The PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720 may be capable of graphical feats previously unknown to console gamers across the world—though likely old hat to PC devotees—but that doesn’t mean that game makers will suffer from the same development problems that plagued them when the first round of high-definition consoles hit the market. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 hurt the wallets of game developers so hard that an unprecedented era of consolidation precipitated their arrival: Square-Enix bought Eidos, Sega and Sammy hung together, Tecmo and Koei merged to survive, and studios from Bioware to Pandemic clung to the teat of Electronic Arts.
Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot says that development on Orbis and Durango won’t drown game makers in ever-ballooning budgets. At least, that is, not at first.
Speaking with Eurogamer on Wednesday, Guillemot discussed why he believes game budgets won’t increase dramatically as the next round of consoles hit the market. “[What] we see is that the end of a cycle is always a time when people are creating bigger and bigger games to differentiate themselves from the competition, and with a new console coming you can really leverage the capacity of the hardware and all the new features that come with the console to bring a new experience to your consumer,” said the executive, “So you need to invest less on the size of those games to still give a great experience. So at the beginning of that generation we won’t have an increase—or a very small increase—of the cost of games that will be launched.”
Of course the other side of the coin is that even as Ubisoft and others spend less to make next-generation games, they will be making more and more on every game through the “integration of social benefits and item model” of business. By pouring new for-pay social features and DLC into their games, the ARPU (average revenue per user) will bump up significantly.
As Guillemot mentions, the revenue provided by additional digital services will keep retail games from increasing in base price like they did the last time around, when new games for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 cost $60 rather than the previous average of $50.
It’s a relief to know that PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720 games won’t cost $70 a pop, but it’s worrisome that publishers are moving further and further away from providing quality games at a flat rate. DLC is no longer a method of adding value to a game, keeping it out of the used market and in players’ hands. Now it’s a method of keeping you paying for something to get the whole game.
It won’t matter that the disc isn’t $70. You’ll spend a whole lot more than that to complete the game.