PS4 devs speak up on costs: "Not as scary as some led you to believe"

In a first-party developer roundtable, Guerilla Games said the cost of development has only risen slightly

With PS3 and Xbox 360, cost of development saw a significant increase from the previous generation. Now next-gen's on the horizon, and many are anticipating another big bump up in costs (Epic's Tim Sweeney said a few months ago that costs could double). If you ask Hermen Hulst, managing director at Killzone developer Guerilla Games, however, next-gen shouldn't be a burden on developers' bottom line.

Speaking as part of a first-party developer roundtable attended by GamesIndustry International immediately following the PS4 reveal, Hulst noted that while costs are going up on PS4, it's not as dramatic as some would have thought. For example, on Killzone 1 and 2, team sizes maxed out at 125, he said, and for the new Killzone Shadow Fall on PS4, the team is now at 150 people.

Hulst said that a lot of his company's resources have gone into making development easier with better, more efficient tools. It's about making development smarter, he said. Hulst added that Guerilla is in constant conversation with lead PS4 architect Mark Cerny and many other developers to the point where they have weekly, or bi-weekly calls.

"It's not as scary as some people led you to believe," Hulst concluded on the financial aspect of next-gen development.

When the developers were asked about relying on graphics and how that won't work anymore since PS3 games already look quite good, Matt Southern of Evolution Studios, who unveiled Drive Club for PS4 today, commented that there's still plenty of room on the visual side to wow gamers. "No game has been able to recreate the real feeling of sitting inside a Ferrari," he said, and with PS4 he feels he's come much closer to that goal. Hulst added that the newer technology is now allowing developers to do much, much more overall. Whereas in the past they may have had to choose between more characters or a larger environment or better AI, now game makers can integrate all these things at once without bogging down the hardware.

One of the important features of the PS4 will be its Gaikai integration and the PlayStation cloud network. With all games being available to demo with just a click, developers will have to think about how they design their titles to grab players' attention more quickly. Making a mediocre game nowadays is a very, very risky proposition. Steven Ter Heide, game director at Guerilla Games, commented that it simply means you have to make great games. If a developer creates a great experience, then there's no need to worry.

Evolution's Southern was ecstatic about the Gaikai functionality. He remarked that a game trailer is a bit of an oxymoron, that trailers are bizarre, and games should have demos because they naturally demand an interactive experience. He said Dave Perry's vision means every single PlayStation game can be sampled, and "it's genius but obvious." He noted that "it's perfect for the PlayStation catalog."

Ultimately, the developers at the roundtable seemed incredibly enthusiastic about the vision that Sony is communicating with PS4. "I was very happy it's so forward looking," Steven Ter Heide said. "Technology is becoming an enabler rather than being about specs. It's about what it means to me rather than it's got X amount of memory."

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Latest comments (10)

Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 9 years ago

Very relevant. We know Activision and EA will try to make out that their costs have suddenly doubled etc. etc. but, this is pure nonsense. The assets for 360 and PS3 are currently downgraded because of the limitations of the consoles. Tell me you didn't think artists actually sit down and draw low-res textures or create the original models (the ones used in pretty much every PR shot) as low detail. The normal maps are taken from very detailed assets as the first stage so creating a better looking game is usually just a case of using what you already have without the whole reduce polygons stage applied.

The truth is that, aside from shader creation, there is less work involved with creating the higher resolution assets than there is in creating the low res uber compressed ones. With more memory even programming becomes easier as you have to spend less time optimising the hell out of stuff just to fit it in memory.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee9 years ago
I don't think costs would rise much if games are an expansion of the ideas (designwise and technically) of what we had before. Its what I saw when I watched the Killzone demo.

I think a company like Square-Enix do stand to see costs rise however, given dramatic escalation of their design goals, graphical presentation and to top it off scale - though their aim to outsource more development duties and get their technology base ready early could make all the difference. Rockstar are another company whose costs and resource needs could rise by a big percentage.

Not all next gen games will be like upscaled titles, with 'higher PC settings' as always has been, the risk and ambition of the project will be a factor.
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Brian Smith Artist 9 years ago
If the first COD on the platform clocks in at a movie-tastic 1.5 hrs gameplay then I guess we'll know it's expensive to develop on. Personally I think it will clock in much more expensively than hoped for. If the market accepts just beefed up current gen products then I think it'll be ok but realistically I think platform and market pressure will push developers to invest more for that something special.
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Tamir Ibrahim Programmer, Splash Damage9 years ago

That may have been true for the PS3, but that was mainly because the architecture was so different to the X360 and could be quite difficult to work with depending on your code base. With the next gen consoles it's highly likely they will both basically be PC's and very similar, hence developing on both should not incur quite as much relative cost as this gen.

But I've generally been of the opinion costs will not rise as much as has been widely reported, so perhaps I'm biased.
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I think the amount of memory enables you to do some cool procedural stuff for environments. It should directly benefit game and level design and not just rendering, which is a good thing, obviously. It will need a big initial investment in tech, but overall, better specs enable you to work smarter, not harder.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee9 years ago
Its a bigger step up in RAM than the Xbox -> Xbox 360. Twice that in fact. RAM is such a big problem in development, it makes a change that this area of the spec is the more ambitious.

Only thing I question is the implications of choosing GDDR5. The speed and bandwith will surely be amazing, but I wonder how they're getting it at a practical manufacturing cost and yield. Overall, the console is shaping up to be affordable thanks to the hardware design, but there are always factors that could tip things over the scale, like this.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 9 years ago
I think costs should be ok. The hardware seems based on PC architecture, its something most developers are familiar with. And i leg room developers have with those specs is enormouse. The choice in Main CPU and GDDR5 Ram was amazing. And the use of comonents similar to PC, suggests costs wont be as great. And they can probably sell the console at a reasonable price and gain money subsidizing it, earning money through PSN and software.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee9 years ago
GDDR5 itself at 8GB *could* be expensive as its unprecedented, especially for use as a main unified RAM. Stranger things have happened but I think that's the only little thing. It would be very interesting to see analysts pick apart the cost of that component, then we could even compare it to say high speed DDR3. which the Xbox will likely use.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 9 years ago
Guerrilla Games is a first party video game developer and wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment.

Source: wikipedia.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tom Keresztes on 21st February 2013 2:49pm

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Roman Margold Rendering Software Engineer, Sucker Punch Productions9 years ago
I think you are possibly forgetting that they (GG) are talking about the increase of expenses, not actual expenses. The difference being that even if you were to accept that GG will make a game cheaper than a 3rd party developer (by using Sony's resources), they would have done that in their previous titles too, and that's what they are comparing. It's quite certain that any transition means extra expenses, but I personally fail to see how this particular one could be as dramatic as some claim. I think most of the extra expenses will ultimately go into a bigger scope of the game, and an apples-to-apples comparison will actually show decrease in costs even with the fancier graphics.
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