Games have been getting longer, there’s no doubt about that. The Last of Us: Part II, which launched last week, is a great example of this: while its predecessor could be completed in around 15 hours, its successor can take upwards of 30 hours – depending how you play. God of War followed a similar trajectory, moving from tight 10 hour campaigns to a gigantic 30 hour epic.
There’s no doubt that the demands of the wider gaming public have led to this change. But former PlayStation executive Shawn Layden, who departed the company last year, believes that the model is simply not sustainable – particularly as production costs continue to snowball. Speaking as part of GameLab Live, the likeable lead pointed to the fact costs have generally doubled each generation.
“It's hard for every adventure game to shoot for the 50 to 60 hour gameplay milestone, because that's gonna be so much more expensive to achieve,” he explained. “And in the end you may close some interesting creators and their stories out of the market if that's the kind of threshold they have to meet. We have to re-evaluate that.”
Layden continued that despite ballooning budgets, the cost of buying games has not increased. “It's been $59.99 since I started in this business, but the cost of games have gone up ten times. If you don't have elasticity on the price-point, but you have huge volatility on the cost line, the model becomes more difficult. I think this generation is going to see those two imperatives collide.”
According to the executive, one solution may be to simply make smaller titles. “Instead of spending five years making an 80 hour game, what does three years and a 15 hour game look like? What would be the cost around that? Is that a full-throated experience? Personally, as an older gamer, I would welcome a return to the 12 to 15 hour [AAA] game.”
He continued: “I would finish more games, first of all, and just like a well edited piece of literature or a movie, looking at the discipline around that could give us tighter, more compelling content. It's something I'd like to see a return to in this business.” But would you be willing to fork out $59.99 for dozen or so hours of top-notch entertainment? Or would you be waiting for a price drop?