'The model we're under, the big retail model, is creaking'

Ninja Theory: Triple-A is crushing innovation

The commercial pressures associated with triple-A games production are squeezing innovation out of the creative process, a studio director at Ninja Theory has said.

Tameem Antoniades, whose studio is building the next Devil May Cry for Capcom, said original games were only thriving outside of the retail games bracket.

“The whole digital revolution is happening now and it can’t come soon enough,” Antoniades said in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz

“The model we’re under, the big retail model, is creaking,” he said.

“There’s this stranglehold that the triple-A retail model has, which I think is just crushing innovation and access to creative content.”

Ninja Theory is part of a diminishing tribe of British independent studios that still build triple-A retail games, along with Splash Damage, Frontier, Rebellion, Crytek UK, Eutechnyx and Slightly Mad Studios.

But huge numbers of British game designers, coders and artists are swarming to digital platforms such as smartphones and social networks.

The few UK indies that continue with triple-A projects do so with huge commercial expectations placed on them. Games sold at £40 apiece need to return on huge budget and marketing costs.

“If you’re paying that much to buy a game, you don’t want to take chances,” Antoniades said.

“You want everything to be there, all the feature sets. You want it to be a known experience, guaranteed fun. That’s not healthy."

Profit margins continue to narrow. UK games retail has been in gradual decline since 2008, while project budgets still soar.

“The high budget, high-stakes retail model – the barriers to entry for that are so high, so difficult, that we seem to be getting, being offered, decent work in that area,” Antoniades said.

“It’s hard to say no when you’ve got a team of 100 and you have to keep the payroll going. Another big project comes along, you tend to go for it.”

Antoniades appears to suggest that working on triple-A projects is more done out of necessity than choice.

"There’s always an opportunity between projects to explore things, a lot of team members are hobbyists, they create their own iPhone games and things like that so I can see us kind of taking a punt with that,” he said.

"It’s such an opportunity for fun creative games to reach a target audience, there’s this stranglehold that the AAA retail model has which I think is just crushing innovation and access to creative content.”

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