Standalone Expansions: The Future of AAA Game Releases

In the ever-evolving landscape of video game development, the rise of standalone expansions, or “half-sequels,” is capturing the attention of both gamers and industry experts alike. Once considered glorified DLC, these unique gaming experiences are now being hailed as the potential future of AAA game releases. As game development timelines continue to lengthen, these standalone expansions offer a way to address potential release shortages and deliver fresh content to eager players. PlayStation, with its impressive track record, has been leading the way in crafting exceptional standalone expansions.

Looking back, it comes as no surprise that some of the most beloved games of the past decade fall under the category of standalone expansions. One such example is Uncharted Lost Legacy, which ranks as one of the best games in the acclaimed Uncharted series alongside Uncharted 2. This standalone expansion offered a captivating story, introducing players to new characters and locations, while still retaining the elements that made the franchise a success. Similarly, Miles Morales, the standalone expansion for Marvel’s Spider-Man, presented players with a storyline they hadn’t encountered before, adding a fresh twist to the familiar web-slinging adventures.

For many gamers, shorter games have their own appeal. In a fast-paced world where a jet-set lifestyle often takes precedence, shorter games offer the advantage of higher completion rates. While some players appreciate the vastness of sprawling open-world titles, others find solace in the focused experiences of standalone expansions. It’s important to note that these games may be shorter in duration, but they still offer a substantial amount of gameplay. According to How Long to Beat, both Miles Morales and Lost Legacy boast close to 20 hours of gameplay for a full playthrough.

Defining the line between a standalone expansion and DLC can be somewhat arbitrary. However, one key distinction is that standalone expansions are often priced comparably higher than traditional DLC packs. This higher price tag is justified by the significant content and unique experiences they offer. This trend is not restricted to standalone expansions, as even character passes in games like Street Fighter come with a heftier price tag, demonstrating that the gaming industry recognizes the value of substantial content.

Game development times have been steadily increasing, and it’s worth acknowledging the significant impact it has on the release of AAA titles. The development of these massive games now spans almost a decade, leaving players anxiously awaiting the next installment of their favorite franchises. Ghost of Tsushima 2, for example, might not see the light of day until 2026 or even 2036. In this context, standalone expansions become vital as they bridge the gap and provide substantial content while fans patiently wait for the next major release from their favorite studios.

PlayStation has demonstrated its mastery in releasing standalone expansions during these periods of scarcity. Uncharted Lost Legacy and The Last of Us: Left Behind, a major DLC from Naughty Dog, both filled the void between the respective main game releases. CD Projekt Red also embraced this approach with Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, an extraordinary standalone expansion that emerged as a contender for Game of the Year. In a year that witnessed the release of highly anticipated titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Baldur’s Gate 3, standalone expansions managed to hold their own, simultaneously catering to existing fans and enticing new players.

Considering the challenges presented by extended game development times, the industry is on the cusp of a paradigm shift. Big studios may soon take the opportunity to explore new IPs while keeping the fanbase engaged with smaller, bespoke experiences set within established franchises. This approach could prevent the pitfalls of releasing bloated sequels that offer little innovation and essentially feel like just an expansion of the first game with a few added features. The potential benefits of standalone expansions were evident in certain major sequels over the past five years, which could have thrived as standalone expansions instead.

The landscape of AAA game development is primed for change, and the role of standalone expansions in offering full-length, high-quality experiences without the wait cannot be understated. As the gaming industry evolves, embracing these unique offerings will ensure that gamers have a constant stream of captivating content while eagerly anticipating the release of highly anticipated sequels. The future of AAA game releases lies in the innovative realm of standalone expansions, promising exciting adventures and diverse storytelling that captivates players worldwide.