The new cost of game development

Posted: September 20, 2013 in Current Gaming
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Grand Theft Auto V (GTAV) cost around $250 million to develop and has made about $800 million at the time of this writing. I’m sure that figure will go up. It is the most expensive video game ever made, and I’m assuming is among the top grossing video games, if not the top game in terms of revenue. That’s great for Rockstar. Kudos to them for making a well reviewed and received game and seeing amazing sales. That’s a wonderful story. For the video game market as a whole, however, I believe this is a very bad development.

In the past few years, we’ve seen the release of Darksiders 2, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 6, and Dead Space 3. These games have three major points in common. All are well known franchises, all cost quite a bit to develop, and all performed beneath expectations. On it’s face, one would assume this means none of the games sold many copies, but look deeper. Units sold (ytd):

– Darksiders 2: 1.5 million
– Tomb Raider: 4 million
– Resident Evil 6: 4.5 million
– Dead Space 3: 1.3 million
(Figures via Wikipedia & VGChartz)

We are now living in a video game world where a game that moves four million copies does not meet expectations and endangers the future of its franchise (assuming it isn’t a new IP). Rumors (unsubstantiated) swirled that Dead Space 4 was cancelled by EA shortly after it failed to meet expectations. Please note that this was only rumor and was rebuffed by executives at EA.

Obviously, I’m ignoring the quality of the games in the argument I’m making, but only because my overall point is that in an industry where over one million sales isn’t profitable for a product, you have to begin questioning development costs. There is a growing chasm between the larger games and smaller games. Those in the middle can no longer survive. The positive here is that this has led to a glut of indie and digital only games that are brilliant and a joy to play. The negative is that any game attempting to be a AAA release has to move an ungodly amount of copies to be financially successful. Great reviews don’t matter if the profits and sales aren’t there.

I don’t know the solution to this. The evolution and advancement of gaming consoles is a given. New technology means higher costs to develop for said technology. Have the consoles gotten ahead of where games are ready to be? Apparently not. The Xbox One and PS4 will be launching this fall and both have a large lineup of games ready to go for the launch window. You have wonder how many units each of those games will have to move to be successful, especially when considering that they were made for a brand new console and most likely had higher development costs than current generation games.

GTAV will succeed where the above games failed. It will be profitable and will continue on at some point. Many games will not be so lucky and will be called a failure. Not because they sold only a few thousand copies or reviewed poorly, but because they were unable to move the millions of copies needed to recoup their cost. Every new IP or new entry in an existing franchise that aims to be a renowned AAA title from here on out will be walking a very fine line, and if they fall a bit short, it could lead to a door being shut on their future.

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