State of the Game Address: What are Development Costs Doing to the Game Industry?




Gran Turismo: Over 60 Million

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2: Over 50 million (and probably more for MW3 because two other studios were involved)

LA Noire: Over 50 Million


Those numbers that I have listed for you are not hours played or numbers of copies produced ladies and gentleman, I’ve given you estimates of how much green cash these games required to go from drawing board to retail shelf. The money gets thrown around quickly at dev studios as talented artists, programmers, and hosts of other professionals and their fancy computers never come cheap. Whereas in the early days of NES game development even large scale games such as Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda could be completed with around eight or so engineers and a few months (though SMB did take around two years to develop) games today can require hundreds of employees and at least one to two years(or in some cases five to ten) to push out.


Flashy graphics and movie-quality cut-scenes (along with brain invading marketing on every product possible) are pushing the once modest game development costs to ridiculous levels. The end result from a business standpoint is simple; if a game requires $50 million to make, then it will need to sell more than that to be profitable for the development house and publishing company. What this truly means is that if a major release fails to meet sales quotas, the financial fallout can be devastating for all companies involved. Losing a few thousand on a product is one thing, losing ten or twenty million can mean the loss of many jobs and even the shutting down of companies.


This occurred recently with game company, THQ. A few not-so-great sales numbers for titles like Red Faction: Armageddon and peripheral device Udraw tablet, the company barely avoided a stock price plunge so deep they risked being removed from NASDAQ. This was a company that was solid and had several strong selling franchises under it’s belt, but a few bad releases can change all of that very quickly.

So what is your decision if your the head of a publishing company? Are you going to take a risk on a new IP or shiny new idea? Or are you going to pump out something that you know will be successful. Like maybe a new military shooter? Those seem to be popular these days. Or how about just any shooter? Maybe even a sequel! Yeah sequels are great aren’t they? Playing the same game over and over again. You better not change much though, you don’t want that puppy to not sell or the whole company might just have to close down.


Nintendo gets knocked around a good bit for not following this particular dog and pony show, but I honestly respect them. This is one company that is not afraid to try new things when it comes to hardware ( I would say software but I’m pretty sure I have been playing the same Mario game for like 3 decades now) and always pushing to expand what the game industry is willing to do. When Nintendo tries something and it’s successful, the other big two companies will follow right along with them. Motion Controls? Yeah Sony and Microsoft jumped right all over that one. Tablet style controller? Microsoft is already beefing up a competitor to tangle with the Wii U console and expect Sony to do something in the same way. Except their will be stupid and probably look ridiculous to hold. You know, like the Move.


The light at the end of the tunnel of all this just might be the indie gaming scene that’s exploding all over the freaking place. Here is a veritable army of game developers harkening back to that old small-team-big-idea spirit that was entrenched in the beginning of gaming. Low-cost-to-make games like Minecraft are showing us that fun videogame experiences don’t have to come at the cost of tens of millions of dollars. The Unreal 4 engine that was being showcased at E3 demonstrated some really amazing graphics, but do you want to know the most amazing part of it to me? The fact that it’s engineers are focusing on making it easier and cheaper to use that any iteration before it. This means that hopefully even the massive Triple A titles like your Call of Duties and Assassins of Creeds won’t demand such nauseating development costs.


Maybe, just maybe, that means less generic shooters and sequels and more innovate and fantastic new ideas from gaming’s best and brightest creators.

About author


Collector of retro video games, blogger of blogs, and caster of pods. I'm a resident of Northeast Mississippi where I live with my wife and hold court as the Chief Video Game consultant for the Just us Geeks empire.


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