Current production model for AAA video games is 'unsustainable' says former Sony chairman

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,398   +553
Staff member
In context: When it comes to video games, there are various complaints that players can have—cheaters, bugs, framerates—the list goes on. Not enough content or being too short is another, but what if a game is too long? How many times have you either not completed a game or interrupted it because something else came along?

The length of video games has increased over the years, from arcades where they lasted as long as you could survive to narratives that can take numerous hours to watch, let alone play through. The Last of Us Part II, for example, takes around 25 hours to complete—nearly twice as long as it's predecessor, and it's becoming common to see titles that take 50 or more hours to finish. So are games getting too long?

Shawn Layden, the former chair of Sony Interactive Entertainment's Worldwide Studios, thinks maybe they have.

"I would welcome the return of the 12-15 hour game," Layden told VentureBeat.

In addition to making it easier for players to finish more games, Layden points out that while games continue to grow in length and budget, prices have remained stagnant with only a $10 bump at the start of the PlayStation 3 era. He says this is "unsustainable."

"The cost of creating games has increased," he said. "Some studies show that's gone up 2X every time a console generation advances. The problem with that model is it's just not sustainable."

The average production cost of a triple-A game, before marketing is factored in, is around $115 million (arguably) and spends three to five years in development.

"I don't think, in the next generation, you can take those numbers and multiply them by two and expect the industry to continue to grow," Layden opined.

The time and money investment are not even the only factors in the equation. We have heard just within the last year or so, allegations of studios overworking developers with mandatory overtime during the "crunch" heading into launch. Whether forced or otherwise, working 14-16 hours per day can take its toll on physical and mental health and instigate family issues.

Plus, Layden points out that the extensive overtime sometimes required by these massive games merely adds to the already unsustainable business model. The solution, he says, is to return to the days of shorter games.

"Instead of spending five years to make an 80-hour game, what does three years and a 15-hour game look like? What are the costs around that? Just like a well-edited piece of literature or a movie—I've been looking at the discipline around that, the containment around that. It could get us tighter, more compelling content. It would be something I'd like to see a return to."

What do you think? Does a trend of a 15-20 hour game selling for $30-$40 sound appealing, or do you prefer the $60 (or more if you include DLC), 50+ hour epic?

Permalink to story.

 

Evernessince

Posts: 5,103   +5,346
What is he talking about? A majority of AAA titles that are longer then 20 hours are filled with repetitive trash for the most part. The fact that there are indie studio's (or prior indie studios) like Larian and CDProject red producing games that are longer, higher quality, and at a fraction of the budget says to me this is a problem with the big publishers, not the game industry as a whole.

When are they going to take their heads out of their asses and realize yes, spending a ton of money to milk the same cash cow will eventually stop working. I stopped playing assassin's creed after the first game. They've got all that money yet they can't fix their trash engine and have done very little to move the genre forward.
 

SirDigby

Posts: 600   +250
TechSpot Elite
What are they on about, game prices have jumped with each generation!
PS2 was £30 per game
Wii was £30-£35
Xbox 360 was £35-40
PC games (2020) and PS4 games are £50-£60.

And game length to my memory has gone down, t hen up again. The PS2 era, games lasted 20+ hours, before taking nosedive for Xbox 360/ PS3 when multiplayer began to take precedence, and now they're creeping back up again, but mostly because there are more dedicated multiplayer experiences now.
 

Eldritch

Posts: 209   +233
But most games are already less than 12 hours in length if you don't consider copy/paste collection side quests. I would go on to say must AAA games are hardly 8 hours of good content and the rest is procedural fillers, backtracking, mind numbingly bad side quests and grinding as every game has some sort of stats progression now.
 

yRaz

Posts: 3,320   +2,773
It depends on the game and the price. I have over 700 hours in skyrim and enjoyed... most of it. Oblivion is probably the better choice for that because I have closer to 2000 hours for that. If I'm paying $30-40 for a game that only gives me 15-20 hours, I'd be okay with that. You can spend more than that in a bar in 2-3 hours. Some games are meant to just tell a story and you're done with it. Other games, like I'm hoping Cyberpunk is, are meant to have branching story arcs and being able to "live" in a world.

The only games that should actually be long are RPGs, games like The Elder scrolls, The Witcher and Zelda show that people love spending excessive amounts of time in their game respective game worlds. In the same way that I am usually bored with a show(most new shows are garbage, anyway) by the end of a 10 hour season, I'm usually bored with single player games like Cod or Crysis by the end of the campaign. Sometimes I finish a game simply because I already put so much time in it I "might as well" finish rather then being so sucked into the story that I HAVE TO see what happens.

The only games that I played through with an "I have to see what happens" attitude in the last 10ish years have been Zelda Breath of the Wild, GTAV and The Witcher 3.
 

jonny888

Posts: 74   +99
There's no such a thing as a game that's 'too long'. Not as an arbitrary definition anyway. It depends entirely on whether the time required is rewarded with suitable amounts of entertainment for the player. If a game is boring and repetitive, that's a gameplay/design issue.
This guy seems overly focused on financials and return on investment. Sure those things can't be ignored, but for anyone who's passionate about developing or playing, hardly their first concern.
 

m4a4

Posts: 1,813   +1,542
TechSpot Elite
The problem is that AAA games keep trying to be more and more realistic, focusing on visuals first. That costs ridiculous budget to worry about with current tools.

If they focused on gameplay first like games of old, it wouldn't be so unsustainable.
But then again you get plenty of "gamers" whining about games not having pretty enough graphics. So, sometimes you can't win...
 

brucek

Posts: 398   +440
I must be lucky, in the game types I enjoy I've barely figured out the rules, controls, and graphics settings I want by the first 10 hours. Then I'll play them for hundreds or thousands of hours more. And usually I'll have some achievements still undone.
 

HotToz

Posts: 16   +12
I hate short games, as example RE3, just about 3 hours playing time. I love long games +50h. Don't even talk DLC, mostly all are rubbish and expensive, I absolutely don't waste my money on them, micro transaction are horrible and always ruin my games. If the development is going up, the solution is easy take your development team to a cheap country to develop, India, China, Poland (btw they have done magnificent long games without complain for money), Brasil, Mexico, and the list go on. All other industries have take that route, car makers, phone makers, anime industry, call centers, IT support, program development.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Reehahs

MaxSmarties

Posts: 93   +23
There is a whole world between 15 and 50+ hrs.
They could set the standard around 20/25 hrs, but it depends on the genre of the game. For the single player campaign of an FPS, 20 hrs are more than enough. For an RPG, 30+ hrs are surely better.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Reehahs

Lionvibez

Posts: 1,838   +1,067
What is he talking about? A majority of AAA titles that are longer then 20 hours are filled with repetitive trash for the most part. The fact that there are indie studio's (or prior indie studios) like Larian and CDProject red producing games that are longer, higher quality, and at a fraction of the budget says to me this is a problem with the big publishers, not the game industry as a whole.

When are they going to take their heads out of their asses and realize yes, spending a ton of money to milk the same cash cow will eventually stop working. I stopped playing assassin's creed after the first game. They've got all that money yet they can't fix their trash engine and have done very little to move the genre forward.
This people want longer games with solid content not repetitive crap, Also want games that are not super buggy on release that takes 6 months to patch into a workable state. Part of the problem is also consumers, spending money for preorders that are crap or just falling for lame marketing and garbage games. Both sides need to do better.
 

TsVkK

Posts: 50   +25
Comparing the price of games in the past with development cost currently is false correlation. The market is so much bigger these days and many more games are sold in much shorter time periods than ever before.

And bitching about long games? Meh... People love playing the games they love for hours and hours.

Seems like Sony did well when they let this chairman go. Out of touch with gamers and fully in bed with accountants.
 

bviktor

Posts: 162   +333
What are they on about, game prices have jumped with each generation!
PS2 was £30 per game
Wii was £30-£35
Xbox 360 was £35-40
PC games (2020) and PS4 games are £50-£60.

And game length to my memory has gone down, t hen up again. The PS2 era, games lasted 20+ hours, before taking nosedive for Xbox 360/ PS3 when multiplayer began to take precedence, and now they're creeping back up again, but mostly because there are more dedicated multiplayer experiences now.
Adjust those prices with inflation. Something people love to ignore.
 

Mr Majestyk

Posts: 389   +314
Well Hollywood hasn’t gotten the memo yet, that big explosions and lots of special effects don’t make good movies. Usually the bigger the budget the more crap the movie. The FX aren’t supposed to dominate they are there to an aid what should already be a good story. Now the game companies are going to be jumping on the RT bandwagon with next gen GPU’s and telling us how hard it is and it will take more time and cost more. I really hate short games but why should it cost more to make a longer game, part of the reason it can be longer is you don’t just have a linear storyline, you allow branching an exploration. Ok you have to actually fill more of the world rather than just have it as out of bound eye candy but if you make it so crucial parts of the story are revealed for those that explore it makes it more worthwhile than random side quests or trying to just find precious resources. Give me a strong strong story driven game rather than mindless shooters any day, although they can be fun. If a game is long not just for long’s sake, then I don’t care, if it continues to deliver good content and the story keeps developing. If it has replayability because decisions earlier in the game keep affecting then outcome, I’d be prepared to pay more too.
 

krizby

Posts: 375   +250
TechSpot Elite
Is this guy high on crack or what ? AAA movies have 100-200mil budget not including marketing that are 2 hours long and cost just 5usd or less to watch at cinemas.
Just don't spend 100mil on developing a trash game and another 200mil bribing critics and harassing fans, problems solved...
 

FF222

Posts: 218   +162
The real problem is that the games he's talking about have virtually no replay value. They're essentially movies with some rudimentary interactivity between the key movie chapters. If they would have replay value, it wouldn't matter if they game was only a few minutes long, and it wouldn't even make sense to talk about the length of the game.
 

jpuroila

Posts: 190   +99
The length of the games is almost completely unrelated to the real problem which is that publishers are investing more and more into better visuals to mask the lack of quality.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Vanderkaum037

beardrinksbeer

Posts: 33   +4
You cannot define a specified length to any game,
the game defines the length of the game!

It is not like the old Batman series of the sixties where you come back another time to finish the game, you want to finish the game there and then, that is why you laid down your hard-earned so you can enjoy some time to yourself to get away from the world and enter your world of gaming :)

Some games may be long, some games may be short, it all depends on the story.
You don't want to play the game then all of a sudden, it is like you have to add some more money in the meter so you won't get a ticket, but the game hasn't been finished yet; it is a 2 parter, because the game was getting too long at 8 hours, so you will have to wait for the next 8 hours of play.
No way man, give it all to me now. That is what I and everyone that has gaming blood in their veins would be saying. Just like everyone binge watched a whole season of Space Force; cool show

Games are getting longer from the days of Donkey Kong. Maybe it is because we have these things that can play games really grouse now (I love my gaming PC). Games have evolved, just like the tools that play them. Who are we to argue if the games are getting too long. Do we still enjoy them is a better question? I think we know the answer to that, so the question of are games getting too long is mute.

enjoy the weekend gaming everyone ;)
 

mbk34

Posts: 65   +21
I'm probably outside the standard demographic for these games but I find it too much of a lottery (and too high a ticket price) to find out whether I'll enjoy the games. I end up with a library of games that I was initially interested in seeing but only ended up playing 10% of. I personally prefer something much shorter, that introduces something new and hopefully with some replay.
 

R00sT3R

Posts: 234   +454
Adjust those prices with inflation. Something people love to ignore.
Inflation has been very low in the last 10yrs, only averaging about 2% in the Western economies, so that doesn't account for the 50-70% price increase. What has caused the sorts of price increases he is mentioning is what has happened to the value of the £ relative to the $ in that time, from 2000-2015 the £ was worth an average $1.60, in 2020 its worth $1.20 or so.
 

Michiel

Posts: 48   +27
What are they on about, game prices have jumped with each generation!
PS2 was £30 per game
Wii was £30-£35
Xbox 360 was £35-40
PC games (2020) and PS4 games are £50-£60.

And game length to my memory has gone down, t hen up again. The PS2 era, games lasted 20+ hours, before taking nosedive for Xbox 360/ PS3 when multiplayer began to take precedence, and now they're creeping back up again, but mostly because there are more dedicated multiplayer experiences now.
Super Nintendo games used to cost the equivalent of 60-90 Euro's here, and that was in 1990s' money. That's 105-175 Euro's in today's money corrected for inflation!
Now with Steam sales I can get loads of AAA PC games for maybe 20 Euro's. So it really depends on what you're comparing.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Vanderkaum037

TheFootPerson

Posts: 9   +4
Graphics Graphics Graphics. Sure it's great to have top notch graphics but to be honest, games of old like twisted metal 2, ape escape 1 and turok evolution still hold up in the fun department. And they have offline multiplayer, remember that, games you could put a disc in play straight away save games to a memory card for later play at a friend's house. I'm looking back nostalgicly, whilst also wanting to give praise to heavy hitter modern games, like horizon zero dawn and days gone.
 

AudoBell

Posts: 6   +3
I have a sense that no matter how cheap the games are, people will continue to complain. Step back and look at how much entertainment you get at a per/hour cost compared to other sources.

Movies... $5-15/hour
Theme Parks $5-20/hour
Concerts... $20-60/hour

Even if a video game yields a meager 10 hours of entertainment at a premium $60, that is $6/hour, not a bad value. Most people probably play over 100 hours of AAA games which lowers that to $0.6/hour!

My point is that we should acknowledge the great value in games. I would also propose that as the average age -and presumably associated income- of gamers increases, perhaps we could pay more for games. This would increase demand for high quality producers, better games, better support, etc.