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The Almighty Buck Games

Game Industry Fights Rising Development Costs 111

Posted by Soulskill
from the we-must-teach-computers-to-make-art dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Video game development budgets have been rising for years, and the recent launch of a new generation of consoles has only made it worse. Developers of AAA titles are now fighting to keep costs manageable while providing the technological advances gamers have come to expect. Just a few years ago, budgets ranging above $100 million were considered absurd, but now Activision is committing $500 million to a new IP from the studio that created Halo. Alan Roberts, technical director for Playground Games, says development teams keep expanding: 'Our in-house development team is roughly 20 per cent bigger than it was on last-gen, but we're doing even more with outsourcers this time in order to create content to the level of detail required by new generation games.' He adds that one way studios are trying to defray costs is to put more effort into building great tools for content creators."
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Game Industry Fights Rising Development Costs

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  • real money.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      real money.

      Uh, not only that, but an absolute fuckload of money, which is why I find this bitching about increased costs about as meaningful as a billionaire bitching about the price of lunch.

      So sorry you gaming juggernauts can't maintain obscene profit levels forever. My tiny violin weeps.

    • real money.

      No its not.

    • real money.

      What? I thought it was US Dollars...

  • Yay! (Score:5, Funny)

    by pushing-robot (1037830) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @05:54PM (#47003941)

    Now they'll finally have enough money to hire decent writers!

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      If you want decent writers, you'll have to skip the AAA environment in most cases and go to cRPG's.

    • Now they'll finally have enough money to hire decent writers!

      BattleField 4 (BF4)... (a sore spot)

      Origin and Dice had the money, then dropped the ball in so many ways, that many are quitting BF4 or going back to BF3. Between the connection issues, bad color, unbelievable issues on a patch; things that would work prior don't anymore. It's become: christ! what the hell are up going to break this time.

      Acquiring the name of BrokenField, even BattleField Friends is taking pot shots at the game. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] you can also read the discontent in the comme

      • by mjwx (966435)

        Now they'll finally have enough money to hire decent writers!

        BattleField 4 (BF4)... (a sore spot)

        Origin and Dice had the money, then dropped the ball in so many ways, that many are quitting BF4 or going back to BF3. Between the connection issues, bad color, unbelievable issues on a patch; things that would work prior don't anymore. It's become: christ! what the hell are up going to break this time.

        You mean EA and DICE.

        I loved the Battlefield series, from 1942 all the way to BFBC 2. Even the bad games like BF:Vietnam and BF2142 weren't that bad... until Battlefield 3.

        BF3 broke the gameplay shockingly, the weapon upgrades were horribly overpowered and you'd get XP no matter what you did, so basically someone who was bad at the game just had to keep sucking until they got the heavy barrel.

        I played it for about 3 days and gave up. The final straw was a month later when I decided to give it anoth

        • Now they'll finally have enough money to hire decent writers!

          BattleField 4 (BF4)... (a sore spot)

          Origin and Dice had the money, then dropped the ball in so many ways, that many are quitting BF4 or going back to BF3. Between the connection issues, bad color, unbelievable issues on a patch; things that would work prior don't anymore. It's become: christ! what the hell are up going to break this time.

          You mean EA and DICE.

          I honestly don't know anymore. It was said EA would be Origin total change, you could go to EA.com and go straight to Origin it's not like that now so whatever. they've changed their minds guess the EA.com domain name didn't fetch that much.

          I loved the Battlefield series, from 1942 all the way to BFBC 2. Even the bad games like BF:Vietnam and BF2142 weren't that bad... until Battlefield 3.

          BF3 broke the gameplay shockingly, the weapon upgrades were horribly overpowered and you'd get XP no matter what you did, so basically someone who was bad at the game just had to keep sucking until they got the heavy barrel.

          Played BFBC2 cause my clan was, and I just didn't care for it, put a lot of time into it as well. I gave it to my son to see if he liked.

          I was CoD all the way. Played the hell out of CoD 4 have hundreds of custom maps. Ran a MW2 server through AlterIWNet, Black Ops was

          • by J_Darnley (918721)

            Battelfield 2 was (and still is) good. It was a nice improvement over Battlefield Vietnam which made it on par with Battlefield 1942 in terms of gameplay. It took many of the gameplay features(?) introduced in BFV and put them into better game.

            The one thing I never liked about it was the lack of ammo crates and first-aid cabinets on maps. You had to get team mates to come heal you. It also added the commander role which was good if an experienced player took the role and had a good team calling for supp

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Origin and Dice had the money, then dropped the ball in so many ways

        Dice? As in our new corporate overlords? As in the people keep trying to foist the crap that is Beta on us and not listen to us when we say is sucks?

        Well, based on what I've seen, it's no wonder if they were involved in a game it turned out as shit.

        Fuck Dice. Fuck Beta.

        Slashdot used to be good before the new corporate overlords, and it's been in decline since.

        • Origin and Dice had the money, then dropped the ball in so many ways

          Dice? As in our new corporate overlords? As in the people keep trying to foist the crap that is Beta on us and not listen to us when we say is sucks?

          Well, based on what I've seen, it's no wonder if they were involved in a game it turned out as shit.

          Fuck Dice. Fuck Beta.

          Slashdot used to be good before the new corporate overlords, and it's been in decline since.

          No, and I could see this one coming. Dice EA and Dice /. are two separate unrelated groups. Dice EA stands for Digital Illusions CE.
          http://beta.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]

    • "Thank you Mario, but our Princess is in another castle" is as much story as I need...sometimes not even that much (e.g. PS3's Journey, of which the entirety of all text and dialog that appears in the game can be quoted with the single word, "Journey"). Anything more may be nice, but is rarely necessary.

      • That applies if your game is somehow different or original (like Mario!). If your game is the seventh in a series and fourth to use the same engine, and just adds new maps (which aren't even a new challenge), you should at least add a story to it to make it worth people's money.

        Of course, if people keep buying, why bother?

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      Now they'll finally have enough money to hire decent writers!

      unfortunately money makes them hire a cadre of writers who write the same universal bullshit. because doing otherwise is "too much risk".

      and if the writer doesn't understand the engine the story gets butchered in the process anyways and you get dragon age II - or the writer just follows the points given to him, like "the ending depends on what the player chooses during the game" and decides to just make the choice happen 1 second before the game ends, because that's technically during the game.

    • by jythie (914043)
      Eh, that would cut into the coke and hooker parties for the marketing staff.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ridiculous summary with regards to the $500 million dollar figure. It includes the development AND MARKETING budgets!

    • by Necreia (954727) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @06:19PM (#47004179)

      Ridiculous summary with regards to the $500 million dollar figure. It includes the development AND MARKETING budgets!

      Basically this. Destiny spent an estimate $360 million in Marketing and $140 million in Development, which is over a 2:1 ratio. CoD2:Modern Warfare 2 has a respective $150:$50 million or 3:1 split (Source [wikipedia.org]). When game companies are spending a small relative fraction on the actual development, there's a problem.

      • >When game companies are spending a small relative fraction on the actual development, there's a problem.

        Not necessarily. They could make the greatest game ever, and if people have not heard of it, they'll go broke.

        With games as large, complex, and art-heavy as they are today, you need to reach a huge audience at $50-$60 a game.
        • by Camael (1048726) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @11:49PM (#47006187)

          It is however a strong indication of misplacement of priorities.

          If you overspend on great marketing but produce a turd of a game, it will still fail. Case in point- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (video game) [wikipedia.org].

          OTOH if you produce a great game but spend minimally on marketing, it can still succeed through word of mouth, etc. Case in point- Minecraft [wikipedia.org].

          On January 12, 2011, Minecraft passed 1 million purchases, less than a month after entering its beta phase. At the same time, the game had no publisher backing and has never been commercially advertised except through word of mouth, and various unpaid references in popular media such as the Penny Arcade webcomic.

          I rather doubt that any game falling into the category of "greatest game ever" or even a great game will fail without paid marketing so long as its accessible to players. Gamers tend to be quite vocal in sharing about games they're in love with.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Indeed. The problem is determinism. You can't find a team which guarantees delivery of AAA+ titles without fail and on schedule. But you can easily patch a so so game into selling millions with the right propaganda.

          • ET wasn't nearly as bad as everyone said. Judged by the standards of the time it was just mediocre. Its failure had more to do with a major recession in America than anything else. Minecraft was an untapped market (builder games). It didn't occur to anyone that there was a large number of people that wanted a Lego Simulator. It's an entirely different type of 'gameplay' and when it was pitched to people in the industry they just figured it would be a failure.
      • They spend like this because it's what gives them the best financial return. Not really a problem except perhaps it's the way our civilization (sic) is structured.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Haven't you heard? Programmers are a cost center. Filthy takers robbing those hard working executives of their bonuses and stock options. Fuck those liberal communist terrorist crooks for preventing me from working them more than 100 hours a week.

        Those good boys in marketing? They're the important ones. They bring in the money! I was just chatting with Mark last weekend while snorting coke off a hooker's tits at our private ski resort. "If only we could somehow cut out those useless shit programmers and dev

        • by mythosaz (572040)

          Obligatory Onion:

          http://www.theonion.com/articl... [theonion.com]

      • by Atrox666 (957601)

        Well at least the coders and artists are still working for table scraps.

  • by Lonewolf666 (259450) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @06:08PM (#47004071)

    It seems a lot of the budgets goes into more shiny graphics, not necessarily into more sophisticated game play. Perhaps it is time to try something new, such as procedural generation of more game assets.

    A good example would be Limit Theory, a space game currently in development where only the user interface is designed the traditional way. Ship models and asteroids are created by procedural generation. Here is the latest development update: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2albJYS-wI [youtube.com]

    Still looks a bit blocky, but considering the game had a $50.000 dollar goal on Kickstarter and the developer feels more than comfortable with the $187,865 that were pledged, the value for money is going to be impressive.

    A slightly larger team with a budget of perhaps a few million should be able to do amazing things with that approach. Assuming the team members are as talented as Josh Parnell ;-)

    • by exomondo (1725132) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @06:16PM (#47004149)

      It seems a lot of the budgets goes into more shiny graphics, not necessarily into more sophisticated game play.

      I don't know about "shiny" but when you can include more detail and larger levels then obviously that is far more taxing on artists and developers. Then if you give artists the freedom to specify the sort of highend effects that new generations of hardware are capable of you need extra development resources to make that happen. Increasing the power of the hardware is only one part of having next-gen titles, figuring out how to apply that power to bring game concepts to reality is another. Sure you could employ people to work at getting character animation right or you could hire a motion capture studio and actors to get it close to perfect and if you have the budget for that sort of thing then why not?

      The high end of those budgets does include marketing as well - not just development - and I would say most of that is the marketing budget given the sort of campaigns that are being run to promote AAA titles these days.

      • by aliquis (678370)

        There's also nothing to be fixed.

        Competition at work. Obviously to make the most shiny game make the most money or they wouldn't be trying. So we get the most shiny expensive developed products.

        If they can't compete there and can in some other area we get better games there too.

        Some games sell for cheap and there's a market for those to.

        And the "oh games was better in the old days" is likely complete bullshit because the new ones seem to allow more stuff, even if one tried to make an old style game it may b

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          Obviously to make the most shiny game make the most money or they wouldn't be trying.

          I would qualify that and say that might make the most money.

          But AAA titles have flopped, just like big budget Hollywood movies.

          It is, however, entirely possible to still produce crap with a large budget, just like big budget Hollywood movies.

          Sometimes, the people in control have no idea of what really makes a good product, they just take a checklist of everything from every other successful title and cram it in.

          I think $500

    • I-Novae studios are doing something similar, AFAIK with a bit more budget and limited to terrain generation:
      https://www.inovaestudios.com/Technology [inovaestudios.com]
      This may be a better example of what a large game studio might go for. Overall a bit more conventional than Limit Theory, and needing more manpower, but still a big win in not having to model the terrain by hand.

    • Procedural generation doesn't solve the problem of, "What should this thing look like?"

      For that, you need actual like, oh artists.

    • by kbahey (102895)

      Or, perhaps it is the generation that can't understand procedural [programming] that is the issue ...

      [/sarcasm]

    • by aliquis (678370)

      Likely rather more and better implemented options and bigger more interesting environments.

      The problem I have with the procedural is that there will be harder to make a good story, connection and make them make sense.

      Say I explore a cave and meet people (guess WoW may make more sense) or drive around in a city doing quests (I don't know how GTA plays today but ..)

      If it was procedural it would just be do this and that and all over with less connection, if it was planned though the bigger structure would make

    • I noticed the graphics thing way, way back. Playstation 2 brought it to my attention. Back then, I made the unqualified assertion that a video game's budget was some 10% graphics and 90% game on 2D sprite platforms; but on 3D platforms it was rising to mostly graphics and little game. The theory was simple: any idiot can get a pencil and learn to draw, then sketch things repeatedly; any idiot can learn to make pixel art, then pump out pixel sprites in minutes; but any idiot who learns how to model 3D s

  • by neghvar1 (1705616) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @06:12PM (#47004103)
    Superior graphics, AI, and audio. Don't make a kick-ass game. IMO, the greatest video game of all time is Star Control 2 (1993)
    • Re:What advances? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mujadaddy (1238164) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @06:44PM (#47004441)

      IMO, the greatest video game of all time is Star Control 2 (1993)

      Great nominee but I'd go with Mail-Order Monsters [wikipedia.org] (1985), personally.

      • Superio graphics, AI and audio don't make a kick-ass game. IMO, the greatest video game of all time is Star Control 2 (1993)

        Great nominee but I'd go with Mail-Order Monsters [wikipedia.org] (1985), personally.

        A friend and I have been going back and playing some older games just because, and it's still remarkable just how few people it took to create some of those iconic games. Or some of those lesser-known gems. Some examples:

        • Legend of Zelda (NES) - roughly 12 developers
        • Metroid (NES) - roughly 12 as well
        • Actraiser (SNES) - roughly 50-ish
        • Guardian Legend (NES) - haven't beaten it yet
        • Castlevania II (NES) - Unknown, credits are a joke... watch the AVGN episode if you don't beleive me
        • Earthworm Jim (SNES) - bee
        • 100 people isn't an absurdly large team?
          • Touche'. Gears of War apparently had 20 people [wikipedia.org] actively working on it at any given time... but that does not include the number of developers working on the Unreal Engine, nor any of the publishing company, marketing, etc... 100 seems small when you start talking about every single person that ever had the title cross their desk, including middle and upper management whose only role was endorsing the project. The Wikipedia page for EWJ (the only thing I can access from work) shows 2 designers, 2 composers
    • by Mashiki (184564)

      There's many other games that are better than Star Control 2, but it was a hell of a game. Speaking of which, for those that never played it you can get it for free here. [sourceforge.net] Since the source was placed into the public domain. In my book, Planescape: Torment ranks as number one, Starcon2 as number 2.

    • I don't disagree, but there are certainly tours through beautiful worlds I'm happy to take. I recently finished Assassin's Creed IV on the Xbox One. It was freaking gorgeous. You could see individual blades of grass blowing in the wind. Amazing.

      I think there's room in the gameosphere for both low-tech, fun games and AAA, beautiful games.

      • by neghvar1 (1705616)
        Bioshock Infinite was an amazing game in all aspects. It was the first game I played on my newly built system which pushed it to its limits. It is unfortunate that Irrational Games closed its doors.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    How about stop coding on the cheap, release the game when it is ready, and release a "release-quality" version. Not an early beta. Not a late beta. Not a "preview". A quality version.

    Want to make money? Focus on the long tail. Not POS DLC, but true expansions. Look at NWN 1 for how to do it right.

    Want terrain left and right? We have had procedure generation for ages... and Everquest: Next is based around that. I had a prototype of it for a MMO with unlimited territory to explore back in the '90s.

    • How about stop coding on the cheap, release the game when it is ready, and release a "release-quality" version. Not an early beta. Not a late beta. Not a "preview". A quality version.

      the problem is, coders generally want to get paid. you know, like work a job and get a salary. If you can find a bunch of coders and artists who will make a game on contingency, and get a cut of the eventual receipts, then this could work. but I won't work there.

  • This is just stupid. The entire Triple A over spending is about putting in intrusive DRM that makes me not want to touch their games. I'm find with traditional DRM since the old school NES Cartridge is DRM, but not this Project 5 Dollar theft, and not this Always Online nonsense. The only reason the Indie's are getting any success is because these big companies are trying to eat themselves out of house and home. Just give me my periodic RPG's and I'll be happy. As it stands I'm starving for content that jus
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I'm find with traditional DRM since the old school NES Cartridge is DRM, but not this Project 5 Dollar theft, and not this Always Online nonsense.

      Always online games are giving way to free-to-p[l]ay games. I've been playing Star Trek Online a bit lately, yeah I like to wait until a game is well established and has lots of bugs worked out. And it's still full of bugs :) But it only cost me download time. Sure, I have to be online to play it, but at least there's some kind of reason why that should be true.

  • Minecraft (Score:5, Insightful)

    by steelfood (895457) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @06:28PM (#47004281)

    The best part about Minecraft's success is that in this period of neverending one-upmanship of glitz and glam in video games, Notch delivers a great game on practically gameplay alone.

    Of course, there are plenty of other indie successes out there (Torchlight I/II), but Minecraft's target demographics is archetypal for gamers while it is the third most successful [wikipedia.org] game in the world (the top two target a wider range of demographics).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Who invented this AAA label, and what the fuck does it even mean? ASSHOLE-ASSHOLE-ASSHOLE?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @06:40PM (#47004409)

    I have worked in the game industry since the late 90's. This is a smokescreen. It is, internally, a well-understood principle that your games needs a minimum of $70k today for marketing *alone*.
    That does not include development at any level.
    Beyond that, I am confident in saying that *at least* 50% of actual development costs are wasted due to poor management, marketing-driven-design, and a general lack of focus.
    When the game industry decided to raise the retail cost of their games to $60, (with the reason of increased development costs) at that time it was already a sham.
    Now that this article has come out on their struggles against the costs of development, I want to make one thing clear to everyone who has the chance to read this:
    1) When a development studio goes out of business due to lack of funds, it is, every time, due to poor management and internal irresponsibility with funding.
    2) The claim of rising development costs is nothing more than greedy stake-holders crying for more profit.
    3) It does not cost that much to develop games today, as aside from marketing/advertising, it costs less than a million dollars to develop even the most technically challenging project today.

    I had a lot more to say, but I'm too angry now. And that I won't post non-anonymously, I can't really provide anything more than this comment and my anger.

  • by jayveekay (735967) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @07:21PM (#47004735)

    Games are about interactive gameplay, not hi-def graphics.
    Good games challenge the player with interesting choices, and do not attempt to cover up a void of interesting choices with reams of meaningless dialog in very pretty non-interactive cutscenes and the like.

  • It costs more now to do stuff than it did before? How curious...
  • The studios might save a few dollars. Making these has got to comprise a double-digit percentage of development costs because games are filled with them nowadays.
    I play a game to play the game, not watch countless movie-clips.
    Some games today have so many cutscenes that it seems the gameplay was added just to show off the 'fab' cutscenes.

    • For me, playing a game is like starring in an awesome movie. You are playing the main character, and you are making the events of the movie unfold. Bioshock Infinite is a great example here. also, you can chill out about the cutscene costs, in the past these were made separately but now they're rendered on the fly using the game engine. so it's not like they filmed movie clips.
  • Voice acting... ugh (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Morpeth (577066)

    There's a huge waste of time and money imo. No friend I've gamed with ever really gave a flying frack about fully voice acted dialogs. Though I only beta tested, since I didn't like the game, Elder Scrolls online for example -- there was SO much pointless voice acting, with well-known to famous actors (like John Cleese). How much money did they spend on that? Most people just click through thinking 'yeah... yeah... give me the #$%! quest already'. They apparently spent a small fortune developing it, and aft

    • Your friends who are gamers essentially form a self-selected group where your opinions either are similar, or become similar via conversations about those opinions.

      I don't need famous people, but it does need to be on the far side of believable. If you sound like you don't care about your quest, I'm likely to just chop you to bits and consider I'm doing you a favor.

      Also, may I suggest that if you repeatedly find "cliched, overused, derivative crap" you probably need to play fewer games. I say this because

    • by exomondo (1725132)

      I also think many game companies have become obsessed with 'oh shiney!' tech

      What does that even mean? You really think going to best effort to fulfill the vision of the art designers is the just idiotic cliche of "oh shiny"? Some art designs don't require putting effort into realistic graphics, sound, physics, voice acting, motion capture, etc... (WoW, Limbo for example) but some do (Doom 3, Crysis for example), and yeah I know those games are just so mainstream.

    • by Dutch Gun (899105)

      When gamers complain about unnecessary voice acting, I often wonder if they're reacting more to the poor writing and storytelling within a game. There's no need for voice acting if the dialogue is written poorly - it will only exacerbate the issue. Likewise, there's no need even for good writing if there's no interesting or coherent narrative to hang it off of, or gameplay that actually supports that narrative. This makes the dialogue, however well written, feel like a separate and therefore unnecessary

      • If it's done well, then yes, voice acting can enhance a game. But if writing and storytelling are weak, you might as well go back to displaying the text only and save a few bucks. Same for bad voice actors.

  • Somehow they have convinced themselves that advertising dollars is part of development costs.

  • Canceling pre-rendered and absolutely unrelated to actual gameplay trailers with bullshit that you can never actually do in-game - that would cut costs at no loss

  • This is how the mega companies think and why they ruin games.... Let's throw a ton of money at people and give them a short deadline... whatever they don't finish well make it add on packs lol. This is the reason indie games are on the rise, you think they would learn to save money and make a good game. It doesn't take 500mil to make a good game.. The more they spend the more they nickel and dime us to death...
  • by janoc (699997) on Thursday May 15, 2014 @04:15AM (#47006993)

    The problem is that the industry is spending the money on wrong things - massive marketing, shiny graphics, motion capture for animation ... Unfortunately, most of that is extremely expensive and laborious. I really don't need my next stupid shooter game to have motion captured animations of every monster done by AAA Hollywood mocap specialists at several thousands of $/hour.

    And as the "next gen" has to be bigger, better, shinier than the "last gen", the costs spiral out of control. Another consequence of this blockbuster mentality is that only few innovative "AAA" games get made, because nobody wants to take risks with such budgets - but how many times can you redo Doom?

    It is possible to make and release games cheaper, even big titles (just look at the Witcher series). The companies and publishers need to start to work smarter, not just pour more money at the problem. However, when the most complex AI in games are finite state machines and motion capture is considered as "AI" (true quote from one major studio exec), every bit of content is hand modelled, textured and baked instead of some sort of automation or more clever game design, when the "next gen" game innovation stops with rendering more nose hair and dirty pores (or bigger boobs) of the main protagonist than the "last gen", then I am really sceptical ...

    Oh and cut out the middle men and stop reinventing the wheel for the sake of greed (Origin by EA anyone?). You will cut your expenses by a factor of 2 right there.

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