BioWare dev warns against economically unviable next-gen

BioWare dev warns against economically unviable next-gen
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

February 25th 2013 at 12:20PM

Studios could have to sell 20-to-30 million copies to break even if game budgets and team sizes increase

The industry should be wary not to back itself into a corner and make game development economically unviable on next generation consoles, BioWare’s director of art and animation has warned.

Speaking to OXM, Neil Thompson said that the last generation of hardware caught many developers off guard with the required skillsets to make games.

He stated that the industry cannot afford another ten-fold team increase in development costs and team sizes, as studios would likely have to sell 20-to-30 million copies of a triple-A title just to break even.

Thompson added however that although next generation consoles would be a big leap from the current hardware, it wouldn’t be as obvious graphically.

“I think the main thing is that the industry doesn't get itself into a corner where it becomes economically unviable to make a game,” said Thompsom.

“The last technology iteration caught folks by surprise - especially the number of people you needed and the skillset jump that was required to do the work that people expected. In the last generation the perception was that it was going to be a ten times improvement over the previous generation.

“For the next generation there will be a big leap, but it won't be as obvious. People will do things in a cleverer fashion - and I have to be careful here as there are non-disclosure agreements involved! I think they'll be better prepared, shall we say - but we can't see a ten-fold team increase again as the budgets would just be ridiculous. You'd have to sell 20-to-30 million copies before you broke even.”

The issue of development costs for next-gen consoles has been hotly debated over the last year, with Activision CEO Bobby Kotick stating earlier this month that every console transition had seen an increase in costs, and the PS4 and next Xbox would be no different.

"This is my 22nd year doing this, and every single console transition we've seen an increase in development costs," said Kotick.

"Over long periods of time it gets smoothed out, but I would say this is not a transition where that's going to be an exception.

"We're going to have to figure out how to take advantage of the unique abilities of new hardware and that requires new skills and investment in tools and technology and engines and so yes, that's likely."

Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick however has previously stated that development costs would likely remain unchanged on new hardware, and claimed that the Grand Theft Auto publisher had in fact managed to tighten its expenditure.

“We don’t have any reason to believe our development budgets will change significantly,” said Zelnick.

“If anything we have become – group-wide – much tighter in terms of how we spend our money. We can’t say specifically, but no we don’t expect to see a meaningful change in what it costs us to release these top quality products.”