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Former PlayStation boss thinks that the AAA game development model needs to start thinking smaller

3 min read

Take a look at the end of the year in gaming, and 2020 is looking to close the first chapter in this decade with the biggest of bangs. You’ve got the likes of Ghost of Tsushima and Marvel’s Avengers leading the charge, with a fourth quarter that ends with Cyberpunk 2077, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Halo Infinite.

Big games, massive budgets and a team effort comprised of hundreds of people across multiple studios. It may be business as usual for the industry, but the race to create a blockbuster 60-hour experience built with an obscene budget is an unsustainable idea when escalation begins to creep in. That’s the thinking from former PlayStation big cheese Shawn Layden, who reckons that a return to tighter and shorter games is in order if the industry wants to survive into the future.

“The problem with that model is it’s just not sustainable,” Layden said at Gamelab Live, via Games Industry. He’s not wrong at all, as the quest to outdo rival studios has resulted in games with bloated budgets and incredibly long development periods.

I don’t think that, in the next generation, you can take those numbers and multiply them by two and think that you can grow. I think the industry as a whole needs to sit back and go, ‘Alright, what are we building? What’s the audience expectation? What is the best way to get our story across, and say what we need to say?

Part of the current problem with game development, is how the cost in producing a game has ballooned over the years while the base price has remained the same. In order to make some extra scratch, that in turn has led to a culture of microtransactions, season passes and other predatory mechanics that have been met with stiff resistance over the years as they became more and more blatant in their attempts to leech extra cash out of consumers. “It’s been $59.99 since I started in this business, but the cost of games have gone up ten times,” Layden said of gaming, which he referred to as a “freak of nature” in its current form.

If you don’t have elasticity on the price-point, but you have huge volatility on the cost line, the model becomes more difficult. I think this generation is going to see those two imperatives collide.

And he’s not wrong. Having more focused games, with smaller budgets and tighter stories is not a bad idea at all. Look at the indie gaming scene, look at Europe’s rising AA market where such titles do solid business that result in consistent returns on their products. Look at games such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice or Control, games which look fantastic and leave you satisfied after a brief balls to the wall run of action.

In an age where every game is attempting to be the be-all and end-all of its genre, the idea of the blockbuster has lost its magic, leading to a ho-hum reaction and less excitement for every new title revealed with the power of a million PR firms going supernova on the hype blitz. Eventually, the industry is going to reach a point where it needs to seriously look at how they provide their consumers with value, and the sooner that epiphany arrives the better.

Last Updated: June 25, 2020

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