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Former PlayStation exec says current AAA development model is unsustainable

Shawn Layden has called for a return to tighter games that are less expensive to make.

Shawn Layden, who spent 25 years at Sony, knows a thing or two about game development in the AAA space. Speaking at Gamelab Live, Layden touched on the industry's manic rush towards bigger and bigger games that take longer and longer to make.

The veteran executive explained that AAA game production costs doubled from $80 million and $150 million over the course of this generation, and saw a similar jump in the previous generation. Layden believes that it can't keep going like this because the industry doesn't grow its audience enough to support it.

"The problem with that model is it's just not sustainable," said Layden, as reported by Games Industry.

"I don't think that, in the next generation, you can take those numbers and multiply them by two and think that you can grow. I think the industry as a whole needs to sit back and go, 'Alright, what are we building? What's the audience expectation? What is the best way to get our story across, and say what we need to say?"

Despite the rising costs, the game's base price remained the same, which makes ballooning budgets and development time even harder to justify. "It's been $59.99 since I started in this business, but the cost of games have gone up ten times," he explained, calling it a "freak of nature."

"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."

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Layden also believes that this trend creates a different problem, in that it prevents certain creators from creating these types of games when the expectation is that they must be 50 or hours.

"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 added. "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 reevaluate that."

Layden called for the industry to consider returning to shorter games that don't take as long, or cost as much, to make.

"How can we look at that and say: Is there another answer? 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. 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."

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