PC Gamer recently organised an RPG roundtable where veterans like CD Projekt Red’s Pawel Sasko (quest director on Cyberpunk 2077) and Mike Laidlaw (lead designer on the Dragon Age series) took aim at some of the biggest issues currently afflicting the genre.
The ever-increasing arms race in the AAA space, especially concerning the price of cutting-edge tech, top-tier development talent, and ballooning player expectations, was cited as a driving factor that needs to be addressed. Cyberpunk is emblematic of the issue (which cost more than $310 million to make), and Pawel describes the situation with a little more colour: “When it comes to triple-A, we are just running at a f*cking wall, I think, and we’re gonna crash on that wall really soon.”
We, as core gamers, have come to expect a lot from our sprawling, immersive, aesthetically-pleasing RPGs (and modern single-player games in general). The harsh reality is video games are already an incredibly cheap form of entertainment per hour, and we will have to pay more for them if we want to see them continue to push the envelope.
Laidlaw says the biggest challenge facing role-playing developers today is that of managing player expectations, which is oftentimes a losing battle from the get-go, stating that: “As soon as you’re delivering something that starts to be cinematic, you then are essentially inviting comparison to the most cinematic things. So you are kind of keeping pace with Naughty Dog or Cyberpunk.”
Of course, not every RPG needs to be made on a AAA budget, and Pawel points to Disco Elysium as a modern example of a ground-breaking RPG made for a relative pittance. This is thanks to its reliance on a branching-narrative structure, top-down perspective and commitment to reams and reams of quality writing. Words, after all, are cheap.
Perhaps it is best, then, for consumers of the biggest and best roleplaying experiences to steel themselves for a coming economic imperative. Because between the cost of big, beautiful RPGs and gamers still stuck on that $70 price tag, something has just got to give. Will you put your money where your mouth is? Or would an increase have you looking elsewhere for entertainment? Name your price in the comments section below.