Mid-Tier Games are some of the highlights of the industry. But where did they go and why are they now returning?
The immediate thing any gamer needs to understand is the distinction between a Mid-Tier or “AA” game, and something that is commonly called a “AAA” game. The difference is actually night and day!
A “AAA” game is quite simply a game with huge potential reach in terms of customers. monetization and one massive budget backing it all up are other features.
A “Mid-Tier” game is a sizeable project, but marketed within reason. No game will be blown out of budget. A game knows the audience and the publisher will be happy reaching them. It doesn’t need to sell tens of millions after all.
Not every game needs to be Call of Duty in terms of sheer size or market value. Indeed every company will have a few massive well-known titles but a good developer leaves room for the smaller games.
So what are these smaller games?
Smaller games come in all shapes and sizes. Companies are fond of putting out experimental ideas and seeing how well they sell. Franchises can even start as a smaller release and explode into the mainstream!
Splatoon was originally a smaller release. Simply a unique idea that ended up exploding in popularity to become on of Nintendo’s top franchises. Sticking with Nintendo, a franchise like Yoshi or Kirby also falls under this category. Notable and recognised characters that won’t sell in high quantity, but will make a return on investment.
PlayStation is also very good at pushing Mid-Tier releases. Gravity Rush, Fat Princess and LittleBigPlanet, all sit alongside the big releases. So why are these games all so important?
Why are smaller games so important?
Try and imagine a system like the PS4. It gets all the huge AAA yearly releases. It holds the top of the tier first-party titles. But imagine the system without Persona 5, without Nioh, without Ratchet and Clank. Do you start to see what is missing?
Smaller games provide one key thing: Variety! If your system has nothing but huge games that need to sell millions for the publisher to consider it a “success”, then you will be presenting a surprisingly narrow selection of games.
Smaller games can afford to offer different experiences. They don’t need to cater to as many people as possible after all. Can you envision a Kirby title with the budget and scope of Call of Duty? That would never sell enough to be worthwhile. Yet being a mid-tier game allows Kirby to be unique, to be different and offer something worthwhile to a library.
So why are these games making a resurgence?
This is an easy answer. Cast your mind back to a decade ago, the height of the Xbox 360 and PS3. Everything wanted to be Call of Duty, the next blockbuster hit. The industry chases trends, currently Battle Royale games apparently, and the trend was to go big.
Even first party developers fell to this. When was the last Jak and Daxter? Sly Cooper? F-Zero? The mid-tier game fell to the side in pursuit of mega hit after hit. Every kind of game has a place in the market, but what felt strange was the almost overnight shift.
It’s hard to look back on the PS3 and PS4 and not wish it was like the PS2. Yes they got smaller games, even from first parties. Doesn’t it feel like they haven’t been pushed like they used to? Gravity Rush 2 is losing online connectivity, though that was recently delayed. I didn’t even know Fat Princess was a thing that existed. Tearaway isn’t mentioned anymore.
New games like Concrete Genie show up for sure. But it’s not in the volume it used to be. The variety suffers.
The same happened for Nintendo. Only recently have we seen renewed interest in smaller games. A few popped up on Wii U and 3DS but Switch singled a shift. Snipperclips, ARMS, Bayonetta (Again). The Wii U had Wonderful 101, Captain Toad and 3DS has BoxBoy and Dillon.
The games supplement the library of huge titles and this is what makes a system truly attractive. Variety. It’s where Microsoft has fallen short. Swamped with the huge releases but smaller releases are hard to come by especially on a first party front.
So where are we going next?
Well this is also easy to predict. Third party developers will forever be inclined to pursue the big hits. They locked themselves into a cycle of monetization and marketing. Some are branching out to smaller games like Activision with Crash and Spyro or EA funding smaller titles from indies. By and large however that will remain a smaller part of their strategies.
Where this really comes into play is with the platform holders. They can throw out as many small titles as they want alongside the Marios and Uncharteds of the world. They have the resources and hardware sales to accommodate it.
It’s from first party software that you see the most variety. This word keeps popping up but to truly have something for everyone you need to be varied. Know that a game will sell only so much and plan accordingly.
Sometimes appealing to more people over multiple lower selling titles is better than aiming for the top every time.
Thanks for reading, and if you agree or disagree, feel to shout on social media. This is an interesting discussion spurred by trying to work out where I find my enjoyment for a system as a whole, naturally it’s that word again: Variety.