Producer and directory of Dead or Alive 6 recently spoke to GamingBolt about the upcoming fighting game. In the interview, Shimbori repeated a falsehood that has been spread about the gaming industry without reprove, stating that due to game development costs exponentially rising, this is why developers have resorted to using loot boxes and microtransactions to absurd degrees.
Near the end of the interview when asked about the controversy surrounding loot boxes, Shimbori stated…
“The cost of developing games is growing exponentially, but the price of games themselves has not changed for many years. Also, in order to get as many people as possible to play a game, it is not practical to sell a single game for 110 GBP. Aside from the select games that sell a huge number of copies, the current games in the market are finding it necessary to have microtransactions in order to become profitable.
“Whether it’s Loot Boxes, or in-game purchases of individual items, or pay-to-play, or a monthly fee, there are various approaches considered by various people, and players have the choice to select these options. I think our work as developers is to consider plans for various options to select from to attract a greater amount of users.”
This isn’t entirely true.
Yes, depending on the size and scope of the project the development costs can grow exponentially. However, not every game is made equal and not every game costs exponentially more to make than the previous entry.
Usually sequels are cheaper to develop because they’re already built on top of existing engine technology, which can reduce a year or two of development time because a new engine doesn’t have to be made. In fact, Shimbori already admitted in a previous interview that Dead or Alive 6 was not built with a new engine, but was instead built on top of the Dynasty Warriors 9 engine.
Cost of asset development has also shrunk over the years thanks to crowdsourced alternatives such as the Unity or Unreal asset stores.
This not only allows development studios to shrink overall production costs by purchasing pre-made assets instead of hiring someone to make them, it also allows independent developers to make bank without being tied to a large production outfit.
Additionally, many games running on pre-made engines also have costs reduced since those that are made using the Unreal Engine, Unity, or Frostbite don’t have to design the architecture from the ground up for those games. This reduces costs and time of development greatly. Very few AAA games are made using brand new engines built from the ground up, because – like Shimbori stated – that can raise the development costs exponentially.
These advanced engines also allow for reduced costs thanks to more automated design systems, such as physically based rendering, which reduces the need to design custom shaders for different scene setups, and instead allows artists to use material blending and material rendering to create the kind of lighting modules instead of paying a texture artist (or a group of artists) to make several different variations of the same material. Instead you can have a material artist create a number of surfaces thanks to middleware suites allowing for all-in-one creations of different kinds of surfaces, lighting modules, and reflective effects from one place. PBR is explained in further detail thanks to a video from cubetutorials.
That’s also not to mention that newer tech like the RTX for real-time raytracing means fewer time spent having a programmer design a shader with different types of reflective and refractive LOD per scene.
Procedural animation blending is now built into most animation suites and commercial engines, which reduces the need to hire a blending artist, which used to be required back in the day (obviously some studios may still have a group of animators to manually blend frames between animations using the old fashioned method, but in that case that’s on the studio heads for throwing money down the drain).
Unlike the old-school method of manually taking the last frame from of an animation, then designing a manual blend frame into the next animation set, and then attempting to code that blend in between the animation set for every possible character scenario where they switch between different animations, the blending tool allows you to utilize a GUI to map out the blends from a finished animation set using a graphical node tool.
It’s explained in detail in a video by TheoremGames, which showcases how programmers can greatly reduce the need to rely on animators by creating blend nodes, and animators no longer have to create manual blends in the animation toolset for each possible blend scenario.
What’s the significance of this? It means that no matter what game you’re making, you can easily cut down on the time spent on smoothing out animations, which in turn means that less time working on a feature means less time paid to the person working on said feature.
And finally, for everyone who still believes in the myth that better graphics mean higher costs… there’s a new method of graphics development that many studios – both big and small – have been utilizing in order to cut down on time, costs, and personnel when it comes to designing a game’s visuals. It’s called photogrammetry.
This technique relies on using a series of high-powered cameras to capture objects, entities, and people, and send the data to computers. This technique essentially eliminates any need to have modeling artist to manually design objects. This is the process that Capcom used for Resident Evil 7 to drastically cut down costs of development, as showcased in the video below from CEDEC.
Instead of paying a dozen modelers spending weeks working on just one CG-quality model, they have the actors spend a day in the makeup chair, and then take photos of the actor from every angle, input the data into the design tools, have a small team to clean-up any loose vertices, and then apply the UV based on the data captured from the real-life actor.
So now instead of spending weeks designing photorealistic assets, you can now capture that data in a manner of hours, and have a clean model within a matter of days.
This is explained in laymen terms by YouTuber AvidExpert.
This technique has also been widely used for newer racing games as well, relying on laser-scanned environmental data to generate tracks, vehicles, and even the racers themselves. Milestone, in particular, has been using this technique to drastically cut down on costs of development, time spent on development, and increase the amount of content output per title.
Milestone explains in depth how they use 3D data captured from drones that laser scan the tracks. They translate the data into a cloud of points and then they go through the process of fleshing out the entire geometry, topography, textures, and lighting. If you turn on the subtitles you can see exactly how they do it in the video dev diary below.
Now this isn’t to say that video game development is a walk in the park, or that it’s super easy and super cheap, but it is to say that today’s technology allows developers to streamline development thanks to advanced middleware technology that drastically cuts down on the ballooning costs from seventh gen. And the reason costs were ballooning so much during seventh gen was because they had to design a lot of that technology from the ground up, and so the R&D was quite high and the team sizes expanding rapidly, which drastically raised the overall production costs for some games.
This is also coupled with the fact that motion capture and performance capture technology has also dropped drastically in costs thanks to newer and cheaper solutions, such as the camera-free tech from Xsens that allows developers to capture 1:1 motion data without requiring an actual studio or a massive camera rigging setup. The developers of Iron Harvest are actually using Xsens for their game, because it’s a cheap solution while offering fluid animations.
So, the reality is that today’s technology allows fewer people to produce higher quality content in shorter amounts of time. This is how so many games can be made by so many different small teams made up of talented developers.
In fact, a game like Hellblade – which was visually on par to any proclaimed AAA title – cost less than $13 million to produce.
More than anything, any AAA studio producing a less-than-stellar game with a massive $100 million dollar budget should publicly disclose their budget sheet before throwing out the line about game development becoming exponentially costlier, just to prove that the money wasn’t wasted on hookers and booze.
And while some people might use the excuse that inflation dictates that games should cost more than $60, should the same apply to games made by a two-man team? Should it apply to games made for under $100,000? Should it apply to games that are Kickstarted, like Agony or Scorn? How do you determine that $60 is too little when considering that it’s a game entering a market with hundreds of millions of core gamers from around the world?
In reality the excuse about dev costs is used mostly on people who are poorly educated about the way game design actually works. Most publishers know that they can stick to that to that excuse because most game journalists are corrupt and will never fact check that claim. Game journalists also want to keep receiving free goodies so they claim that any gamer who challenges the false narrative that development costs are ballooning exponentially is just “entitled”. All the meanwhile publishers will continue to cut half of the game’s content out and resell it as post-launch DLC.
In fact, this is how most major publishers make their money these days. They’re spending less money on producing games and making more money on DLC, microtransactions, and loot boxes.
As noted by GameDaily.biz, Activision and Electronic Arts are producing fewer games but making multiple times the amount of money that they were making back in 2012. Activision went from a market value of $10 billion in 2012 to $60 billion today. EA’s value went form $4 billion back in 2012 to $33 billion today.
GameDaily even defends the greedy tactics of publishers making fewer games while making more profit nickel and diming gamers, stating…
“In recent years, games-as-a-service have come under fire as a malicious business practice meant to nickel and dime consumers through microtransactions and other paid services. But despite any pushback, profits generated through live service platforms are far too great for publishers to ignore.”
So all in all, DLC, microtransactions, and loot boxes is a big middle-finger to gamers. Game development tools are cheaper than they’ve ever been; making games and the cost of entry is as low as it’s ever been; and creating high-quality assets is as cost-effective as it’s ever been.
Be wary of any developer making a sub-par project filled to the brim with loot boxes and microtransactions using the excuse that their cost of development was exponentially higher than their last project, especially if it’s running on a lot of existing, cost-effective technology.
TL;DR: Development costs are actually shrinking, but a lot of studios are greedy so they include loot boxes.
(Thanks for the news tip Richard)