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The Almighty Buck Games

EA Says Game Development Budgets Have Peaked 157

Gamasutra reports on comments from Electronic Arts VP David Demartini indicating that the company thinks AAA game development budgets are not going to continue their skyward trend. "If [a developer] happens to make a lot of money based on that budget, great for them. If they come up short and have to cover some of it — y'know, they'll be smarter the next time they do it. That's kind of the approach that we take to it." Certainly this has something to do with a few major economic flops in the games industry lately, such as the cancellation of This Is Vegas after an estimated $50 million had been dumped into the project. Another example is the anemic response to APB, an MMO with a budget rumored to be as high as $100 million. Poor sales and reviews caused developer Realtime Worlds to enter insolvency and lay off a large portion of the development team.
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EA Says Game Development Budgets Have Peaked

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  • Bout time... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @01:20AM (#33365668)

    Lots of money does not a good game make...

    Bring back innovative fun gameplay and stop pushing graphics!

    Crappy games with awesome graphics... Are still crappy games.

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by crafty.munchkin ( 1220528 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @01:33AM (#33365724)
    So true, gameplay is far more important than graphics.
  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @01:34AM (#33365730)

    It's possible game budgets have overextended, and I personally would welcome a move towards lower-budget games: these really huge budgets are somewhat stifling for innovation, because there is very little risk you can afford to take with a $50m+ game. If you made ten $5m games out of that money, you could try out some more interesting things, and you'd also have smaller teams that can inherently move a little more nimbly (it's very hard to steer a ship the size of the current AAA dev teams, and changing anything requires heroics).

    Nonetheless, I'm not sure one big-budget failure is enough evidence of a turnaround. The film industry has had a few large-budget films that failed so badly they bankrupted studios [] also, but pundits' predictions that those films marked a peak in film budgets all proved to be wrong.

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @01:37AM (#33365742)

    The Hollywoodization of the games industry has killed it in my opinion. I've seen more quality and had more fun from games coming from companies like Valve and publishers like Paradox in the last 5 years than I have from EA or Activision or any other big name. Hollywood is not the direction that the game industry should be looking for inspiration, it should be a lesson in what NOT to do.

  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @01:37AM (#33365744)
    They probably have, in order to break even a game with a budget of $50m would have to sell 1m copies at $50 a piece and keep every bit of that change to pay off the costs, as in probably not paying the IRS. Which is a risky move to say the least. A better move would probably be to cut the budget to a more reasonable figure and then either lower the asking price or accept a smaller number of purchases initially.
  • Re:Bout time... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @01:46AM (#33365786)

    Nethack proves you wrong.

  • It couldn't be (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CaptainZapp ( 182233 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @02:00AM (#33365848) Homepage
    the fact that Steam (not their fault, thy're a reseller here) charged 50 Euro for APB, which gives you the privilege to pay a recurring subscription fee on top of that?

    Nosire! Of course not. It's probably due to evil software pirates.

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @02:36AM (#33366062)

    I think there needs to be a distinction between bad and simple. defcon and darwinia are examples of simple. I wouldn't call them bad, since they do what they're suppose to do. In defcon is quite easy to tell the difference between factions (by color) and the icons for everything are easy to distinguish.

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mustPushCart ( 1871520 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @02:45AM (#33366096)

    The cruel truth about the game development industry is even if you have good graphics, good gameplay, a great storyline and writing, there is still a chance that your game will flop, you will lose your publisher and with that your studio. A hit driven industry is always cruel to some games, none more so than psychonauts []

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Entropy98 ( 1340659 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @02:58AM (#33366148) Homepage

    Have u seen farmville?
    "Gamers" arent the only ones who play games.
      Free Light Codec Pack []

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @03:11AM (#33366194)

    Really? Hmm, I thought I heard something about some small games called Starcraft II and World of Warcraft. Respectively cost a gazzillion dollars to make and maintain, but doesn't have really fancy graphics. Oh, guess what: It both sells like cupcakes.

    So your premise is flawed and is caused by the paradigm that indeed 'all' gamers want realistic graphics. Which is clearly not the case.

  • by Jedi Alec ( 258881 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @03:14AM (#33366204)

    Bear in mind there's also money flowing the other don't think the studio's put in those big nvidia logo's and other advertising just because they felt like it, right? ;-)

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MadKeithV ( 102058 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @03:20AM (#33366232)
    As in music, why should the goal be something as ridiculously unattainable as a "top ten hit" if you can make a decent living for yourself for far less?
  • Re:Bout time... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MadKeithV ( 102058 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @03:27AM (#33366254)

    Yet a game like eg Torchlight which is hardly state of the art graphics wise got a ton of praise.

    Parent did not say "state of the art" graphics, he (or she) said "brilliant" graphics. There is a difference - brilliant graphics need not be extremely hard on the GFX card or take enormous amounts of effort and budget to produce - one artist with a great visual style can do a lot for the graphical appeal of a game.

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by odies ( 1869886 ) * on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @03:34AM (#33366290)

    You talk like there's no alternatives. Go search for some of the indie or freeware games, some of them are quite impressive. A lot of times they're also how games would be without big budgets. You don't really need to play big budget AAA games, but you want to, don't you?

    I think it's only good we have a lot of choices, something for everybody.

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kurokame ( 1764228 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @03:43AM (#33366320)

    Gamers will not play a game with anything less than brilliant graphics.

    Nintendo would probably beg to differ with you, but they're too busy rolling in piles of cash.

    A game can be visually compelling without being photorealistic or whatever, it's just that photorealism is easier to buy than creativity. In most cases, this leads to rather predictable decisions by game producers, especially given that they're waging rather large up-front budgets against possible payoffs several years down the road.

    The truly tragic part here is that making the product visually compelling through artistic means rather than through uber-high polygon counts will be compelling more or less forever, while the high polygon count game will necessarily be using technology that is several years old by the time it gets to market. It's a losing game which only works at all because you're competing against other companies with the same problems which are making the same mistakes.

    So it's not really that gamers won't accept anything else. Yeah, it does have its uses as a selling point. But it's more about market dynamics than gamer preferences.

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by imakemusic ( 1164993 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:54AM (#33366532)

    The other thing that can make or break any piece of visual media is the music - a good composer can make your emotions dance to his tune.

    Part of that is timing and when a game changes pace depending on what you are doing the music has to change to fit. Which makes this a job not just for the composer but also for whoever programs the music system. Two minutes of dramatic chase music is just annoying when you finish the chase after one minute...

  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:59AM (#33366564) Homepage

    Since the advent of games-for-show instead of games-for-fun, I have certain rules for buying games. These will probably explain why huge development budgets are a waste of money and why indie games are increasingly occupying more of my hard drive. It'll also explain specifically why APB died a death, because it was one of the games I looked at in the last few months.

    1) No subscription. If I buy a game, I buy it. I don't rent games - never have, never will. I may borrow them from friends. I may have to (at some point) pay in installments to "own" the game, but when I do that's more a financial arrangement than an ongoing subscription. I've never played WoW, or any other MMO, because of this.

    2) Demo. I do not play a game that I don't know *exactly* how it plays. I do not pre-order games, either. Some FPS's are vomit-inducing to me because of the motion (for some reason, Duke Nukem 3D was like that, but almost no other game). Some games *don't* let me change the controls to something I can actually get on with, or that works comfortably on my laptop. Some games do not play well despite looking nice (I *cannot* get on with DogFighter because the control system is just so horrendously out-of-tune with how I want the aircraft to move - thus the game is unplayable to me). If you don't offer me a demo, the only other options open to me are: playing a friend's version, playing a pirate version, or not buying the game until it's incredibly cheap and therefore worth the risk.

    3) Value. I don't pay for any game that I won't get value back for. Asking £50 for a game is ludicrous unless I get hundreds of hours out of it. They are £6.99 games on my hard drive that have hundreds of hours of gameplay from me - you have to compete with that. For some reason, this seems to operate on a bell-curve... very cheap games are usually shit value, very expensive games are usually shit value, with the peak being at about £10 or so. If your game is too expensive, I *will* wait until it's cheaper - I don't mind playing games that are several years old so long as they work. If it never gets cheaper, it never gets bought.

    4) System requirements. If I need a PC greater than the one I have, I won't look at the game. I don't buy PC's to fit the games, I buy games to fit my PC. There is no excuse any more for slow-running games on modern dual-core processors with Gb's of RAM available to them. Dogfighter CRAWLED on my PC and to get it to run smoothly required me to put it into 800x600 with no texture detail - it looked like a version of F29 Retaliator from my DOS days, without the fun, and with broken textures everywhere - and still my PC struggled (in fact, I loaded up F29 Retaliator in DOSBox soon after and had much more enjoyment out of it). If Tom Clancy's HAWX can work fine on my PC without me changing any options, Dogfighter should as well. If you require Windows Vista or 7, that's me done too. There's no reason for that. If you require a particular Service Pack, I will be suspicious and want to play the demo to be sure that you're just fibbing - most games run fine on SP2 even if they demand SP3 for example. If you require gobs of disk space, that's probably the biggest killer because my hard drive space and bandwidth is my most precious commodity.

    5) DRM. If I can't play my friend's copy on my computer to see how it runs on my machine, that breaks Rule Number 2 above. If I can't play a legit version or demo on another PC, then I won't pirate it - I just won't buy it. However, if I do decide your game is good enough to make it onto my machine, a good way to kill Rule Number 3 is to reduce its value by making it a hassle to install / uninstall, making it require Internet access even just for "activation", making it unremoveable, limiting my installs artificially, making it impossible to backup to media, etc. Pirate versions and cracks will solve this for games I do buy but if I have to do that, you have a serious customer service problem. It's like me buying a car a

  • Re:It couldn't be (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lonewolf666 ( 259450 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @05:20AM (#33366654)

    Yes, that appears a bit greedy.
    For games with a recurring subscription fee, it seems smarter to make getting in cheap. Like CCP did with EVE Online:
    IIRC purchasing the game was 20 Euros, including the first month. Not too bad. So I got in, found I liked the game and stayed (and payed) for a few years.

    There is also a growing trend of "free to play" MMOs, where you only pay for in-game advantages like faster leveling or special items. That is an even more consequent version of making the entry threshold low.

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GrumblyStuff ( 870046 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @05:40AM (#33366726)

    They are pissed off with playing Mario for the billionth time.

    You might be right if it was Mario 2010 (now with updated stats and rosters!) but Nintendo does do a good job make them different but still fun. It does seem like they're jumping more and more into similar sequels though. I guess the same could be said of Super Mario Bros 1, 2, & 3 but the upgrades between them as well as the differences more than made up for the platforming, brick breaking, and goomba bopping.

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Mike Mentalist ( 544984 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @07:36AM (#33367164) Homepage
    The Hollywoodization of the games industry has killed it in my opinion.

    Killed it in what sense? I would rather be a gamer in the current generation than in any previous one. Some of the stuff that was released during the 8-bit and 16-bit days was just awful.
  • Re:Bout time... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ekwhite ( 847167 ) <[ekwhite1] [at] []> on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @08:57AM (#33367652)

    The Hollywoodization of the games industry has killed it in my opinion. Killed it in what sense? I would rather be a gamer in the current generation than in any previous one. Some of the stuff that was released during the 8-bit and 16-bit days was just awful.

    Just as some of the stuff released now is awful. Some of the things released back then were classics, also, just as some of the things released now are classics. Just as in Hollywood, you can produce big budget crap, or great films on a low budget.

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by twoallbeefpatties ( 615632 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:26AM (#33368672)
    However, that's the direction that a lot of consumers look in. To many people, budgets = quality. If there's a movie put up by some tiny studio that didn't have any advertisements or famous actors, then you're not going to get many people out to see it. If there's a game put out that doesn't have state-of-the-art graphics and a flashy cover, then only so many gamers are going to end up having their moms pick it up for them at Gamestop.

    This is the direction that movies have gone it, it's the direction the TV has gone in, it's the direction that music has gone in, because in the end, that's where the money is. It might be better to say - don't spend large budgets on games that aren't going to have a large general audience (a la APB).
  • Re:Bout time... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by socrplayr813 ( 1372733 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:31AM (#33368722)

    So true about the voices. Sometimes it's cool to see known celebrities do voices in games (I thought Leonard Nimoy in Civ4 was a nice touch), but the best voice acting I've heard in games has always been some random nobody who was chosen to fit their character. More often than not, I think big celebrities are shoehorned into a part for their name, without regard for how they fit into the game.

  • Game Development (Score:4, Insightful)

    by stewbacca ( 1033764 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @10:41AM (#33368886)

    So the game companies are beginning to realize that, although they are a game company and hire a lot of young guys who get into programming because they took some video game design courses, they still have be a functioning business to survive...interesting!

    I tell my kids that video game development is a good entry into software development because the two should be indistinguishable. Writing code for WoW shouldn't really be much different than writing code for Microsoft Office. The problem I've noticed is people that choose video game development don't think they are in the business of making software and thus don't follow the established business rules that work for any type of software.

  • Re:Bout time... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @06:48PM (#33375410)

    If animation and modeling are so easy, why is the quality so mediocre in 90% of even AAA games? If it's so easy, why are there like 2 semi-competent modelers and no competent animators in ALL of FOSS gaming?

    I think you need a little more time behind the wheel friend. It's MUCH harder than it looks. Learning the tools is the easy part.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead