Former PlayStation boss Shawn Layden has stated his grim fears of the industry being unsustainable; with inflated budgets, prices, and endless sequels and imitators.
In an interview with Bloomberg, the former President and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment America explained more about why he had stepped down in 2019. In short, Layden explains he was burned out after launching six consoles. “It’s a young person’s activity,” Layden explained. “I felt: This is a good time to put the pin in my legacy.”
Layden did not directly address the rumors of their being a power-struggle between him and current Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan. “I think I took my time at the moment I saw best to take it, and I couldn’t be happier.”
He is currently on the advisory board at Streamline Media Group, a game services company. There Layden and the CEO have discussed promoting diversity in recruitment via remote work around the world, and pursuing the “metaverse” between videos games and other media.
However, Layden had also expressed his concerns to the CEO and Bloomberg about the sustainability of the video game industry. He noted development “seems to double in cost every platform,” and how recent major PlayStation 4 titles had budgets of $100 million USD.
“If we can’t stop the cost curve from going up,” Layden explained, “all we can do is try to de-risk it. That puts you in a place where you’re incentivized toward sequels.” He also predicted that PlayStation 5 games could rise to $200 million USD budgets, and in turn prices would grow exponentially.
Bloomerg highlights how the outcome of higher budgets have included “stale annual releases in ubiquitous series like Call of Duty and Madden,” and publishers chasing profitable trends. Layden explains that “you end up with 3-4 silos of games or game types that continue to exist, and variety is squeezed out.”
Bloomberg had previously reported on Sony’s dogged focus on blockbuster titles. They highlight how Layden was “instrumental in the video game industry’s Sisyphean quest for increasingly larger worlds and more beautiful graphics.” When asked about his own responsibility for sustainability issues, Layden said that he thought he “contributed a part into showing the world what amazing gameplay can look like.”
Nonetheless, Layden’s hopes with Streamline are focus them on aiding game development, for more diverse games, and (in Bloomberg’s words) “help balance out the heavyweights at the top.” However, Layden’s final comments would seem to suggest this is not a diversity of game genres, mechanics, artstyles, or budgets.
“We are now the largest entertainment medium in the world, except on a social impact level we punch below our weight. My goal in the last act of my career is really to bring more people into gaming creation, more people from all over the world, [and] bring more people into the enjoyment of gaming.”
There may be several signs of this more expensive future is already coming to pass. Several next-gen titles revealed a $69.99 USD RRP; including NBA 2K21 (being the first), Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, Demon’s Souls (2020), and Godfall [1, 2]. At least one industry analyst proposed gamers would be “happily pay“ the $10 USD higher price.
Bloomberg previously reported of an “industry-wide effort” by publishers to raise the standard price of a AAA game to $70 USD. “Inside publishing houses,” their sources claim, “a price hike has been plotted and dissected by executives for years.”
The report also features the damning claim “At one point, Sony discussed going even higher before settling on $70.” While SIE’s Jim Ryan stated that $70 USD for PlayStation 5 games is fair, the reports of higher price discussion were “categorically false.” Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick also voiced his support for the $70 price, and that gamers were “ready.”
Sony patented their cloud technology, promising an “elimination of piracy” and an alternative to consoles. Meanwhile, Microsoft are working with smart TV manufacturers to “embed the Xbox experience directly;” for cloud gaming and Xbox Game Pass. Both services would also further reduce the need of physical copies- much to the chagrin of those who wish to own the games they buy.
The belt may also be tightening sooner than expected. Sony announced they would no longer be offering free upgrades from PlayStation 4 to PlayStation 5 for first-party games. Instead, titles such as the God of War sequel and Gran Turismo 7 will have a $10 USD fee.
Shifting markets may also change what sort of games are developed (which in turn can alter where their budget is spent). Chinese tech giant Tencent recently lost almost $60 billion USD in stock value; after Chinese state media’s Economic Information Daily described online games as “spiritual opium.”
The Chinese government recently announced a ban on children playing online video games during the week. Further, they were only granted an hour a day on Fridays, weekends, and public holidays between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.
Could this change how often Sony and Microsoft greenlight multiplayer games with a “live-service” business model? Will budgets be curtailed? Will realistic graphics be abandoned for less-pressing art-styles? Will indies be given more of a spotlight? Or will we see another video game industry crash as the executives bounce with golden parachutes? Sound off in the comments below.