There's been a lot of frustration and a lot of anger recently in the games' press regarding recent releases and there have also been many comments regarding this particular subject that have basically forced me to illuminate this particular aspect of the industry.
What is AAA?
That's the question that I'm seeing here (and by "here" I mean "the internet")... but the thing is, for me, it's a straight forward answer - and I DO NOT understand the reasoning behind those that answer differently.
Let me start by positioning my argument:
How do we define success and quality? Seriously, have a look around your life and answer this question honestly. What's the best grade you could get in a subject? A? AA? A+? A*?
An "A" grade is the epitome of achievement. It is the pinnacle of the mountain that any academic climbs.
Let's switch to food and accommodation... AAA or 5 Star is the best you can get in a given market. Now, yes, those demarcations are dependent on the market that they are within, but otherwise they are a coherent sign of what is good and what is bad.
So maybe there are more examples out there but I think that those two are ubiquitous enough to kickstart this article; this opinion piece.
AAA is purely a quality-driven derivative. It is a measure of what the market considers to be good as opposed to bad. Most recently I have seen many people within the industry stating without doubt that AAA is related solely to budget. This is not the case. It never was. In the past, with little to no middleware and only proprietary engines to go on AAA tended to be the most expensive development choice because of it's difficulty. So let me get this out there uncategorically: AAA was historically about being the most expensive product to develop because it took the most expensive tools and team to develop it.
This is no longer true and hasn't been for a long time.
AAA is a measure of quality. That is what the majority of the population will understand by the term given their own experience from education and business. I mean, look at the goddamn ratings agencies for chrissakes... AAA is the epitome of the perfect investment. It's nothing to do with how well invested the country or industry is but is only about the anticipated and known quality that exists therein. AAA isn't an indication of investment already allocated to it. That's how it works...
So what IS AAA?
AAA is the perception that a game released is of the highest quality possible. It does not matter on length, nor visual aspects, nor animation... It matters purely on the completely subjective aspect of whether consumers like it a whole lot or not. Same as it does for every other time AAA is applied to any other industry out there.
That is it.
So please, game makers, stop foisting this ludicrous notion that AAA means a multi-hundred million budget and a huge team regardless of final release quality... because AAA isn't what you define it to be but what your customers define it to be.
Same as a 5 star hotel is not 5 star if none of the customers believe it is... neither is your very expensive, overrated game.