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Fuck It, Let’s Add More A’s

Triple-A? Quadruple-A? No, we must go further

7:50 PM EST on February 8, 2024

Nathan Grayson

Today, folks in the video game industry pundit-o-sphere took turns using Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot as a pinata after he suggested that Skull and Bones – the pirate game that’s somehow been in development since before there were pirates – will not only justify its $70 price tag and live service elements, but will prove itself to be a “quadruple-A game that will deliver in the long run.” That might sound ridiculous to you, but to that I say: Four A’s? Not enough. Fuck it. Let’s add even more. 

Preciousness around the term “triple-A game” presupposes that it is not a very stupid term. But it is! Did you know that it originated in the ‘90s at video game conventions and was likely based on the credit industry’s bond ratings system, in which “AAA” is the highest mark and represents bonds that can most easily meet financial obligations? Me neither, until literally today. 

That’s because in the video game industry, “triple-A” has become a nonsense phrase thrown around by laypeople who’ve been trained by companies to speak like business executives – to further the idea that video games are just products, not artistic feats made possible only thanks to the blood, sweat, and tears of thousands of human beings. It’s quietly insidious. It belongs in the trash.

But even beyond that, the term has no actual meaning. Is Baldur's Gate 3, a gargantuan game made by an independent developer, triple-A or indie? What about Dave The Diver, a game made by Korean mega-publisher Nexon that nonetheless looks “indie”? “Triple-A” is in the eye of the beholder, and if you’ve been online recently, you know that the video game industry is made up of a million beholders who can’t agree on anything. To many, “triple-A” refers to budget and scale. But not to everybody! Others use it in reference to quality. But you can find all of those components in some modern mobile games – Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail spring to mind, even Diablo Immortal counts – and many will still say mobile is the opposite of triple-A. If the designation was ever useful, it certainly isn’t anymore. 

That brings us to Skull and Bones. Guillemot believes it’s earned an extra A because of how “vast and complete” it is. That has nothing to do with what the A-scale was initially intended to measure; vast and complete games flop all the time. So in this case, it seems like he’s making this a matter of budget and scale. But gamers find the idea that Skull and Bones is a quadruple-A game laughable in part because it contains live-service elements, which they don’t like but which are very in among so-called triple-A games right now. So does that make Skull and Bones more or less triple-A? Is Guillemot actually right to call it quadruple-A? I’ve lost track. 

I say all of this in service of a deeply unserious argument: Let’s just add more A’s whenever we feel like it, to further rob this phrase of meaning and hopefully, in the long run, destroy it. Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth is apparently huge and full of bizarre sights to see. Let’s give that five A’s. Death Stranding 2 looks like it cost a billion dollars to make. Let’s give that six A’s. Horror games? Those are AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA games now. You know, because of the sound you make while playing them. So are any games that involve yelling, like Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes. This system doesn’t need to be consistent. It never was in the first place. 

Speaking of, I saw people on Twitter say that Skull and Bones is actually an AAAARRR game, because pirates. Works for me.   

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