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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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Steve Peterson

Contributor/[a]list daily senior editor

Steve Peterson has been in the game business for 30 years now as a designer (co-designer of the Champions RPG among others), a marketer (for various software companies) and a lecturer. Follow him on Twitter @20thLevel.