It’s Time AAA Gaming Budgets Shrink to Avoid a $70 Videogame

AAA gaming budgets are too damn high and if the industry is going to survive they really need to come down.

The Last of Us Part 2, The Last of Us

The Last of Us Part 2 and Red Dead Redemption 2 are prime examples of unsustainable production budgets, even by the industry's own admission. | Source: Sony/Naughty Dog

  • Former PlayStation chief Shawn Layden recently said that AAA gaming wasn’t sustainable.
  • Gaming budgets have ballooned since the mid-80s.
  • If gaming is going to keep working, budgets need to come down, not prices.

In a recent interview, ex-Sony executive Shawn Layden said that the AAA gaming model is broken. Gaming budgets have skyrocketed, while consumer costs have remained the same.

Basically, it looks like AAA gaming is balancing on a knife-edge. People are almost certainly unwilling to pay more for their video games. But, if we want this big, over-blown, AAA experiences then they’re going to cost a lot to make.

Something has got to give, and I reckon it needs to be game budgets.

AAA gaming - budgets
This graph illustrates just how bad the problem has gotten, and this one ends 3 years ago. | Source: VentureBeat

AAA Games Cost Too Much to Make

AAA game budgets have been skyrocketing over the past 2 decades. Between 1985 and 2005, game budgets increased by about 22 times. However, the cost of video games seems to have stuck around $60 for as long as anyone can remember.

That’s an insane level of difference. The problem is that gamers don’t like it when someone suggests games should cost more. So if the cost of buying games can’t go up, then budgets need to come down.

There is no good reason why every AAA game needs to chase insanely high-level graphics and long playtime. Yet we are assured by certain publishers that smaller games just wouldn’t get the sales. Yet the indie market constantly proves that wrong.

What Happened to the Mid-Range?

Back in the PS1 and PS2 days, we used to have a healthy mid-range market. Games that didn’t cost as much as the biggest once, but were still well made and polished by a team of designers. That market is completely gone these days for some reason.

If AAA games just cost too much to make, then we need to recapture the mid-range market. At the very least, big publishers need to start looking at the idea of making their games less bloated.

The only way the AAA games industry can go right now is towards catastrophic failure. Insane budgets are a product of a graphical arms race. If you’re creative, you don’t need a big budget to succeed.

Then again, most publishers probably had all of their creativity sucked out of them when they took their jobs.

Last modified: September 23, 2020 2:01 PM
William Worrall is a professional writer based out of the UK who has been writing about video and tabletop games for over a decade and has covered industry events such as EGX and UKGE. Contact him at [email protected], see his LinkedIn profile here.
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