Next-gen consoles mean increased development costs

Developers see costs double for Durango sequels to Xbox 360 titles

Developers with access to the Durango (the code name for Microsoft's next console) are seeing costs rise sharply, primarily due to higher polygon counts and better textures required. "I'm having to double my budget for models," said one developer working on a sequel to an earlier title that appeared on Xbox 360 and PS3. "If we want to take advantage of Durango's capabilities it takes a lot more time for each model." This can also result in either a longer time to develop a title, or the need to put more artists on, or both.

Similar budget issues are expected for the PlayStation 4 (codename Orbis) and the Wii U. The Wii U's development costs will be higher than Wii titles due to increased resolution, but utilizing the tablet controller will also mean additional time in design. Some uses for the tablet controller seem obvious, like diagramming plays in a Madden game using your finger. Using the tablet controller in other games may be more challenging, depending on how much the developers want to create something unique for the Wii U (spending extra on that development that is not needed for other platforms).

At a time when many console titles have been finding it more difficult to make a profit, the prospect of doubling already considerable budgets is not making publishers happy. They are already looking to find ways to increase the revenue potential of their development efforts. The rumors of ways to cut down or eliminate the sale of used games may be part of that. At the least, we can expect more widespread adoption of the Online Pass, requiring buyers of a used title to pay a registration fee to the publisher in order to access online multiplayer game sessions.

"The implication is that publishers will be even more likely to focus on proven franchises, while new titles will have even greater odds against their success"

More extensive DLC options are also likely. We may see a wider variety of price points, and in-game purchasing, as well as efforts to make the process of buying DLC as easy as possible. Subscription services like Call of Duty Elite are also being looked at; Activision's service has been well-received by fans. Expect other publishers (particularly Electronic Arts) to follow suit for top titles.

Increasing budgets, more extensive content, and cross-platform tie-ins through social networks are all part of the next-generation landscape, apparently. The implication is that publishers will be even more likely to focus on proven franchises, while new titles will have even greater odds against their success. The blockbusters will get bigger, and their marketing budgets will increase. New concepts will find it harder to get funding, and will be given fewer chances to succeed by big publishers.

Bucking the trend will be increasing opportunities for smaller, independent developers. Next-gen consoles should provide at least the same opportunities that Xbox Live and PlayStation Network provide now for indies. Competitive pressures from mobile and social games may help next-gen consoles make things even easier for indie developers. The new Nintendo Network will provide another outlet for indie developers as well. Smaller products with smaller budgets will provide more opportunity for innovation in IP and design, as Will Wright noted in his recent interview.

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Latest comments (17)

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
Tools. Middleware. Libraries.
We live in an industry that delights in re-inventing the wheel. Repeatedly. And very expensively.
Development can be achieved with less obstacles between creativity and finished product, just look at the success of Unity.
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Bradley Pearce9 years ago
I don't understand how a higher res texture or a higher res model increases your budget? With tools just as zbrush you can create displacement maps, normals maps and very detailed models very quickly and with DX11 features like tesselation combined with these tools, you wouldn't need to worry about time spent on model detail.(This may run into technical details but in theory it's quick)

Also reused libraries of models, textures and shaders will be a much more efficient method of cutting away at your budget. With these new tools becoming available for game development such as zbrush, crazy bump and other tools, Developers right now should be thinking of ways to streamline certain processes in order to focus on key features such as gameplay, story if applicable and animation. Budgets should stay the same if developers are wise and decide to streamline certain aspects of development whilst not taking away from overall quality.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.9 years ago
Bradley and Mios are absolutely correct. If your budget is doubling for polygons and textures, what in the world were you doing all of last generation?
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Morris Kanyowa Studying MA Games Art, University of Hertfordshire9 years ago
How the hell do higher res textures and more polygons increase budgets???

And models will be made and baked the same way they have been for current gen consoles with a few thrown in here and there

All you have to do is keep your texture at 1024 or reduce to 512 in photoshop
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Steve Edwards9 years ago
Don't get this at all... the biggest pain in asset production is dumbing-down your models and textures to fit. How will reducing that need be a Bad Thing??
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I agree with the previous posters. We are already well into an age where game assets come from models created in programs such as Z-brush, which have practically infinite fidelity. And if you create your source textures in 256x256, you are doing it wrong indeed.

We cannot compare this generational jump with the leap from PS2 to PS3 and Xbox to Xbox 360. The time lost by creating high fidelity assets - which already happens anyway - could be offset by not having to optimize so much or find roundabout ways of doing things.

I dream of a world in which we can just brute force everything; "Dangit, how do I make this hair look good?!", "Just turn on hair simulation, dude." Oh yes. :)
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Ahmed Sharif9 years ago
"Yea we have to make teh better polygonz and texturez so we need teh monies qucik!!1!"

I'd really like to speak to this "developer" myself. If anything it's a blessing to have better hardware as you don't have to fret over fps drops in random scenes or balancing post processing effects to keep constant performance. Much more time-consuming than simply bumping up resolutions or texture scales that's for sure.
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Richard Gardner Artist, Crytek9 years ago
I think the problem these days is games can often get out of control from a visual perspective with less thought put into the modularity and production cycle. Just looks at games like Crysis 1, Gear of War 1, Skyrim where you essentially have a library of core assets that are repeated and broken up by larger objects to make areas more unique. Its about having that amazing vision without becoming to naive about the reality's of making it.

The same can be said for other departments, instead of developing a very specific function within a game you will essentially invest in a sandbox system that drives variety. Just looking at the work they do over at Wolfire, its not about fitting a very specific function into a tight space. But instead investing in a function which has possibilities across multiple games. The systems you create are essentially like investing in your future.

You build a franchise/game from the start and evolve your product over time, instead of throwing large amounts of money over a wall in hopes that someone will start throwing it back someday.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Richard Gardner on 4th April 2012 8:43am

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Michael Wiessmuller Managing Director & Business Development, Indie Games Services Ltd9 years ago
Stoopid and in danger of becoming a dinosaur...
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Jonathan Withey Producer 9 years ago
Is somebody somewhere getting poly / texture budget mixed up with cash-money budget ?
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Heinz Schuller Art Director / Artist 9 years ago
I would think that the real squeeze would be having to make "many more things" vs. just "higher resolution" things. On current gen, the bottlenecks are things like the number of rich AI characters on screen, the size of streaming regions, the number of meshes, etc.

Here's hoping we use the new resources for good not evil! Like worlds that are more alive instead of microscopic detail.
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Alex Byrom Studying Multiplayer Online games design, Staffordshire University9 years ago
"I think the problem these days is games can often get out of control from a visual perspective with less thought put into the modularity and production cycle. Just looks at games like Crysis 1, Gear of War 1, Skyrim where you essentially have a library of core assets that are repeated and broken up by larger objects to make areas more unique. Its about having that amazing vision without becoming to naive about the reality's of making it." it just made me laugh, seeing as you are an artist for crytek, a company that prides it self on how beautiful it's games look, i wish we would take a step back and focus more on gameplay, mechanics, splitscreen multiplayer and story. I'm so fed up of playing great looking games that have no real bite to them.
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Tony Johns9 years ago
If the industry is not careful, we may be looking at another market crash if publishers and developers go out of business by trying to chase for the high AAA game with budgets requiring massive sales to even gain a profit.
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Richard Gardner Artist, Crytek9 years ago
Heinz Schuller you have a very great point, higher resolution textures and more polygons in my opinion is not the way to go for the next generation. These will ultimately scale up with large RAM and GPU processing but the main gain in my opinion will be physics simulations, volumetric effects and more real time rendering.

To make something look realistic is more about your shaders and rendering rather than your polycount and texture sizes. If you see some of the raw models that go into film before render time its absolutely shocking.

I can only hope the generation leap is like the last one as the rumours we have so far are not looking to be as bold as we need in my opinion.
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There are many reasons why development could become more expensive next gen, but more polys and textures are not one of them. I can safely say that doing AAA game art these days takes way longer than it should, simply because of all the hoops you have to jump through to optimize it enough for ancient hardware. If anything, it should become cheaper to do the art (assuming the project scope remains the same) and it also means less iterations and cleanup with outsourced art since everything doesn't have to be super optimized anymore.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 9 years ago
More content to be made, more complex is the project to manage. Therefore, most of the cost will come from better project management and more flexible methodologies. Increased productivity would bring more benefits than costs...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tom Keresztes on 4th April 2012 11:20am

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Kevin Patterson musician 9 years ago
It's funny (or not so funny) that when ID/Epic were building the Doom, Quake, Quake 2, Quake 3, Unreal engines that as the games got bigger and better, we never heard cries from publishers "oh noes", Making games with higher fidelity is going to double my budget, whatever are we going to do???
Then the "High def" generation of consoles arrives with the 360/PS3 and we needed to have that extra $10 added for console games, which was later placed on PC games, so the publishers can recoup some of that "High Def" development costs that they had already been making on PC games for years.

It's my understanding that most tools these days render higher fidelity models which are then rendered down to a normal map or similar tech. Consoles havent been able to run those high fidelity models, and now they might be able to, and with less down coverting, wouldn't that actually make things better?
Is it harder to make a low res texture than it is a high res texture?

Game prices are too high now, try raising them more and more, and thats going to have a bad effect. The rumored killing used games feature on the new consoles would make that problem even worse.
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