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Epic expects next-gen dev costs to double

Epic expects next-gen dev costs to double

Tue 13 Nov 2012 4:49pm GMT / 11:49am EST / 8:49am PST
Free-to-PlayDevelopment

Tim Sweeney says escalating costs could have been worse, free-to-play “more and more inevitable”

Games for the next-generation consoles and PCs will come with suitably next-generation price tags. In a keynote address at the Montreal International Game Summit today, attended by GamesIndustry International, Epic Games chief technology officer Tim Sweeney said he expects Epic to be able to build next-gen titles for “only about double the cost” of games from the start of the current generation.

While the bump in budget is significant, Sweeney said it could have been worse. He talked about Epic's first next-gen tech demo, a 2011 clip called Samaritan that showed off Direct X 11 technology in a modified version of Unreal Engine 3. While Sweeney said Epic was enthusiastic about the results, the company was “greatly worried” about the cost. Although the clip was just under three minutes in length, it took four months and a team of 30 people to create.

“If we extrapolate that into creating an entire game, we were worried that the cost would go up by a factor of three or four or even five in the next generation,” Sweeney said. “And of course, we felt that was not acceptable.”

The demo convinced the company to double down on its content and production tools. The company was able to partially offset the increase in next-gen costs with improved production efficiency, which Sweeney said brought the projected cost of development down.

Another trend Sweeney underscored in his talk was the idea of the game industry “defragmenting.” Games are crossing borders more easily than ever before (he noted the global popularity of League of Legends), and he added that crossing platforms is going to become more common as the console, PC, mobile, and browser-based markets converge on a common feature set marked by high-resolution displays, Direct X 11 graphics, and multicore CPUs.

Sweeney addressed more disruptive trends in the industry, such as the arrival of free-to-play gaming.

“Free to play gaming is becoming more and more inevitable,” Sweeney said. “If a user has world-class, AAA free-to-play games to choose from side-by-side with $60 games that are available only on a disc in a retail store, free-to-play games are very likely to win. So we need to really be mindful of this trend and start building games that have monetization and are designed to be piracy-proof.”

Epic is preparing its own foray into the world of free-to-play games with the upcoming PC game Fortnite.

37 Comments

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,210 2,049 0.9
Didn't someone from Epic recently state that costs next generation might actually be lower because of tool maturity?

Posted:A year ago

#1

Sergio Rosa
"Somewhat-Creative Director"

59 20 0.3
@Jim: I remember reading that as well, when they revealed UE4

Sometimes I have the feeling big players in this industry are actually happy about budgets going up. It's like they forget that means more sold copies are needed to break even (I remember an article about how non-sensical it was for EA to come and say they needed to sell like 5M copies of Dead Space 3 just to break even...)

Posted:A year ago

#2

Dan Howdle
Head of Content

272 761 2.8
Yes, Jim. It was Cliff Bleszinski here:

http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2012/06/08/cliff-bleszinski-explains-the-next-generation-of-games.aspx?PageIndex=3

I too am confused by this apparent disagreement by (ex) employees of the same company. I'm sure there's a rational explanation. It's just I can't think of one.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dan Howdle on 13th November 2012 5:46pm

Posted:A year ago

#3

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,210 2,049 0.9
So both are talking about using the same tool set yet one said it may cost less than current tool set development while the other claims it may cost twice as much.

Considering the names involved, and the intention of selling said tool set, that such a discrepancy wouldn't exist (at least not publicly stated).

And twice the costs might be enough to put all but the biggest of developers/publishers out of business year 1. Actually, I'd be quite surprised if many seek/grant bigger budgets. Last generation saw the retail price gain $10 to help offset that increase in costs. We won't see another $10 increase this time. Especially with price options that are making the $60 sticker price of this generation seem much too high for certain gamers.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Germán Vázquez
Executive Producer

35 14 0.4
@Dan Thats why Cliff no longer works at Epic ;)

Posted:A year ago

#5

James Brightman
Editor in Chief

193 176 0.9
Considering that Sweeney created Unreal Engine and is a programming genius, I'll take his word over Cliff's.

Posted:A year ago

#6

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

184 196 1.1
It doesn't sound unrealistic if you think about it. No matter how great the tools are, the assets don't model themselves, and with so much memory available, the visual standards will inevitably rise. And there will be pressure to meet them.
You could say that you'll need less optimization because there's more horsepower available, this might be true until the first dev releases a killer title that really makes smart use of the memory and performance available. After that, the pressure is on.

Posted:A year ago

#7

Pierre Bernardin
Analyst

1 1 1.0
@Jim @Dan
They are actually saying the same thing: Tim Sweeney is talking about "double the cost from the start of current generation", whereas Cliff was talking about next-gen compared to current cost of games (ie at the end of current-generation)

As game budgets have nearly doubled since the beginning of this generation, this makes sense.

Yves Guillemot also said recently that he expects dev costs to remain flat at least for the first two years of next-gen as they are going to develop 'cross gens'.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Pierre Bernardin on 13th November 2012 8:50pm

Posted:A year ago

#8

Daniel Chenoweth
Editor

15 5 0.3
To my knowledge, Epic has yet to reveal the business model for Fortnite, and it's only presumed to be free-to-play. In everything I've read about it, they've been very coy on details.

Posted:A year ago

#9

Richard Gardner
Artist

122 30 0.2
Moving into the next generation I would hope developers and publishers would be smart enough to simply make a game to there set budget instead of following the same conventional development model. In today's development environment your budget can be as big or small as you wish.

Posted:A year ago

#10
Maybe this is just sales tactics from a very successful developer? Hey guys, you need to pay 5x more now than previously. Coming back later saying, it's less than half than what we said earlier. So, double the cost becomes suddenly a sale with 60% off!

Posted:A year ago

#11

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

517 731 1.4
Maybe if they stop trying to make uninteractive movies in a game engine and actually concentrate on making actual games, it wouldn't be anywhere near as bad. I'm getting sick of minutes-long non-interactive cut-scenes with close ups of cigarettes burning for no purpose other than to say "look how clever our cigarette end burning shader is".

Posted:A year ago

#12

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

787 931 1.2
@Dave, do you have a bug in our office? We were talking about this the other day and that exact cigarette end shader was mentioned.

The current state of the art is jaw dropping visually. I just don't want to watch it anymore, the novelty wore off years ago. Amount of in-game cut scenes required to make a game play better? Nil.

Posted:A year ago

#13

Nick Parker
Consultant

264 124 0.5
I'd be surprised that such a step change in dev costs will occur next gen when the hardware is not expected to reveal such a leap in performance and cost. But you're the guys with the dev kits, you tell me.

Posted:A year ago

#14

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

517 731 1.4
@Paul Johnson - Because it's a good example of someone creating content just because they can, rather than because it's necessary for what the game needs. I want the graphics to look nice while I'm playing the game - i.e. walking around the level looking at things, not watching from a fixed camera as positioned by someone who fancies themselves as a movie director. If I can't control it, I might as well be watching a movie, and then there's no real point rendering it in real time is there? I'd like games to go back to the Half Life way. No cut scenes, minimal, seamless loading and all story delivered while you're still playing.

Posted:A year ago

#15

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
I don't see costs rising for several reasons.
1) They are only moving the same number of dots around as this generation.
2) They can use libraries and tools built during the current generation.
3) Where is the money going to come from to pay twice as much for games to be made?
4) With the likes of Unity we are experiencing a breakthrough in the ease of game development.

Posted:A year ago

#16

Patrick Frost
QA Project Monitor

383 173 0.5
Bruce, I think 3) is going to be the biggest factor. I also think it will be a contributing factor as to why the Wii U will still have most of the multiplatform games come the new generation from Sony and MS. For all developers, publishers and consumers I sure HOPE budgets don't get doubled.

Posted:A year ago

#17

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,118 888 0.8
There's no doubt that middle-ware will be a factor and will make development easier and more cost-effective. You also don't necessarily have to double up budgets just to produce better visuals than you're seeing now.

That said, its easy to see situations where game development costs will double, given the fact that many teams will be expecting to design models and worlds of a far greater complexity.

Just look at the evolution of Gran Turismo as a case study. Cars that took a few days to create turned into a few weeks, then a few months. Its easy to see how costs and development demands can increase. However, another factor to be considered is the rise in development outsourcing. Distributing development across continents and hiring skills from emerging markets is another approach to reducing costs.

Its the approach/angle that matters and can't just be a straight yes or no answer.


The Tec Guy ~AC

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 14th November 2012 1:59pm

Posted:A year ago

#18

Stephen Richards
Game Deisgner

67 28 0.4
What I find confusing is that most developers already make PC versions of their games whose ultra high graphics settings are more or less what we can expect from next gen consoles, at least for the first couple of years. Therefore, wouldn't you expect costs to go down as porting becomes easier?

Surely games like Skyrim and Assassin's Creed 3 could be ported straight on to the next consoles, given the breadth of difference between their console and PC versions.

Posted:A year ago

#19

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,118 888 0.8
@Stephen

Because we're not running on the idea next gen games will effectively be 360/PS3 titles with better resolutions and textures . We're looking at the implications of making ground up next generation productions, which is presumably where the suspected rise in cost will come from (significantly higher detail in objects/more of them means potentially more development time and subsequently money).

That is of course if a studio decides to invest time and money into doing so. If we look at the amount of time it takes to make the kinds of assets we're seeing in next gen tech demos such as Square-Enix' Agni's philosophy, it could mean a significant jump in costs. Now, that's unless (as one solution) some of the those duties are outsourced to a low cost workforce.

Posted:A year ago

#20

Hugo Trepanier
Senior UI Designer

152 127 0.8
The problem I see is that everyone seems to assume that all next gen titles have to be hyper realistic life simulators. While it would occasionally be nice to see such environments and characters that could be mistaken for real life, not all games have to go this way.

Some of the more artistically original titles I've played have 2D graphics or a cartoony look. Style can be defined in many different ways and I think one of the caveats of the current generation is that many (most?) of the major developers have gone the grey-brown route of trying to recreate environments that value realism over style.

When you go for a style that differs from what you see around the corner of the street, a lot of liberties can be taken to bring that world to life without having to border on that uncanny valley situation. Fun is not defined by realism, in most cases anyway. That's not to say developing or designing a cartoony environment does not come at a cost, but I believe it can be achieved successfully with less resources and still be considered AAA in terms of quality.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Hugo Trepanier on 14th November 2012 6:37pm

Posted:A year ago

#21

Nicholas Pantazis
Senior Editor

968 1,161 1.2
I think ti's funny that people think next gen is CAPABLE of hyper-realism. Want to see next gen? Look at BF3 and The Witcher 2 on PC. It won't look much better than that.

Posted:A year ago

#22

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,118 888 0.8
I don't know about any hyper realism but I'd say the technical examples of next generation architecture make Witcher 2 and BF3 look like a joke.

Posted:A year ago

#23

Nicholas Pantazis
Senior Editor

968 1,161 1.2
@ Adam You will not see something that looks as good as those tech demos on the PS4 or Xbox 720. Ever. I promise you. Go back and watch the Final Fantasy VII demo reel for PS3.

Posted:A year ago

#24

Peter Dwyer
Games Designer/Developer

458 254 0.6
Isn't this just Epic trying to set an expectation for wanting to charge more per game in the next gen?

The problem is that people are already fed up with paying 60 dollars (42 pounds?!? here in England) for games on this gen. I'm afraid that they are simply not going to be prepared to pay more next gen.

As others have already pointed out, the next gen will simply see PC Ultra High settings finally brought to consoles. Remember that a high definition TV is only 1920 * 1080 so that's the pixels you have! There isn't going to be some sudden amazing ability to cram in a 2560 * 1600 super hi-def HDR image onto that living room screen. Graphics cards haven't suddenly skipped a generation either and aside from the geometry shaders making things far more detailed close up and so better at keeping the immersion going when your Master Chief is looking directly at a wall. Not a heck of a lot is going to change.

Posted:A year ago

#25

Felix Leyendecker
Senior 3D Artist

184 196 1.1
You guys seem to forget that current gen consoles have less ram than a middle-class phone and current rumours have the next-gen consoles pegged at up to 16GB of ram.

Even if the processing power won't rise as much, the increase in RAM alone will have massive implications on asset creation, level size and level of detail in the world.

Posted:A year ago

#26

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,118 888 0.8
@Nich

Some of the suggestions here are like saying we won't see anything better than Doom 3 on Xbox 360 when clearly that title has been blown out the water in terms of the types of visual effects, lighting and dynamic systems we get in games. In fact its a flawed argument I see used at the beginning of just before the beginning of a new console generation.

There are things in titles out there that you don't even see in the FFVII tech demo, which seemed an awful lot more impressive back then than it is now.

Whilst I'm not expecting all titles to suddenly look like Agni's Philosophy, the headroom should be a lot closer to that. Than Witcher 2, which to be honest isn't going to be that impressive. You can still tell how much these games are expected to scale through previous generations looking at the way assets have been made etc. Hardly any titles are made with a real philosophy based around the types of features you get in an a DX11 architecture either let alone anything above that either.

After seeing the original Crysis running on PS3 and considering just how much of an increase the next set of console are expecting in terms of performance, I find it hard to set my expectations so low. Obviously, guys like this in the article are expecting a lot more too.


The Tec Guy ~AC

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 15th November 2012 6:04pm

Posted:A year ago

#27
Re price, I also hope the cost of games doesn't rise - they're becoming too expensive. What I CAN see happening, though, is much more digital distribution, with publishers, and thus developers, able to keep more of the money instead of having to share it with stores, many of whom will try to ram a used copy down your throat faster than a Roman soldier in a brothel.

I made that last bit up.

Posted:A year ago

#28

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

517 731 1.4
Console games haven't increased in price for as long as I can remember, Fran. I bought (or at least, my parents did) Megadrive games that cost £40-50 twenty years ago, which is vastly more expensive than today's prices when you adjust for inflation. The difference is we want to play a lot more of them these days, and the costs mount up.

Posted:A year ago

#29

Nick Burcombe
CEO & Co Founder

52 13 0.3
If costs of development double, whilst the market is also in decline and if anyone thinks that another box under the tv is going to do it again.....I think the console business is going to be in dire problems.....if it isnt already

Posted:A year ago

#30

Jim Webb
Executive Editor/Community Director

2,210 2,049 0.9
Nick, the market is down because it's the end of the console cycle. Happens every cycle.

Posted:A year ago

#31

Nick Burcombe
CEO & Co Founder

52 13 0.3
I just hope the console business can survive and make development more cost effective after what is likely to be the most difficult transition period the industry has seen. What's different today, of course, is the mounting pressures from the explosive growth in mobile and web gaming. The other problem I have with this concept of the 'mega budgets' is it generates vast games with lots of data, and sadly, digital distribution is not viable for a 50gb game in most countries...so its back the problems of boxed product and the battle for retail shelf space.....tricky times ahead I think.

Posted:A year ago

#32

Martin Klima
Executive Producer

25 47 1.9
@Adam: Adding more RAM to a console is nice thing, but the processing power is just not there. If you look at the leaked specs of new generation of consoles, they are not more powerful than today's mid-range PCs. They will be certainly more powerful than tablets, but I seriously doubt that the next-gen titles would look much better than Witcher 2 or BF3.

Posted:A year ago

#33

Nicholas Pantazis
Senior Editor

968 1,161 1.2
@ Adam The original Crysis never ran on PS3. Crysis was completely rebuilt, without all the advanced physics and on a new engine on PS3. Crysis is still more advanced than any PS360 game ever made, without question, on a technical level. You need to temper your expectations. There are limitations to what game consoles can do, and artistic tricks are what have made them look like they're keeping up with PC. Agni was running on a custom-built supercomputer; that hardware will be nothing like what's in the PS4 and 720.

Posted:A year ago

#34

Andrew Ihegbu
Studying Bsc Commercial Music

416 111 0.3
@Nick 50Gb Games are a long way off. We have UHARC and a bunch of other compression algorithms that allow us to take a near 20GB game like GTA4 and fit it on a 8.4GB DVD for the 360. By that math we need approx. 120GB came to use the whole 50Gb of Blu-Ray, and Blu-Ray's slow read speed will likely mean either Hard Drive installation or long loading times, both being a poor proposition for a gamer. I can see us distributing uncompressed games on Blu-Ray but compressing that down to about 10-25GB for digital distro.

As for mobile gaming, I'm surprised that people believe that core gamers on the 360 and PS3 are actually buying into mobile at the expense of console. I would never choose between a lil game for my phone and something good for my PC. (I'm a PC man now, after getting tired of waiting for the next gen.)

Posted:A year ago

#35

Andrew Ihegbu
Studying Bsc Commercial Music

416 111 0.3
No, No, No!

1)No they are not, there's the same amount of dots being sent to your screen, but at least 4x the subpixels for anti-aliasing, assuming they take that route over multiplying the poly counts, shader complexity, volumetrics etc. to make the game utilize more grunt.
2)Yes they can, but they will have to spend longer on the same tools to build more complex assets costing more work hours.
3)Good question. It's time some smart individual figured out how to vastly reduce the time taken for asset creation by introducing better workflows. To be quite honest I'm still wondering why I haven't heard about artists starting to use geometry scanners to create primitives, and grab items like rocks, foliage, shrubs and smaller objects for their work.
4) We need one, that's for sure. Unity made big steps, but it's limited to one not-so-efficient engine with well defined limitations. At least a workflow of some sort could be applied universally to all platforms instead of forcing the industry to migrate.

Posted:A year ago

#36

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