Editor's Note: Play to Pay

Play to Pay

With videogame production budgets surpassing even Hollywood's grossest excesses, the market is rapidly out-pricing small developers, and even the big guys are feeling the pinch. Indie development is one route, but there are only so many games one can produce in one's bedroom. So what's a developer to do? Why, raise the price, of course. But in spite of Adam Smith's notions, it's not as simple as all that.

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Drop the price! $20 games would fly off the shelves. Obviously it needs more thought but why not?

The other thing i have always thought is a good idea:

Keep the same engine. If a lot of the development time is used in making the engine reuse it. Sure it won't get prettier so fast but its possible to design future proofed engines - look at Crysis. A lot of people are bitching that "ZOMG it won't run of MAX!1111". SO make an engine that will make use of more than is currently available. Be careful to disable all of those features and then release your game. Next game turn on more of the features.

Production time = cost. Reduce times, reduce cost.

Look at the Total War series. They make an engine. Make a couple of games and then make a new engine. However its clever than that. By using 2 teams they can be making the new engine while making the second game. That way the third game can be released on time and the fourth and fifth games can be worked on.

Another massive cost save will be automatically generated content. It doesn't have to be as far reaching as SPORE - Oblivion had trees placed automatically to create large areas quickly. You just tweak things around the main areas.

Theres a lot of things to do...

Obviously it needs more thought but why not?

Short answer: because cutting 2/3 off the price will not triple the sales of an AAA title.

Another massive cost save will be automatically generated content. It doesn't have to be as far reaching as SPORE

...which must be costing virtually nothing to develop!

OK, I'm teasing quite unfairly here. But the reality is that games publishers constantly look for ways to cut costs (though mostly not in order to cut prices) and so these sorts of things do get tried. Game developers fold. Publishers fold. The companies best able to make money survive. Chances are they're mostly getting their cost efficiency measures pretty much right.

Want to know what flew off the shelves? Halo 3 did. If I was a publisher that would send a clear message to me. Develop a hit game and you can sell it for whatever you like.

Ok $40 then. Games sell online in the UK for 18 which is roughly $40. So i took the price down to half that ie roughly $20. Of course if we are talking console games then maybe its different. But WHY is it different? I'd say PC games sell less than console games so why are they cheaper?

If the problem is lack of market penetration due to high entry cost then you reduce the entry cost. You don't increase the price further.

"...which must be costing virtually nothing to develop!"

The point is that once it IS developed its developed - you reuse it. If publishers had any sense all their devs would share tech.

One of the major time sinks in development is the art assets. The music, the sounds, the textures the level design. Anything to stream line the process is going to be save time.

In fact the best thing might be for middleware to get better. If someone made a flexible engine and marketed it to developers then you could get somewhere. If engine because more standardised overall then devs could make games quicker as they would be familiar with the tech and the buys could be ironed out.

This is already happening to certain extent i believe look at the Unreal engines and the some physics engines....

Game design has got to be one of the few areas where bespoke design is almost always the prefered route. Just seems strange...

Lightbulb is right on the money. Middleware is the key.

I've always thought that you can see a parallel in the film industry, who have used various film formats throughout the years, using them as tools to create their own products. You can already see how some people have produced mods that are completely different from the games on which their engines were originally based (just google "halflife 2 wars" and take a look) to understand what can be done.

The more complex the game, the more that can be done with it. Forget XNA. What kind of games can you make with the Crysis level editor? Once the leap is made from hard-code to what is effectively level-editing (or rather "high-level game design" :D ), the emphasis can change to Art Design and AI Programming. Obviously, a team that can work on hard-code can optimise it so it will run faster with better graphics and AI, but how long till CPU/GPU power starts to close the gap between the two approaches? (We already have WYSIWYG programs in computing. Hell, how many of us use Assembly to program? Not very many! :D )

There will need to be changes is the way the license is paid for (more royalties for less upfront charges for the smaller devs, presumably), but nothing too onerous to work out.

Another approach can be seen in Id Sortware's new Tech 5 engine, which writes code for each platform (PC, Mac, XBox, PS3) eliminating *most* of the need for specific programming teams. This will be a Godsend for small dev teams who could now have access to 4 markets, rather than 1 or 2 for almost the same cost.



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