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24 comments

  • Cyberninja - June 28, 2013 6:31 a.m.

    My only question is show much do games cost to make today, I am not saying I am defending Square for their poor decisions but there has to be a good reason 3.6 million isn't a good seller, my only question is is it because it didn't break even or is it because it didn't make a profit?
  • leonardo-j-ceballos - June 28, 2013 7:14 a.m.

    AAA games are in the area of 40 to 50 million dollars to make, though I'd bet some larger ones are probably more (Halo 4/Last of Us level). Though I am an indie developer and my budget is fairly close to zero, this has been a topic of several conferences that I've been to. Btw, that is the 360/PS3 gen, it could get worse this upcoming gen. For comparison, 20 million was considered to be an absolute top tier release in the PS2 gen.
  • FoxdenRacing - June 28, 2013 7:24 a.m.

    A brand-new AAA game? Anywhere from 10M to 200M, if the rumblings about Star Wars: The Old Republic are to be believed. (Note: This number covers operating expenses, salaries, middleware, and all the associated costs of running a business for the development term). SNES-quality you can get away with 100-250k, PS2 was in the 2-5 million range, if memory serves. Which, given the wholesale price of games [A publisher sees about $10, the distributor $15, and that markup is completely normal in retail because the retailer is the one stuck with a product 'dying on the shelf'], means a 'cheap' game this generation needs to move 1 million copies to break even [plus whatever it takes to cover marketing/overhead]...and something at the high end needs 20 million copies plus covering the costs of marketing and corporate overhead. It's the studios I really pity, though. The publisher gives them money to make a game [often in chunks, spread out across development milestones], and then the devs don't see another penny until it breaks even...and even then it's royalty checks, which if the games industry is as skeezy as the music industry is a pittance. It's a rough business...and looking at the whole picture, is only made rougher when there's a middleman [publisher] involved.
  • Doctalen - June 28, 2013 12:19 p.m.

    I find this extremely interesting but it leaves me wondering, are you saying that big publishers such as Activision/EA and maybe even Lucasarts (pre-disney and EA deal) are the cause of the budget inflation? Given what you have argued and a little common sense, the operating costs of publishers (energy, rent, salary, etc) are what causes these blooming budgets. That said an obvious solution to the publishers would be for developers to go indie or to create contracts with smaller publishers. But that doesn't seem to work out since those big publishers are the few that can afford some of the marketing that is required for AAA games. Given those two assumptions, Steam should seem like a total failure, it does no advertising outside of itself (that I've run across), supports a wide variety of games at an extremely wide variety of prices.
  • FoxdenRacing - June 28, 2013 1:58 p.m.

    Not entirely; corporate overhead is on the rise as organizations get bigger, and marketing costs are going insane...and as such the publisher needs a bigger cut just to keep itself going, let alone keep the dev studio alive...but the biggest "in-house" [at the dev studio level] cause of budget inflation is that the definition of 'bleeding edge' is constantly changing. On the "professional" level [I know for example Unreal has a free version for anything that grosses under either 25k or 50k], by the time you're done licensing an engine, a physics system, an audio system, a video system, and all the other middleware...which is optional, but can save dozens of man-years of development time...you're already out a million plus before a single man-hour is clocked. If you're doing all of that in-house [such as Ego], you've also got dozens to hundreds of man-years worth of operating costs just in the engine. Re-using an engine can amortize that somewhat, but the costs still have to come from somewhere. Then comes the size of the teams; you can make an SNES game with a half-dozen guys and enough equipment that you can fit the entire operation, set up and running, in a U-haul. The credits in Splinter Cell Conviction were somewhere upwards of half an hour. Early polygon counts were under 500, and in Forza 4 each car's got a polycount of over 1 million. All that extra modeling effort, not to mention the textures to cover them and look nice in 1080p, let alone modern graphics techniques like multi-layer textures [ala Forza 5], lighting maps, bump maps, reflection maps, etc, or all the work required to program the shaders/etc...all the extra effort to make a modern game look and play the part of being a modern game is where the lion's share of the costs are coming from. AI used to be able to get away with simple state machines...for example Metal Man's was 'stand in place. If X seconds pass or player fires, return fire. If player is within X tiles, jump across screen and return fire'...a far cry from an AI capable of understanding that it's under fire and needs to take cover, identifying the proper cover, pathfinding in a 3D world, etc. Plus the complexity of testing; the bigger the world gets, the more ways and places to interact with it, the more testers you need to make sure everything's good to go within a reasonable amount of time. Making a blockbuster game on the bleeding edge of modern standards takes a ton more effort than it used to, and what's considered 'modern' changes with every release. Unfortunately...sales aren't keeping up with those costs. What Dave...and even myself...were saying is that for gaming to not collapse under its own weight, what's considered a 'realistic' budget is going to have to come down. Sure, things like DLC, Online Passes, and even F2P can offset that somewhat...but in time, even they won't be enough. That time is rapidly approaching, from the looks of things. That said, the kind of readjustment the industry needs comes with the danger of setting off a downward spiral. For budgets to slow or stop until sales catches up, so too does the march of progress...and there's a not insubstantial subset of gamers that are enticed to keep buying by the march of progress. I don't think we'll see things devolve all the way to where stuff that belongs on Newgrounds is "state of the art", but A- and B-grade games, rather than AAA, are the only way the industry's not going to be crushed under the weight of its own bloat. We're currently at a time where the small/medium budget guys, and the guys that have enough in the bank to self-publish, are flourishing...but the 'big money' side of the industry has some real dark clouds on the horizon. It's an interesting paradox...even as publishers are becoming obsolete, on the bleeding edge of things they're also more necessary than ever.

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