”.
In 2020, the AAA-class group included games with costs already 80-290 million dollars.  These include, for example, “Red Dead Redemption 2”, “Grand Theft Auto V”, “Call of Duty”, “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”, “Star Wars: The Old Republic”. As a rule, games of this level are released on consoles.
However, due to the economic peculiarities of Russia and other countries of the former USSR, it is customary in the domestic gaming community to assign the Triple-A category to projects with much smaller budget volumes. As a rule, they are 5-10 times lower than in the USA and Europe. Unfortunately, it is almost never necessary to assign this category to modern domestic video games.
Current projects of large developers in Russia
The Russian gaming industry has gone a thorny path, rapidly gaining momentum in the country's economy, and just as quickly losing its place in it. 2006-2010 years turned out to be the peak of the crisis of Russian development.
The main factors that influenced the decline of the gaming sector: the country's financial crisis and a high level of piracy. An important role was played by the low quality of the games being developed at that time and attempts to increase sales of such products through bright advertising. As a result of these reasons, the players lost confidence in domestic projects, shifting their attention to foreign ones.
The impetus for the revival of Russian game development was the progression of the Internet and mobile technologies. Against the background of the active global games market’s growth, new monetization models, publishing platforms, and advanced development tools began to appear. All this led to the emergence of small Russian gaming companies. Many start-up studios have entered the market with 10-50 employees on staff.
In 2020, there are about 200 development companies in Russia engaged in commercial game development. Their number has been growing rapidly recently due to the emergence of small studios on the market. Nevertheless, the main projects that developers focus on are mobile games and browser-based web projects.
According to the statistical portal Statista, in 2020 the most profitable segment of the Russian gaming market was free-to-play projects released on the PC. As a rule, these are browser games available on social networks and on developers' servers. The creation of such products requires a low budget and a small staff. Today, the PC remains the most popular gaming platform in Russia, accounting for about 50% of the market.  Among the major developers of PC and console games are Gaijin Entertainment, Nival, Nekki.
It should also be noted that over the past few years the mobile segment has doubled. Almost 90% of these games are sold through the free-to-play (F2P) monetization model. The focus on mobile F2P games by companies is explained by the high profitability of the product and the low threshold to enter the market. It takes no more than 1 year to create one mobile game, while the development costs are significantly lower than for PCs or consoles. In 2020, developers in this segment earned almost 68 billion Russian rubles.  The rapid growth suggests that mobile gaming will be the next industry trend. Among the most significant mobile game developers are Playrix, PlayKot, ZeptoLab.
Thus, the industry is dominated by F2P games with a weight of 83.3% of the entire Russian gaming market. This figure grows by 1-2% every year. The list of F2P projects includes games genres such as “match-3”, “farm”, “hidden object”, various types of strategies and RPGs. Most of them are casual games intended for a wide range of consumers and do not require special skills from the player. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games in the genre of “action” are also popular among web projects.
Large Russian developers are leaving for mobile projects. This is primarily due to the low budget required for development and distribution. The creation of PvP (player vs player) projects takes less costs than PvE (player vs environment), and mobile strategies - less than PvP. Secondly, marketing costs play a big role: for the promotion of mobile games, it is always less than for the distribution of the product on PCs and consoles. Advertising takes place on the platform or social networks, and monetization occurs only within the game itself. Whereas it takes a wide variety of ad campaigns to promote console games.
What do Russian indie developers focus on?
Indie development is one of the fastest growing segments in today's gaming world. In Russia, there are more than 200 indie projects that are available to the general public. In terms of game development, "indie" refers to the creation of a game without financial support by a small group of people.
Russian indie game developers are often formed during game jams. After participating in such competitions, the team of game makers remains to work together on a common project. There are precedents when indie games grew into commercial projects due to the infusion of investments from the outside. For example, the games “Frozen”, “Eador. Imperium ”, “9 Monkeys of Shaolin” and “Life is Feudal: Forest Village”. In most cases, indie projects are all about taste. But the series of video games "Grand Theft Auto" was once a dream of developers too.
The main guides of indie development: experimentation, enthusiasm and innovation, removing the creative framework. This concept of working on a game helps to discover new gameplay mechanics, unique visuals, and development methods. In addition, indie projects often go beyond mainstream game-making trends to promote long-forgotten genres or mix several different mechanics. 
Despite the low development budget or none at all, with the right promotion strategy, an indie game can enter the global gaming market and become a successful commercial project. There are examples where an indie game has grown to Triple-A. For example, the famous games “Minecraft” and “PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds” (PUBG) started out as indie projects, but became world blockbusters. Also here we can mention the game "Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice", which is considered a prime example of independent development, which has grown into a full-fledged AAA project.
Quests and platformers are popular genres among Russian indie developers today, which are considered to be low-income types of games. The most commercially successful genres are puzzle, strategy and RPG.  This suggests that domestic indie projects have little chance of finding a major publisher to implement their games up to the AAA class.
In the course of overcoming the financial crisis, Russian gamedev has lost large companies that could grow into developers of full-fledged AAA projects. Despite the fact that the current state of the domestic game development is improving and the market is growing by 10-11% annually, there is no prospect of Triple-A games appearing in the industry in the near future.
On the part of gaming companies engaged in commercial activities, there is a reluctance to engage in the development of high-budget projects. This can be explained by the fact that pouring large investments into the game increases sales risks and marketing responsibility. Today's publishers and developers strive to simplify the game creation process, minimize costs and accelerate profitability.
Free-to-play game monetization is more stable and stronger than pay-to-play (P2P) format. For example, the revenue from the sale of the AAA-class video game “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” for 5 years was about $ 750 million.  While the 3-year mobile F2P gaming revenue exceeded $ 2.5 billion.  For this reason, developers are reluctant to devote resources to making AAA P2P games.
Another trend seen among Russian gaming companies is the cloning of successful projects in the mutch-3 and shooter genres. Despite the lack of uniqueness in the gameplay and, at times, even the visual part, the income of such games remains at the level of large developers. Based on this, we can say that now the success of the game depends not on how well it was created, but on the budget spent on promotion.
Based on the above, the main goal of Russian large developers is to minimize development costs and maximize quick income, which is not comparable to the idea of AAA projects. One of the options for the development of the event may be the introduction of in-game monetization in paid games. Such a payment model is gradually appearing on the foreign gaming market and may become a solution for the development of Triple-A projects in Russia.
On the part of indie teams, there is a desire to return domestic gamedev to the creation of high-quality AAA projects. However, the very concept of making a game without financial support runs counter to the development process of Triple-A games.
Indie teams are chasing the ideology of "games is art, not money." For large developers, this is a business model for profit. As a result, ideologically indie teams are closest to creating AAA projects, but they do not have sufficient resources.
The general conclusion of the article is the fact that large Russian developers are leaving for mobile games, while indie games are engaged in quests and adventure games. There is a small likelihood that AAA-class projects will appear in Russia in the near future.
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