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AAA or Indie? Do the labels actually matter?


Over the last few weeks I have had a question pop into my head ever since I finished Night In The Woods… Why do we tread “AAA” and “Indie” differently? Why do we even bother with the labels? I’m looking at EA, The Quintessential AAA Company, and I’m seeing “Cinematic” garbage. I’m looking at Activision and seeing repetitive bullshit. Ubisoft doesn’t even know what they are doing now. Its like they are Official Asset Flippers, otherwise known as OAFs. But then, out of the corner of anyone’s view, Senua’s Sacrifice happens. An “Indie” game that gets called “AA” because of its quality. Night in the Woods happens, and its just fucking good (though niche as fuck). Stardew Valley happens, Cities: Skylines happens, Cossacks 3, Factorio, Insurgency, Rocket League. All labeled as “Indie” which inherently means small, somewhat not known, but good in its own light (at least to me). And I’m here thinking “Um, Hello Muthafucka, NO?”

Now maybe its that I’m in the online crowd so much, maybe I sit in the pool for too long, but… I mean I can’t go to a walmart and ask a kid who’s getting a switch if he’s not heard of Stardew Valley and most of the time get a no. For people I’ve asked, “Indie” games are the reason to get a switch in the first place!

Hell, I don’t think anyone has thought of this, but Demons Souls and Dark Souls were Indie games and NO ONE under the age of 45 hasn’t heard of it in video games at least once if not by accident.

So… To me? Works like this. You got 3 lists, right? Good, Bad, and Horrible.

Good Games: Fable TLC, TF2/Portal/HL/GMOD, Mario 1 2 3, Earthbound, Stardew Valley, Banished

Bad Games: Battlefield One, Overwatch, Blood and Bacon, 7 Days to Die

Horrible Games: New Battlefronts, Drift Streets Japan, Company of Heroes, Fallout 3

To each person their own tastes. I like the first fable game, I like source games, I like SNES games, I like games that emulate that, I like city builders.

I don’t like popular games that are popular because of the company’s existence via hype, I just don’t like overwatch because I think its simple, and I don’t like games that get by with not much effort.

Then you have objectively bad games. Some are actually fun to the most niche of audiences, DSJ for example is horrid but I like it (don’t buy it), but then you also just have horrible games.

So maybe I’m biased? I just see games as… Games. Theres no clout of a developer to me. Ubisoft means about as much to me as Chucklefish or Valve. I’m equally as excited for TF2 updates as I am at the possibility at Night in the Woods 2. But the idea of “AAA” and “Indie” is as much a waste of time to me as giving a game a rating, though thats a different discussion (stop using ratings ffs).

I dunno. Maybe I’m the weirdo.

EA is shit tho.


Games are money, and even Gabe Newell appears to have become more hardened by the constant exposure to the reality that 37% of all the games he sells, are never played by anyone. Please, if anyone here has money they wish to throw away, contact me immediately. I promise to be environmentally responsible.


According to some dictionaries and wikipedia, the “AAA” stands for products of the video game industry with the highest marketing budgets.
That means, any indie game can turn AAA simply by some big company throwing money at it.

The distinction makes sense in my opinion. The indie label mostly indicates there was a relativly small team that putt more effort than money into their product for the reason of money beeing a limited resource for them. Additionally, indie games allow the developer to get in the smallest possible niche as noone expects the game to sell millions of copies.
AAA on the other hand gets a budget of let´s say 450 million dollars and the goal to sell 12 million copies in the first three months after release. Of course it is going to appeal to the most casual gamers! How else are there enough people that are willing to spend 60 bucks on yet another ______________? And due to the “games” beeing promoted by everyone with more than 10k subscribers or followers playing it, of course everyone buys the same game as last year, 10/10 IGN.

Might be going of on a tangent here:

Most games that are called AAA fulfil at least one of the three:

  1. DLC and ingame purchases galore! There is never enough trash to sell to the common cow! Rake it in! Milk the cow before they notice the game is the same as all the previous ones, just with different skins.
  2. Yet another online ________, the singleplayer campaign (if existant) is less than 6 hours because multiplayer is where it is at! (No it isn´t!)
  3. Next part of the series is expected in two years. Better get those ingame skins while the game is relevant! /s

I like myself some good games. Does not have to be long, just has to show someone cared about that specific stone, wooden plank or button in the menu. Or casually chatting with the devs in Discord because that is a thing that happens.
Indie titles feel different, like coming into a nice comfy room, putting your bags down and just falling asleep on the couch.
AAA is like banging your head against the wall trying to make the pain go away.

Cities:DLC Skylines is an interesting candidate. Paradox Interactive certainly has enough budget to advertise some more, however the furious “SimCity VS Cities: Skylines”-discussion did do their job for them. Personally, I would put Skylines on the half way point between Indie and AAA. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Considering AAA it’s a made up term by the industry to sell games and has no real definition I never thought there was to much to say on it.

Probably the best definition is it’s AAA if the game company says it is.

Same could probably be said for the term indie to be honest.


For me, a triple A game means that a lot of money and thought (even tho it may not seem that way due to implementation) and man power went into the game.

Indie games come from people who put a budget on the game and the game is not as polished in terms of graphics or mechanics.

But I learned from reddit, that AAA actually means the reliability of financial investment.

AAA never implied quality and, counter to just about everyone in this thread, it also never implied budget.

“AAA” is a term used to describe the reliability of a financial investment and it denotes the highest possible chance of return on investment. It’s like saying that investing money into that project is an almost certain return.

It’s highly correlated with budget because having a large budget gets you marketing dollars, advertising space, distribution deals, and all kinds of other things that increase your chance of success.

People may use the term differently, but investor risk is where it comes from.


indie=crap 99% of the time
AAA=crap 100% of the time + lootboxes


One notable exemption to the rule would be the e-sports category.
Big name developer but without the big price tag or big hardware requirements.

Any one remember “Watch the show, play the game” with Defiance :slight_smile:
Things also go bad when an idie developer try’s to take on a project that really requires a AAA dev team, like Star Citizen.
Descent: Underground took on too much and spent so much time porting the game for Linux and VR platforms they ran out of start up cash before finishing the game.


What a refreshing topic. Here we go!

My cynical view…marketing. No different than an ‘organic’ designation for food. but that leads to a big question what is AAA and what is indie? To me, AAA means a game made with some sort of backing by a publisher. Indie is an independent group or person and relies on their ability to produce a game with their own source of finance to publish it themselves. There are a lot of opinions so why not poll it?

What is a AAA game? Is it safe to say and indie game is the opposite of a AAA title?

  • Highest marketing budgets
  • Backing of a publisher(s)
  • It’s arbitrary (the game company says it is)
  • A lot of money and thought and man power are put into the game
  • A game made with a reliable financial investment
  • Crap + loot boxes
  • Not a pixel art wanna be
  • Games that sell very well

0 voters


I’m in it for first party for the most part. I can’t think of a single indie game I want that I can only play on the Switch (most indie titles are on steam for cheaper during a sale like Stardew Valley). That said, at least on the Switch platform you don’t have to deal with early access which I won’t buy.

Off Topic?

Publisher is Namco Bandi. AAA IMO lol. I would point out that a better example may be Half Life 2 (developed and published by Valve). Anyway lol

Personally, I have a tendency to see AAA games as dumbed down versions of games I used to love and indie games as high risk, low cost, shovel ware. Of course, both camps have exceptional titles in there. Just my perception.

This was a big move by Rock Paper Shotgun a long time ago. I don’t know if they still go by this rule. I stopped reading them about 3 or 4 years ago. Many of their reviews were very experiential - their experience with in the game.

One thing we can do is look back at the context it was used in the past. One of the earliest game blogs I can think of that opined on the topic was Old Man Murray:

“Jazz Jackrabbit 2, even though it will never sell AAA numbers, was widely acclaimed and called the best game of its type ever made.” Does he mean widely as in all the way from the desk of the GOD employee who sits right near the entrance to the office manager’s cubicle back by the men’s room?

It’s been a little over a year since I single-handedly designed, marketed, and became world high-score champion of my own AAA title, Final Fight: Stratego. Although FF:S was a gargantuan success in certain foreign markets, I haven’t written any games since that time.

They seem to have used it in the context of success…but this is just one example from the 90’s lol.


A triple A game to me is a game that comes from a large publisher, has a large budget, is heavily marketed and charges the full $60 price tag. All of these factors should add up to some pretty impressive games, but sadly this is not always the case.

I dont buy a lot of games at release, so the price means less to me than the quality. That being said, the last two AAA games I have played that really impressed me were Doom 2016 and Battlefield 1. Even if I would have bought both of these games at full price, I would not have felt cheated.

EDIT: To anwser the thread topic, I think the label has the potential to matter, but that doesnt mean it works that way in reality. I have played AAA games that are overhyped garbage, and ive played Indie games and games from small studios that were incredible.

My favorite game series is the Souls series. For those unfamiliar, this started with Demon’s Souls by From Software, a very small studio at the time. This game blew my mind, and still does to this day.


Using the information from the poll above, does that change anyone’s definition of a AAA title?

My definition after looking at the poll:

  1. A game with very high production and marketing costs which requires the reliable financial backing of a publisher.
  2. An arbitrary marketing designation.

Straightforward or is there more to it?


I haven’t really bought AAA console games in many years because everything about them is what’s bringing the industry as a whole down.

So yes. AAA old guard publishers vs new stuff matters to me.


This seems like the best way to think about it; AAA games are those that are expected to sell well and will prioritise anything that improves sales.

AAA games will not take risk unless they are certain that people will buy them anyway; they will spend money on marketing and graphics because those are very likely to encourage sales. Anything “innovative” has to be marketable, otherwise there is no guarantee there will be buyers.

If you want “quality” in something that is not readily apparent and/or marketable, a AAA game will not be guaranteed to have it. Neither will a greenlight/indie/crowd-funded game, though, it just becomes a luck of the draw.

I would argue that AAA probably has far less crap, however any bad AAA game will get lots of coverage, while the bad indie games will quickly be forgotten.

If you continue with the financial definition, then I guess it literally is. An indie game would be one that is financially independent; not beholden to investors, or at least has no influence from them.

However, I would bet that most people would define it based on whether there is a distinct publisher separate from the developer.

I really think the financial definitions offer the most insight here:

With these definitions you could technically have a low-budget AAA game, but that is unlikely to happen because it is easier to copycat a low-budget game then a high-budget game, so throwing more money at something like graphics guarantees less competition, and is additional value that is easily marketable.

Likewise, an eccentric billionaire could fund a high-budget indie game, but that’s really unlikely. Although you could argue that the success of WoW put Blizzard in this kind of position.


Why? Because they are both good in different ways. Nobody can beat EA and Ubisoft in polish. Everything is made as smooth, as shiny and as attractive as possible. A small team working on a tiny little city building game will never ever be able to reach the polish of SimCity, no matter how bad the game actually is. EA can just make it look better. A small team of 5 people will never be able to build a world, like Ubisoft does every year in Assassins Creed. And if they do, it will never be so large, so good looking, and if you think the Ubisoft world is empty, get this, there are thousands of quests, collectibles and other things. An indie game with large world such as Hyper Light Drifter is empty. AC maps are full of people and activities, be it creatively lacking.

Now the indies - they can’t do visuals that good. They can’t build such large open worlds, they can’t over polish stuff. What indies have is creativity. They can do gameplay mechanics, that AAA don’t even try. This is why we see so many pixel art games. They are fairly easy to make compared to a 3D models and texturing and full 3D movement, etc.
You can forgive a bit of am ugliness in an indie game. You know they don’t have the man power and the money to polish everything. In AAA world - it’s a sin if everything is not shiny and perfect.
Also, I kinda disagree with you.
You have good, bad and awful, you say. Banished you pushed in the good group. It’s made by one dude. Music, visuals, gameplay, everything - one man. That automatically pushes it to great in my eyes. And I really don’t think Fallout 3 is awful. I liked it back in the day. Just to clarify, if you think a few million players game, such as Overwatch is a bad game, you need to reassess your standards. Obviously it’s a good game. No bad game keeps millions of players for years. Diablo 3 was a bad game. Nothing saved it. It was a commercial flop. Overwatch was a great success even though I hate the game as well.

So that’s like the largest thing. You expect different things from the different games. AAA gives you eye candy, while indies give you great story and gameplay. And if we have one, that also gives you the things, that the other do, then we have Bioshock or Dark Souls…