The days of cheap console game development are obviously long gone, but a CNBC interview with Ubisoft Chairman and CEO Yves Guillemot puts it all in perspective.
He says the production costs of a game, which range from $20 million to $30 million for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, could average $60 million for top-tier games in the next console generation, whenever that may be.
If Guillemot’s prediction proves right, the cost of making video games will have risen exponentially again, as it has for generations now. Consider that in 1982, Pac-Man cost $100,000 to make. Since then, development spending has ramped smoothly upward, as seen in a graph by now-defunct developer Factor 5.
Exponential growth being what it is, each leap in costs brings ramifications. It could mean higher price tags for games, the CNBC article says, or a lower return on investment.
Not mentioned, however, is the possibility of less risk-taking by publishers because the stakes are so high. This is a tired argument in the games industry; I’ve heard ominous warnings about a future without innovation for years now, and so far it hasn’t panned out. For every half-baked Harry Potter tie-in, there’s original IP such as Bioshock or Brutal Legend. Even the sequels on which the games industry hinges contain flashes of innovation.
But at this year’s E3, it seemed like the industry was either starved for new ideas or lacking the desire to come up with them. There’s a reason why Scribblenauts, an obscure Nintendo DS game with a brilliant concept, was named Best of Show by three major game publications (plus me): Almost every Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 game on the floor, even the new franchises, seemed so familiar. You can only slap so many roman numerals or subtitles on a franchise before the concept gets stale.
It’s too early to tell how the proliferation of motion controls will disrupt the need for smoother and shinier games, but I hope they do more than just prolong the next true console generation. If the games industry remains fixated on more expensive graphics processors, I can only imagine how homogeneous gaming will become.