Former PlayStation executive Shawn Layden reckons the biggest hurdle to a sustainable AAA model is the immovable pricing of games.
Speaking during this year’s digital edition of the Gamelab Live conference, Layden notes that game development costs have increased exponentially, but the retail price of games has remained lodged at $59.99 for the better part of 25 years.
Layden harks back to the days when a $1 million budget sufficed to bring to market the industry’s biggest releases. Nowadays, budgets for AAA release quickly balloon to sums anywhere from $80 to $150 million.
Pointing to the commonly held theory that budgets double with each successive console generation, Layden says the model is currently unsustainable.
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.
Layden calls for developers to reevaluate the 50 to 60-hour gameplay standard the overwhelming majority of AAAs shoot for to curb development costs.
It’s hard for every adventure game to shoot for the 50 to 60-hour gameplay milestone because that’s going be so much more expensive to achieve…Instead of spending five years making an 80-hour game, what does three years and a 15-hour game look like? What would be the cost around that? Is that a full-throated experience?
Layden would welcome a return to tighter 12-15-hour experiences but believes the real issue lies elsewhere.
Layden says that throughout his quarter-century career, one facet of the AAA formula has remained steadfast. No matter the scope of a game, its budget, or publisher, the retail cost has remained unchanged.
It’s been $59.99 since I started in this business, but the cost of games has gone up ten times. 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.
With the next-gen consoles around the corner, Shawn Layden says that development costs will only spike further, echoing similar comments from current Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO, Jim Ryan. Something has to give for developers to keep churning out acclaimed big-budget games.
Price-point is a touchy subject for players. It’s one that neither the platform holders nor publishers have yet broached in regards to the next-gen.
Whether that silence means a continuation of the $60 status quo, or the quiet before the inevitable storm of a price bump announcement is unclear.