Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Most video games are too long. This common sentiment gets batted around every few months when a new blockbuster launches with dozens of hours of “content.” Shawn Layden, former chairman of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios, seems to agree.
“I would welcome the return of the 12-15 hour game,” Layden, who departed Sony last year after almost 32 years at the company, told VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi in an interview at this year’s GameLab conference. “I would finish more games, first of all. Just like a well-edited piece of literature or a movie—I’ve been looking at the discipline around that, the containment around that. It could get us tighter, more compelling content. It would be something I’d like to see a return to.”
Aside from the personal convenience of not having to invest a work-week’s worth of time into beating the latest Sony first-party exclusive or big open-world game, Layden thinks developing shorter games could also help studios contain ever-ballooning development costs.
“The cost of creating games has increased,” Layden said. “Some studies show that’s gone up 2X every time a console generation advances. The problem with that model is it’s just not sustainable.” He continued:
“Major triple-A games in the current generation go anywhere from $80 million to $150 million or more to build, and that’s before marketing. It’s a huge up-front cost. Extended over time, it takes three or four or five years to build a game while you’re not getting any return on the investment. You just continue to pay into it looking for the big payoff at the end. I don’t think, in the next generation, you can take those numbers and multiply them by two and expect the industry to continue to grow.”
This conversation comes shortly after the release of The Last of Us Part 2, a game that was in development for six years and can take anywhere between 20 and 30 hours to beat, a substantial increase over the first game’s roughly 15-hour main campaign. At the same time, many critics have pointed out just how emotionally exhausting the game’s extensive documentation of torture and tragedy can feel.
In addition to the unsustainable costs Layden mentions, games like The Last of Us Part 2 are also built on unsustainable labor practices like extensive overtime. Another recent example is Red Dead Redemption 2, a sprawling open-world game with more to explore and uncover than any single game needs to have. It too was built on the sacrifices of employees working long days and sometimes weekends for long stretches of its development.
At the same time most blockbuster game prices have remained stagnant at $60 since the start of the PS3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii console generation.
“How can we look at that and say, ‘Is there another answer?’” Layden said. “Instead of spending five years to make an 80-hour game, what does three years and a 15-hour game look like? What are the costs around that?”
The former, longtime Sony executive did say he was encouraged by some of the games recently shown at Sony’s PS5 reveal event that didn’t focus so much on showcasing technological new benchmarks. “I was also very heartened to see a good display of independent developer power,” he said. “I want to encourage those kinds of developments, because we get a greater variety. We get a wider palette of games to choose from.”