Shawn Layden: “I would like to return to the AAA game from 12 to 15 hours”

Former PlayStation executive Shawn Layden has asked the industry to examine the trend toward bigger and more expensive games, describing the established AAA model as “simply not sustainable.”

Layden, who ran PlayStation Worldwide Studios in the latter part of a 25-year stint at Sony, spoke to Gamesbeat’s Dean Takahashi today as part of Gamelab Live. In a wide-ranging conversation, the conversation turned to Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part 2, which has been widely praised for its daring handling of difficult subjects.

Layden left Sony in October last year, but expressed his great pride in a game that had been largely developed on his watch. In fact, he described it as “the ultimate example” of a story-based video game in the PlayStation 4 era.

“We can make you scream and scream and be horrified, those are the easiest to get,” he said. “But if we can make you contemplative, sad, that’s really affecting the full range of emotional responses to the gaming experience.”

“The industry as a whole needs to sit back and say,” Okay, what are we building? ”

However, while The Last of Us Part 2 might represent a new level of artistic achievement for a specific type of game, it also represents another trend in the gaming industry. Most players could finish The Last of Us in around 15 hours, but The Last of Us Part 2 takes 25 hours to complete. Naughty Dog spent three and a half years doing The Last of Us, while the sequel took six. Sony is not likely to release the production budget for any of the games, but smart money is on a substantial increase there, too.

Layden recalled the days of $ 1 million production budgets for the largest games on the market, and referred to a commonly established theory that the cost of development has doubled with each new generation of consoles.

“The problem with that model is that it just isn’t sustainable,” he said, explaining that the current generation has seen development costs reach between $ 80 million and $ 150 million for most AAA games, excluding the costs of marketing, with a production of up to Five years from start to finish.

“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,” he continued. “I think the industry as a whole needs to sit down and say, ‘Well, what are we building? What is the expectation of the audience? What is the best way to convey our story and say what we need to say?’


Shawn layden

“It is difficult for each adventure game to reach the game milestone of 50 to 60 hours, because it will be much more expensive to achieve. And in the end you can close some interesting creators and their stories out of the market if that is the kind of threshold they should comply … We have to reevaluate that. “

Takahashi mentioned a handful of games that fit a picture of team size, production times, and budgets: Lea Dead Redemption 2, God of War, and The Last of us Part 2. Layden oversaw the creation of two of those games. But he also noted that the “crackshot” team at Sony Interactive Entertainment San Diego made each installment of MLB The Show in the space of a single year. With 13 studies at his fingertips, Layden saw his role as providing “a clean track” to enable everyone to achieve their specific goals, regardless of the amount of resources they require.

“Entering the next generation is not only an important role in management … It is also, perhaps, really evaluating what we can continue to put into games, at what cost can you continue to create these games?”

However, the most important reason the AAA model is unsustainable is not because of increased costs or equipment size. Rather, it is “one of the rare phenomena of nature” in Layden’s 25-year career in the gaming business: no matter how big the games are, the basic price has always stayed the same, and the public is very sensitive to the idea of ​​always being taller.

“Instead of spending five years making an 80-hour game, what are three years and a 15-hour game like?”

“It’s been $ 59.99 since I started this business, but the cost of games has increased tenfold. If you don’t have price elasticity, but you have great volatility in the cost line, the model becomes more difficult” I think that this generation is going to see how those two imperatives collide. “

For Layden, who has been on sabbatical since leaving Sony, this is the main problem that the AAA industry must solve as the next generation of consoles approaches. Epic Games chose to use the new PlayStation hardware to demonstrate the potential of Unreal Engine 5, and while Tim Sweeney spoke about the efficiency his tools will deliver to developers, Layden was absolutely certain of one thing.

“[AAA development] will not be Less expensive than the current generation of game development, “he said.” 4K, HDR art, and world building don’t come cheap.

“All game-related costs are labor costs, right? You don’t have to build a factory. You don’t have to turn sand into glass. It’s just creativity and your ability to bring together like-minded people to accomplish something. But it’s all about people … Those are all the costs associated with it. “

“So 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 the cost of that be? full throat experience?

“Personally, as an older player … I would like to come back at 12-15 hours [AAA] game. I would finish more games, first of all, and like a literary work or a well-edited movie, looking at the discipline that can give us a tighter and more convincing content.

“It’s something I would like to see a return to in this business.”