â??Developers still naively estimate game costsâ??

â??Developers still naively estimate game costsâ??

By Rob Crossley

March 22nd 2010 at 12:00PM

Rareâ??s Mark Betteridge calls for more careful planning before a project moves forward

Rare studio head Mark Betteridge believes that the game development sector needs to straighten up its estimates on game costs.

His comments echo the views of a number of other industry professionals who contributed to Develop’s special report on the unexpected fall in game budgets.

“To me, it’s important that the industry does get a handle on development costs,” he said, acknowledging that development budgets are, generally, beginning to decline.

“If we [Rare] went to Microsoft and said we’re going to build something that costs, say, ten or twenty or thirty million dollars, the issue won’t necessarily be the budget but instead the estimate and if it is accurate. As the industry is maturing, it does need to get better at that.

“A lot of the time when studios have run into problems it’s because the game budgets have been underestimated. I still think the industry takes a naive approach to estimating budgets when compared to other industries.”

His comments come in the wake of allegations from a former Ensemble developer who suggested that it was lax budgeting, not Microsoft, that ultimately killed off the decorated studio. Those comments have since been contested by another staff member.

Betteridge calls for the industry to reduce risk by making clearer divisions between prototyping and production. He says that studios and publishers need to predict and manage their business better.

“The important thing we need to keep a focus on is that a large amount of money will be spent on researching concepts and content, which is something that developers need to prove that the investment in the project is worth it.”

“Sometimes, especially when you have a big team, there’s an urgency to run a studio into production as soon as possible.

“You might have artists or coders getting paid as employees with little to do because a game isn’t yet in production. However there’s this tendency to run a studio into production before the core gameplay concept is proven.”

Betteridge said that lower budgets were tied to a number of reasons for cheaper development costs.

“Look at things like the rise of mobile and handheld devices, or the increased use of middleware, or the growing number of sequels where old code can be re-used,” he says.

Other designers and studio heads Develop contacted had agreed that budgets were declining due to the elongated mid-cycle of consoles, though others spotted that the rise in sequels was in fact a result of publisher pessimism.

More explanation on the matter can be found in Develop’s full report.