Former Sony Exec Calls For Shorter Games That Are Cheaper To Make

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Screenshot: Sony, Kotaku
Screenshot: Sony, Kotaku

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Most video games are too long. This common sentiment gets batted around every few months when a new blockbuster launches with dozens of hours of “content.” Shawn Layden, former chairman of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios, seems to agree.

“I would welcome the return of the 12-15 hour game,” Layden, who departed Sony last year after almost 32 years at the company, told VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi in an interview at this year’s GameLab conference. “I would finish more games, first of all. Just like a well-edited piece of literature or a movie — I’ve been looking at the discipline around that, the containment around that. It could get us tighter, more compelling content. It would be something I’d like to see a return to.”

Aside from the personal convenience of not having to invest a work-week’s worth of time into beating the latest Sony first-party exclusive or big open-world game, Layden thinks developing shorter games could also help studios contain ever-ballooning development costs.

“The cost of creating games has increased,” Layden said. “Some studies show that’s gone up 2X every time a console generation advances. The problem with that model is it’s just not sustainable.” He continued:

“Major triple-A games in the current generation go anywhere from $US80 ($116) million to $US150 ($218) million or more to build, and that’s before marketing. It’s a huge up-front cost. Extended over time, it takes three or four or five years to build a game while you’re not getting any return on the investment. You just continue to pay into it looking for the big payoff at the end. I don’t think, in the next generation, you can take those numbers and multiply them by two and expect the industry to continue to grow.”

Shawn Layden presenting The Last of Us Part 2 at Sony's E3 2018 press conference shortly after becoming head of Worldwide Studios. (Screenshot: Sony, YouTube)

This conversation comes shortly after the release of The Last of Us Part 2, a game that was in development for six years and can take anywhere between 20 and 30 hours to beat, a substantial increase over the first game’s roughly 15-hour main campaign. At the same time, many critics have pointed out just how emotionally exhausting the game’s extensive documentation of torture and tragedy can feel.

In addition to the unsustainable costs Layden mentions, games like The Last of Us Part 2 are also built on unsustainable labour practices like extensive overtime. Another recent example is Red Dead Redemption 2, a sprawling open-world game with more to explore and uncover than any single game needs to have. It too was built on the sacrifices of employees working long days and sometimes weekends for long stretches of its development.

At the same time most blockbuster game prices have remained stagnant at $US60 ($87) since the start of the PS3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii console generation.

“How can we look at that and say, ‘Is there another answer?’” Layden said. “Instead of spending five years to make an 80-hour game, what does three years and a 15-hour game look like? What are the costs around that?”

The former, longtime Sony executive did say he was encouraged by some of the games recently shown at Sony’s PS5 reveal event that didn’t focus so much on showcasing technological new benchmarks. “I was also very heartened to see a good display of independent developer power,” he said. “I want to encourage those kinds of developments, because we get a greater variety. We get a wider palette of games to choose from.”

Comments

  • There’s really something irksome about executives pulling the, “I play games too!” card as a cover for their wishes that making more money could cost less.

    As well as all their, “It’s better for everyone!” bullshit where ‘everyone’ doesn’t actually include paying customers.

    • Like the assholes who wanted the ABC to create and air less popular content, focusing on less popular niches, on a smaller budget. It wasn’t about meeting unmet community needs… it was about letting the commercial broadcasters make more money without having to compete, by making the ABC – funded by the public – provide less value for the public’s money.

      • And by doing so, they’ve made sure that vast swathes of the country never even bother with the ABC, thus ensuring that they don’t really care too much each time its funding gets cut even further. Vicious circle.

        Of course, they don’t really help their own cause when they devote what resources they do have to stuff like debating if chess is racist. Not exactly covering the important issues there.

  • Translation: Let’s make games shorter so we can more quickly sell the “true ending” dlc for 50% of the price of the full game.

  • As an adult, I crave shorter games. Recently playing FF7 Remake and I would have really enjoyed it if it was a tight 8-12 hour story driven experience. Instead I’m hit with these awful stretches of “pseudo-puzzels” that don’t add any value. Longer games don’t mean better games.

    • That’s exactly why I didn’t buy FF7 remake – the bloat. If it was just a straight up remake, coming in at about the same length as the original (which was already a long game), I might have been interested. But I can’t see myself finding time for this in its entirety.

      It’s like Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong. 3 hour remake of a 90 minute movie. What’s there isn’t actually bad, there’s just way too much of it.

  • He wants the value proposition for games to lower so that the industry can make more money. If 30 hrs of game time can be sold as two full price titles instead of one, then they get lower costs and shorter lead times. I somehow doubt that those extra profits will be used to improve working conditions for devs though.

  • As someone who is time poor, I flat out won’t buy a game that’s over 15 hours long until it’s marked down to 70% ish because I know the chances of me playing it to the end are extremely low.

    I fully welcome cheaper games as they allow more experimentation as they can set the target sales lower and not try to accommodate for everyone’s taste.

    This generation’s AAA space has been the most creativly stagnate generation yet, and there’s a good chance that the next one will be worse until be reduce the cost of making games to allow for more niche titles.

  • I think the problem is bloat in these games. I sank 100+ hours into Skyrim and Fallout 4 because they hooked me. Skyrim more than Fallout. I can guarantee I’d spend more time in there and still not see it all. I would have been happy at the same game with a lot of the fringe content cut down, map a bit smaller and not as many side quests that I probably won’t do. But if they tried to sell that “additional content” as a DLC pack, I’d probably be pretty dirty.

    Discipline is probably the right word for it and I think The Outer Worlds struck the right balance here. 25ish hours to complete and it can be replayed. Main quest line not overly laden with “filler” content a la Assassin’s Creed series.

    Studios get too hung up on the “bigger and better” hype train because neckbeards without a life bitch they can complete a 100 hour experience in a week. Shorter doesn’t have to mean less quality or a predatory model of monetisation latched on for selling the “full game”. Just give a tight narrative without fluff and if you need a huge world, do decent sized DLC packs like CDPR did with The Witcher (which was huge to begin with).

    • Outer worlds is an interesting one for me as well. I think it took me 1-2 months to complete, enjoyed it and never felt overly like I was slogging through it.
      But my workmate complained that it was way too short, and that she basically smashed it out over the course of a weekend.
      I’ve been focusing on almost purely the sub 15 hours games this year and I have still only completed half a dozen, I just don’t have the time for it. I love the idea of The Witcher 3 and all the DLC, have heard nothing but wonderful things about it, but that would basically be an entire year of them gameplay.
      A lot of people do the $/hr calculation but for me the calculation goes the other way. What experiences am I missing out on, to get through this massive game. Is this game compelling enough that I am willing to miss playing another gem

  • God yes, please. For most games I am perfectly happy with a 10-15 hour campaign. I’d make an exception for the occasional big open world RPG like an Elder Scrolls or something. But for the most part this trend towards open worlds that take 40, 50 or 100 hours to complete has just bloated games to the point where they become tiresome. The sad fact is that most 100 hour games don’t have the mechanics to remain interesting for that long. They might trumpet “100 hours of gameplay!”, but what they end up delivering is actually more like 10 hours of gameplay, 10 times.

    I would certainly play (and therefore buy) a lot more games if it didn’t take so damn long to get through the ones I already buy.

  • “Cheaper to make” doesn’t mean “cheaper to buy”. The money men behind development studios always want to cut corners and yet they’ll still demand full price at the checkout.

  • Lol what a joke!

    “Let’s make games only last an hour; that way we could all play HEAPS of them! (But sell them full price of course hee hee!)”

  • I like games that are as long as they need to be. It’s good I guess that people are starting to realise that “Hours to complete” is not a metric of how good a game will be, or at least we’re cycling back to that realisation. In terms of cost and time to produce though, that’s going to be an interesting observation over time. With evolving hardware and graphical capabilities is the cost of producing a shorter game going to be cheaper or is the cost of utilising the hardware to its fullest going to offset that?

  • I would love to see games stop being padded with filler shit. I don’t need it to be 30 hours long. I need it to hold my attention. Doing the same thing for 12 more hours but with a new hat isn’t it.

    Cutting out all the bullshit monetary hooks would be pretty nice, too.

  • Wait till goes at least 75% off. Play until I’m bored. If I give a flying f*ck about the story, watch it on YouTube (this rarely happens). F*ck games as a service.

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