Ex-PlayStation Exec Claims Lengthy AAA Game Development Is Unsustainable

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Shawn Layden
Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Former PlayStation executive Shawn Layden has had some interesting things to say about the industry recently. He sat down with Venture Beat’s Dean Takashi and shared thoughts about the current state of AAA game development.

With more than three decades at Sony Interactive Entertainment, Layden has definitely been around long enough to have some insights into the business. At one point, he oversaw nearly three thousand game developers and saw game budgets rise to over $150 million, giving perspective into the ever-growing costs of AAA games. His most recent project has been the newly released The Last of Us Part II.

It’s a huge up-front cost. Extended over time, it takes three or four or five years to build a game while you’re not getting any return on the investment. You just continue to pay into it looking for the big payoff at the end.

During the interview, he expands upon that by explaining that each generation has increased costs. With each progression, they essentially double while the price of games has largely stayed the same. He also explains the role of new technology in the increased costs.

You have higher specs and greater expectations around that. 4K HDR artwork and creating worlds don’t come cheap.

This is something that virtually every tech reviewer on the planet can agree on as well. As technology advances, so do the complications in reviewing it. How many people remember when a game review may have only covered such things as performance in 720p or 1080p resolutions? Nowadays, they may examine 1080p, 1440p, 4K, HDR, ray tracing, VRAM usage, and about a half dozen other metrics. All are very labor intensive, and Mr. Layden states how “costs around gaming” are as well. This too would play a factor in the doubling of costs with each new hardware iteration.

Are shorter games the solution?

Shawn offers that shorter games may be an answer. Instead of spending 5 years for an 80-hour game, it may be more feasible for a 15-hour game that takes 3 years to develop. Mr. Layden also thinks that shorter games would allow players to finish more “like a well-edited piece of literature or a movie.”

Peter Brosdahl
As a child of the 70’s I was part of the many who became enthralled by the video arcade invasion of the 1980’s. Saving money from various odd jobs I purchased my first computer from a friend of my dad, a used Atari 400, around 1982. Eventually it would end up being a lifelong passion of upgrading and modifying equipment that, of course, led into a career in IT support.

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