Sony famously hiked the price of PS5 games this generation, and the former chief executive of the PlayStation Worldwide Studios has a pretty good idea why.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Shawn Layden — an executive who oversaw six console launches before standing aside ahead of the PS5’s arrival — explained that the cost of game development “seems to double in cost every platform”. With big-budget PS4 games costing $100 million to produce, Layden believes that PS5 games will hit the $200 million mark and continue to expand from there.
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As well as pushing up prices for consumers, there’s another unwelcome side effect here: a lack of originality, as publishers play it safe to ensure that their investment isn’t wasted. “If we can’t stop the cost curve from going up, all we can do is try to de-risk it,” explained Layden. “That puts you in a place where you’re incentivized toward sequels.”
To be entirely fair to Sony’s first-party studios, the sequels have been almost universally critically acclaimed; few would sensibly argue that less God of War, Uncharted, Last of Us, Ratchet & Clank, Gran Turismo or LittleBigPlanet games would be a good thing.
But there’s also a wider industry consequence, Layden observes, for chasing the flavor of the month: whatever gaming genre is suddenly grabbing the headlines, be it Fortnite, Candy Crush Saga or Pokemon Go. “What happens there is you end up with 3-4 silos of games or game types that continue to exist, and variety is squeezed out,” he noted.
Life beyond AAA
There’s likely a lot of truth in what Layden said: triple-A games are what drive console sales, and ultimately their sales numbers have to justify the cost with a near-guaranteed return on investment. If a company has to sign off $200 million on a project, it just makes sense that it will do everything in its power to ensure that the gamble pays off. And yes, that means that ‘tried and tested’ gameplay — or ‘generic’ if you’re feeling mean — can often be the order of the day.
But the flipside of this is that every platform including the PS5 has a thriving indie gaming scene where developers frequently take risks with new and delightful gameplay and story mechanics. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all have dedicated indie gaming spotlight events to promote these titles. And with a digital store, the games don’t have to compete for physical shelf space with the big hitting AAA titles (even if they are conspicuous by their absence in the banner advertisements of each store).
Some of these ultimately become behemoths of their own, with plenty of me-too games trying to mimic their mechanics (Minecraft, anyone?). But for those that want innovation without spending $70 a pop, the PlayStation Store still has plenty of gems.