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

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

3 min read
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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

10 Comments

  1. He’s right, but I have a difficult time expressing agreement when senior publisher execs talk obliviously about fixing their own mistakes.

    Reply

  2. DarthofZA

    June 25, 2020 at 10:07

    He isn’t right, I think Microsoft and Unreal have the better idea.

    We should be finding ways to cheapen development. There is nothing wrong with big games. There is room in the industry for both, and Microsoft and Unreal have both been investigating into ways to cheapen development, or at least shorten development time, while maintaining the scale that the developers want. That is the right way to look forward.

    If you follow his thinking, and say in 5 years time the smaller games are having the same types of budgets the big games currently have, at that point, how is that new model maintainable. As the same issues that we are facing now will then be faced again. Development costs will always go up, and constantly going smaller isn’t a model to use going forward. Otherwise in 5 years he’ll just be saying that developers should just make indie games.

    He isn’t thinking forward, he is thinking backwards and his line of thinking isn’t future proof at all.

    Reply

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      June 25, 2020 at 10:31

      What bugs me when these discussions come up is it’s almost always focused on the development costs – but things like marketing and publisher costs are rarely talked about.

      Next time you finish a AAA game and the credits roll, look at all the names that scroll past and that don’t have a role in the actual development of the game, so many C-levels, presidents, vice presidents, etc. Those guys don’t earn peanuts, and tens of thousands of $60 games need to be sold just to cover their salaries in any given year.

      Reply

  3. Hammersteyn

    June 25, 2020 at 10:16

    • MechMachine

      June 25, 2020 at 10:21

      For some reason, I find this cartoon disturbing.I honestly don’t know why.

      Reply

      • Hammersteyn

        June 25, 2020 at 10:26

        It is a disturbing cartoon

        Reply

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          June 25, 2020 at 10:36

          I’m down with the sandwichness.

          Reply

  4. MechMachine

    June 25, 2020 at 10:16

    I suppose the real question is this, would micro-transactions still be a thing if game prices were higher ? My guess is yes. And, you have CD Projeckt Red and Guerrilla Games and even SIE Santa Monica producing vast open world games with no predatory payment schemes attached.

    But, the price has remained largely the same in the states for a long time, and I suppose it does have merit when you bring up the cost of development.

    Reply

    • Hammersteyn

      June 25, 2020 at 10:26

      For the base game yes but then you have this with Assassin Creed Odyssey.

      – Base game R999
      – Deluxe Edition R1239
      – Gold Edition R1449
      – Ultimate edition R1699
      – Season pass R629
      – Helix Credits XXL Pack R1600

      What’s the difference between editions? I dunno
      What does the season pass have that the ultimate edition does not? I dunno
      Do I need helix credits? Probably not.

      Reply

      • MechMachine

        June 25, 2020 at 10:26

        I agree. I typed no by mistake. I meant yes.

        Reply

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