Triple-A development model 'broken'

Triple-A development model 'broken'
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

May 23rd 2013 at 3:45PM

Former Trion Worlds CCO vents concerns over rising dev costs

The traditional development and distribution models of triple-A titles are broken, says the former CCO of Trion Worlds.

Speaking to Massively, Scott Hartsman said the industry was approaching the point where triple-A projects need to be of blockbuster quality to sustain everyone in the game production ecosystem.

He said this included the developer, publisher, manufacturing, physical goods cost, distributor, retailer and in some cases the platform holder.

Hartsman stated that given fewer studios are capable of competing in the triple-A market due to the high development costs, many companies were pulling out of the sector altogether.

He went on to argue that the biggest start-up successes have often been outside of the traditional triple-A console market, such as Mojang, Supercell and Riot, given the variety of other platforms and routes to market now available to developers and publishers.

“Stepping away gets easier every day in a world that now contains things to help you operate independently at a far lower cost, faster than ever before, from funding to accelerating your development, helping you host, helping you bill, helping you distribute, helping you analyse, and so on," he said.

“Beyond those stepping out of triple-A, take a look the biggest games startup success stories over the past few years. Which ones operate outside the old triple-A ecosystem (Riot, Mojang, and SuperCell come to mind), and which are inside of it? (Have there been any inside of it?)

“With any luck, we'll see more endeavours where the balance of power returns to the product creators and the audiences they're trying to serve in the most direct relationship possible -- where everyone involved is a "product person" whose sole mission is to best serve the customer. That's powerful and exciting.”

Trion, which recently released transmedia MMO title Defiance, was reported to have laid off as many as 80 per cent of its staff last week despite its latest release having more than one million registered users. The company said these figures were "exaggerated", but has yet to reveal the extend of the redundancies.

Rising costs cause for concern?

The rising development costs expected in the next generation of hardware, such as the Xbox One and PS4, has been a big debate amongst developers in the industry over the past year, particularly given the leap in hardware specifications and the new capabilities open to developers.

Earlier this year Lucid Games founder Nick Davies told Develop that costs would naturally go up with the big developers, but said companies could help manage their costs by using good tools and playing it smart.

“I think costs will naturally go up with the bigger developers, but I think if you're smart, if your tools are good, if you've got a good design that compliments your team and the platform, then you can keep costs manageable,” he said.

Square Enix also sparked concerns over triple-A development costs when it labelled sales of 3.4 million for its Tomb Raider reboot as “weak”. While it could be argued that the publisher had grossly exaggerated expectations, given it had expected to sell up to six million copies, it’s a sign of the need to shift large amounts of units to help cover development and marketing costs while making a worthwhile profit.

A report from the New York Times earlier this year claimed BioShock Infinite had cost developer Irrational $100 million to develop and another $100 million to market. The studio’s co-founder Ken Levine has since rubbished these claims however, joking on twitter: “200 million for Infinite? Did someone send some checks to the wrong address? #unnamedanalyst”.

EA’s Star Wars MMO The Old Republic meanwhile, which has shifted to a free-to-play hybrid business model after initially launching as subscription only, is reported to have cost the publisher somewhere between $200-to-$500 million to make. EA has yet to disclose exact figures on the game’s development costs however.

Avalanche CTO Linus Blomberg earlier this year told Develop that the rise in development costs would depend entirely on the type’s of games made, but suggested given the need to raise the bar in blockbuster releases, the industry could see new record development budgets.

"Not necessarily, it depends entirely on what game you're making,” said Blomberg.

“The PS4 opens up indies and smaller developers to a whole different level than the PS3. But it also raises the bar of what a mega blockbuster can be, and I'm sure there'll be some new records in terms of development budgets.

"As an open-world developer however, there's tons of exciting potential to create epic experiences that are more cost-effective due to the scalable nature of procedural technology, things that we have been forced to hold back on with previous generations."