Given the ever-increasing costs of game development and the complexities of multi-threaded storytelling and game mechanics, some industry veterans share their thoughts on the future of epic, cinematic AAA RPGs. Standard pricing for games made the long-avoided but inevitable jump to $70 a few years ago, and when higher price tags for games like Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade were announced, there was immediate controversy.
When people shell out $60 or $70 of their hard-earned cash, they expect a finished and polished product. So when a game like CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 is released in a barely playable state, it shakes consumers’ general trust in the industry and can cause a long-term reputation for the studio behind it damage. At the same time, with an RPG as large and complex as Cyberpunk 2077 with so many working parts—branching dialogue and questlines, cutscenes, voice acting, and character customization, to name a few—one has to wonder whether the relative What a low entry price that covers it all.
In a recent roundtable interview with PC Gamer, CDPR’s Pawel Sasko, quest director for Cyberpunk 2077, and Mike Laidlaw, lead designer for the Dragon Age franchise, discussed the direction of cinematic AAA BioWare-style RPGs. provides some insight. Pawel is blunt “When it comes to AAA, I think we’re just hitting a wall, and we’re going to hit that wall pretty soon.” RPGs are becoming more complex, and player expectations have increased accordingly.
For example, when the game came out in 2018, God of War’s single-lens camera style was groundbreaking. But once these ambitious technological innovations are introduced, players start to wonder why they aren’t used in other games, regardless of cost. Developing a game with uncountable moving parts like Cyberpunk 2077 and Dragon Age : Inquisition requires not only a massive investment of time, but also the hiring of people with increasingly specialized skills, which doesn’t come cheap. In other words, the budgets for games in this category continue to grow, but the price tags stay pretty much the same.
For example, CD Projekt Red’s latest RPG cost more than $310 million to develop. Fortunately, sales of Cyberpunk 2077 recouped the investment almost immediately. However, that’s not the case for many developers, and the success of one game can make or break a studio.
One potential mitigation for the high cost of developing AAA movie RPGs is procedural storytelling, Laidlaw explained. It’s a concept many gamers are familiar with, be it in procedurally generated roguelikes dungeons or even epic action role-playing games like Diablo 4. Bethesda revealed that Starfield will feature procedurally generated missions, while Dead Island 2 will feature a procedural dismemberment system. Strix Beltran, director of narrative at Hidden Path Entertainment, says procedural storytelling tools will help studios tell the epic stories gamers have come to expect in a more affordable way, making it easier for developers to tackle at least one of the many facets of a complex RPG. “I think it’s going to be a game changer,” Beltran said.