Development Costs Mean Next-Gen Leap ‘Won’t Be As Obvious’ As The Last

Development Costs Mean Next-Gen Leap ‘Won’t Be As Obvious’ As The Last
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If you’re accustomed to a new console generation delivering a big leap forward in technology, particularly visual fidelity, BioWare’s art director suggests you temper your expectations.

The PS4 and whatever Microsoft is cooking up will be “a big leap, but it won’t be as obvious,” Neil Thompson told Official Xbox Magazine. Noting that the transition from PS2/Xbox to PS3/360 was anticipated to be a “10 times improvement”, studios and publishers threw huge amounts of money at next-gen development. That simply can’t be the case now, considering how much already is being spent on the current generation. Spending 10 times more this go around would mean “you’d have to sell 20-30 million copies before you broke even,” he noted.

That’s not to say there will be no improvements, Thompson added, but developers will have to be more clever in how they allocate their resources and what they ask the new hardware to do. “The main thing is that the industry doesn’t get itself into a corner where it becomes economically unviable to make a game,” he said.

Thompson and OXM discussed a range of other subjects as well; the remainder of the interview is at the link.

A new era: BioWare’s art director talks Dragon Age 3, Mass Effect and next gen visuals [Official Xbox Magazine via Eurogamer]


  • If this is true the Wii U will basically be neck and neck (as was said in the article a big leap but it wont be obvious) with the other 2 consoles with the gamepad as its trump card. So Nintendo has really though things well with the Wii U. Make it a step up from the previous generation with out making it too expensive for developers to get the most out of it.

    It sounds about right too. With developers and publishers losing jobs and/and or going out of business it makes sense that developers cant keep absorbing these high development costs involved with making exponentially graphically intense games that the ps4 and next xbox are banking on. I wont doubt those graphically intense games will come to those consoles but it will (if this article is anything to go by) few and far between, and not enough to make a real difference.

    • Sorry but it wont be neck and neck. Nintendo will still be noticeably behind, it just wont be as noticeable as Wii vs Ps3 and Xbox.
      Dont get me wrong, I still have one and will use it for first party titles, but lets not pretend it will be in the same league (let alone neck and neck!) with next gen consoles.

      • They said that there will be a leap but not an ‘obvious one’ were the words of the developer of Mass Effect, one of the biggest franchises of the last decade. I agree that there will still be a difference but like you said it wont be as big as the Wii vs ps3/360 gap. Will that be enough to sway gamers away from the Wii U now it has graphics, gamepad and so far as we know price and third party support is growing (Watch Dog confirmed and possibly Destiny and Witness have been rumored). With costs for development growing its to be expected that publishers and developers will put their games on all platforms, so i feel the Wii U wont be left behind like the Wii was with third party support.

      • Yeah, the only console the WiiU isn’t selling as well as, at this point in its life, is the Wii. Which is kind of a hard target to beat. Sure, it’s not a console I’d consider buying at this point, but it’s not doing too shabbily for a frankly peculiar device.

        • Umm…the Wii U is being outsold by the PS3 and 360 and considering it is new, cheap and next-gen and it barely outsells the Wii it is horrible.

          • Umm it has no games yet thats why its not selling well. No console can sell with out games. IT isnt cheaper then the ps3 and 360 and doesnt even have the same size library. Obviously you havent a clue. Comparing launch sales of one console to 7th year sales of another is just ridiculous. Did the ps3 out sell the ps2 at launch? Hell no. Sheesh. Also, The ps3 and 360 took 1 whole year and full third party support to get only 5.7 million consoles sold World Wide during its first year. The Wii U with hardly any games and 3 months sold almost 3 million. In 9 more months it will easily outsell the ps3 and 360s first year sales. Once more games hit the Wii U no doubt it will sell strongly. But for now no games no console sales. If you think the ps4 or 720 will sell with no games you have another thing coming (i mean exclusives not multiplatforms). Also many more games are going to go multiplatform. Watch dogs is already confirmed, and rumors of others just signal a change in the industry. Exclusivity will be a thing of the past. Wii U will get alot more thirdparty support. Where will the ps4 and 720 be with out the thirdparty exclusivity they used to enjoy last gen?

          • Spot the Nintendo fanboy.

            It isn’t selling well. You know how I know, Nintendo said so. That’s why they’ve cut their forecast for number of sales by 17%

            Where will the ps4 and 720 be with out the thirdparty exclusivity they used to enjoy last gen?

            Pray tell what 3rd party exclusives are you referring too?

          • Spot clueless ^^

            Who was disagreeing with you about poor Wii U Sales? Yes the Wii U is CURRENTLY selling poorly. But its because there hasnt been ANY major releases for over a month. Its practically been selling on its launch titles. Rayman legends was SUPPOSED to release this month to help boost sales but it was delayed. So no games released means no boost in sales. Is that hard to understand? I asked you do you think ANY console (besides the Wii) can sell with no new games releases? No? so quit your belly aching.

            Watch Dog is the first (of many i believe) game that shows things may be changing in Nintendos favor. A game like this would never make it to a Nintendo console last generation. Also games like Destiny and even Witness have been rumored to be making it to the Wii U. Again i said rumors but the last rumor (Watch Dog) turned out to be true.


            (Google Witness for Wii U i can only link one page before the post needs to be checked)

            Also note i never said it would get ALL thirdparty support. Its possible but highly unlikely. However Nintendo has the strongest first party support, in fact so strong it was able to profit on first party support alone during 2 gens (N64 and GC), lets see playstation or xbox consoles do that. Oh wait neither brand has profited one cent. Even if it gets half third party support it should be enough to give the Wii U a strong library. With half the third party support exclusivity gone thats less things to sell the ps4 and 720. Remember the ps3 and 360s sales were largely thanks to both consoles getting all those AAA games the Wii didnt get. If the dont have that i dont think they could sell the same number of consoles they did with the ps3 and 360. Look at what happened to playstation.

            Full third party support exclusivity 150 million console sold (ps2).
            Shared thirdparty support (with 360) exclusivity 75 million consoles sold (ps3).
            No thirdparty support exclusivity ??? I cant see them reaching the same number of consoles sold with the ps3 if this is the case.

            Also did you forget the Wii U has sold in 3 months basically half of what the ps3 and 360 sold in their first year? Yeah. Nice fact you like to forget. Thats 3 months on launch titles and a games drought. But some people love to take facts out of context to make bias conclusions.

          • tl:dr

            Nintendo cut forecast for expected consoles sold. It means it is not selling as well as they hoped it would.
            That is a fact and it is more telling than any excuse you made in your long-winded ranted about God knows what.

          • Is that all you can do? Repeat the same thing over and over? Lame and weak argument. I was merely adding context to the situation. Something that you are conveniently left out to continue your baseless Anti Nintendo comments. If all things were equal and the Wii U wasnt selling well then you would have a point. But All things arent equal. Wii U hasnt got any new releases for over a month and thats why its not selling well. You said the Wii U wasnt selling well i was explaining you WHY it wasnt selling well. See i spelt it out for you so you can understand.

            Also, so what if its selling poorly now? They still sold better then the ps3 and 360 during the same time in their lifespan, and have done so with barely any new games. So all things considered they have done quite well, and will do alot better once more games make their way to the console which should be in March.

            Also you asked me about exclusives, i answered you. Why are you upset when i answered your question about Exclusives?

    • I agree, I also think Nintendo are playing it very smart when it comes to the PS4. We’ll see another 3DS vs Vita again. I can see PS4 getting a $550 – $650 pricetag here if the $429US – $529US rumours prove true, and Wii U getting a slight price drop of about $50 or so when it releases, not to mention a nice line-up of games. PS4 will look very overpriced in comparison, just like the Vita does against the 3DS.

      • I appreciate what your saying (this is also the case for me), but I assume you paid more for GTA IV? They don’t really care how much time you spend on X as long as you pay for their game.

        • Good point. GTA IV might have been the most expensive game ever made when it came out in 2007, but I and millions of other people paid full price for it, whereas Binding of Isaac would have cost significantly less to make and I got it as part of a Humble Indie Bundle so it only cost me 1/7th of $6.50.

          Maybe it’s really my own problem that I paid full retail price for a multimillion dollar game I only played for 35 hours, while I currently have 45 hours clocked on the Indie title that I practically got for free.

          • I think your being a bit hard on yourself. I agree that the Binding of Isacc is the better game, and certainly better value. However, I think the time I spent with GTAIV was worth $60. The problem as I see it is that although I now know that Binding of Isacc is all kinds of great, I don’t think I could have been convinced to pay more than five dollars for it. Graphics may not sell games, but I think if we’re all being honest we know we’ll pay more for games with great graphics.

  • 8GB of Memory. Means reduced costs per art asset. Which means more assets. But probably not 10x as many. Maybe 1.5x to 2x as many. And that’s only if there’s enough early adopters to justify spending a good $20M developing a title for the new consoles.

    • The assets can be more detailed too – and the levels larger without sacrificing visual fidelity to the same extent. I think we’ll notice changes, but it will be in terms of scope rather than detail.

      • thats what i’ve been trying to explain to people that thought the ps4 games didnt look much better than current games, this gen wont be about graphics, it will be AI and scope.

      • Exactly what I wanted to say. A game like Dead Rising may not look massively better on a zombie by zombie basis because it costs a lot of money to have someone sit down and make hundreds of ultra high detail zombies, but what was once a group of zones in Dead Rising 2 may become a single zone in Dead Rising 3. Your impact on the environment will last longer in games like GTA.

        Personally I’m hoping this spurs on more creativity in game graphic styles. For every Borderlands there are hundreds of games that just went with the default realistic angle. If developers realise that it’ll cost them ten times more to make a game that stands out graphically using system specs, then maybe they’ll look into making their games stand out with unique art directions instead.

        • I wait for the day everyone I kill in a game remains there in situ until I finish the game. Currently, bad sports the lot of them. Fix the AI’s sportsmanship so they don’t nick off early.

          • Or every time you blow up a car it stays there until little NPC cityworkers come and clean up the mess. Maybe the police show up and turn it into a crime scene. The city could even keep tabs of how much it costs to keep the city clean while you’re on the loose.

            The one I actually want though is a game like Skyrim where the NPCs react properly to stuff you do. No more generic ‘you killed someone, you’re a murderer’ stuff. I want ‘you killed Eddie, he was my brother!’ or ‘Frank had it coming’. A more aware AI.
            The greatest day in gaming will be the day I actually make a NPC laugh. Not programmed to respond to a specific event with a laugh animation, but to actually trigger it by doing something weird like tying a bunch of horses together and riding them off a cliff.

  • People were saying this with the last transition too – and although the law of diminishing returns is legitimate, I’m not that concerned because we had a longer generation than usual. The difference in visual fidelity between a PC with similar specs to a PS4 and the PS3 is bigger than the difference between the last year of xbox and the first year of 360.

  • If you look at the xbox 360 alone, native 720p only, and remove up scaling there is a marked improvement right there. Look at AA sampling etc. These are techniques that hardly contribute to 10X the development costs.

    Now factor in some development aspects combined with next generation hardware such as redraw distances, texture resolutions, procedural complexity, lighting, physics, model complexity, 3D skyboxes and larger shared memory allowing far more “quantities” to go with the “quality”, therefore I expect a marked improvement.

    If the next generation developers haven’t been tooling their artists, engineers and game engines to next generation levels that is their own fault. In terms of development cost it is not as drastic as some comments in this article. All of the above points I mention are simply design and development decisions from the outset and don’t put a 10X factor on a designer or engineer during development.

    You need the creative vision to deliver for next generation. You need the business sense to use the new technical and creative freedoms to create the right impact. Are you telling me increased physics, character models, animation, AI, lighting wouldn’t create a marked improvement? Just look at Crysis on the xbox vs. a mid-high end PC. I expect that level of visual leap.

    I also expect less cheap or fake tricks in games, this is the curse of the developer, time to get creative or fall behind.

  • It doesn’t cost 10x as much to take advantage of technological developments. All it means is developing code to take advantage of the new limitations instead of the old ones.

  • While I agree that development costs will continue to rise with each generation, in some ways we have reached a point where it will be easier, not harder, to increase graphical fidelity. While there will be lots of costs involved in creating new engines, or re-tuning tools to work with new licensed engines like Unreal, I think things will be different when it comes to the creation of the actual art. A lot of the work involved these days is actually optimising high resolution assets to run smoothly on a console. It’s a very complex jigsaw puzzle that means you have to pick and choose what to reduce and sacrifice to squeeze in the best possible visuals while maintaining a good frame rate. With the new generation, more power means less optimisation is required, and textures can be higher resolution, models can have more polygons and rely less on normal and displacement mapping, and lighting shaders can be more complex and realistic.

    In some ways, yes it will take more time to create higher res assets, but really, it is quite often more fun to do it this way, and the end product will be closer to the original asset than before. In the end it may take longer to make stuff, but the lucky few who do have the funds to do so will enjoy the hell out of it.

    I think we’ll continue to see a trend of less wishy-washy middle of the range “AA” games that aren’t any good, and more low-cost mobile and “indie” games that have to innovate to compete, and only the best and biggest AAA games will see the light of day. That can only be good for us as gamers, as there will be a bigger focus on quality in AAA games, and we will continue to see interesting and original gameplay emerge from the smaller “indie” titles, which will then inform the gameplay for future AAA titles – it’s the circle of life.

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