Amy Hennig Maligns Ballooning AAA Game Budgets and Static Price Points

Amy Hennig Maligns Ballooning AAA Game Budgets and Static Price Points

Richard Walker

Having enjoyed a storied career working on games like the Uncharted series and The Last of Us for Naughty Dog, before moving to EA to work on Visceral's ill-fated Star War title, Amy Hennig has spoken out recently about the spiralling cost of AAA budgets, and the problem that comes with static game price points.

Talking at the recent Reboot Develop Blue conference, Hennig stated that the industry is "at an interesting crossroads," where something needs to change regarding the ballooning budget and scale of most AAA projects and the non-inflation of purchase prices for games, despite the increase in scale and production costs.

Citing examples like a God of War game before the advent of the more open-world God of War released in 2018, and Insomniac's early 2000s output before the far larger Spider-Man launched for PS4, Hennig observed that everything has doubled in size, but price points haven't changed to compensate.

"Across the board, we've doubled everything in size; we've also doubled our development time, and doubled our team sizes - probably more than doubled in each of these cases - and yet our price-point hasn't changed," Hennig said [via]. "A lot of where we're at now in terms of scope and complexity and cost is sort of self-inflicted. We've changed from intentionally creating these finite experiences to creating experiences that just don't end."

Hennig adds that shorter games are perceived by many to be worth only renting, or purchasing then trading in, which obviously takes money away from the developer and publisher alike. What's more, huge games that take tens or even hundreds of hours to complete aren't even being finished, according to statistics distributed within the industry.

"We're in a world where we're not even making finite games, and when we are they're 20, 40 or 100 hours, and the common wisdom is that most players don't finish them," Hennig continued. "We have these statistics inside the industry; some publishers, they realise that 10% of their audience is going to see the entire story. And that's upsetting."

Hennig used TV as an analogy, stating that "nobody [in television] is creating something and going, 'Open wide, here's ten hours of television.' Because the viewer might go, 'I can't.' But in games we're saying, 'You gotta play Red Dead, it gets really good about 30 hours in."

She also finds herself in the same boat as many people, simply not having the time to finish games that are 30 hours-plus. "You hear that and don't you just die inside? I don't have 30 hours," she said.

Presumably something has to give, then. Should we be paying more for games that do serve up tens or hundreds of hours worth of content to better correlate with the development costs poured into such large and ambitious projects? Would a return to more finite AAA games that clock in at the 8-10 hour mark over sprawling open worlds make more sense? Or is there room for both as long as the price point fits accordingly?

  • EA's development costs have actually gone down over the past decade so this isn't entirely true. also game prices havent been static either since lets be honest not long ago at the beginning of this generation most games cost 49.99 look on the dashboard now and even most single players cost 59.99.
  • "nobody [in television] is creating something and going, 'Open wide, here's ten hours of television.'" Uhm, yeah they are? Netflix literally created this exact thing. It's called binge culture, Hulu started doing it, and Disney are adopting it as well.
  • With all due respect to her achievements in game design, I begin to be annoyed by her recent articles on the state of gaming and other projects. Who cares whether people are finishing those games or not. Only reason why publishers/developers could have an interest in the playtime is ingame monetization. Too bad the main drive behind those infinite games (MTs) is thankfully fought against by the gaming communities. And if the ratio of audience times retail price doesn’t cut it, then you have to increase either or both of those unknowns. “We've changed from intentionally creating these finite experiences to creating experiences that just don't end.” [to create ongoing monetization platforms] If she’s going into this post-project rant mode she could at least finish her observations. And really? 30 hours? Oh boy
  • Why don't they make games where the world isn't so large? If the map is etoo large then players get bored with so much open space (Assassin's Creed Odyssey for example) between locations that it's a chore to get around. When players feel it's a chore they get bored and drop the game. Either make the worlds smaller or fill them up with more places to explore. It's that simple.
  • @4 Very much agree, Just cause is another series where they make a massive map and struggle to put anything interesting in it. Its just the same old buildings etc to blow up While AH has done some great stuff in the past, she is talking shit here
  • 'static game price points'...then why do i see digital versions between 100-150$? and isn't she forgeting microtransactions etc? try again, Amy. and many gamers don't 'finish' games because the industry has been focussed on MP for the last 15 years. the problem with size/scale can be controlled by pubs and devs. how long before they break down a game into chunks and then demand 30-50$ for each portion? at some point, games will become too large for discs...GTA6 possibly. what happens then?
  • Obviously the real issue of "the rising costs of game making" is overpaying executives, who often make poor decisions that cost other people their jobs, and kow-towing to investors who want their money no matter what state the game's in. But no one wants to have that conversation. So let's bicker instead that we should be paying more for games. This industry needs another crash.
  • Kudos to her for the good games she's made, but she really doesn't know what the hell she's talking about... First, she remarks about how the costs of developing a game increase but the pricing of games haven't. What rock have you been living under? Have you seen the 14 different convoluted editions available for pre-order every time a game comes out? There's Standard, Gold, Deluxe, Legendary, Complete, Ultimate, Ultra... Have I missed any? And all of these editions can often range in excess of $120-$150, sometimes even breaking the $200 range (half the price of a fucking console). And most of the times its the publisher asking for the money up front on the promise of maybe receiving content that doesn't exist later in the future. Second, she says games are getting bigger. That's bullshit (for the most part). The worlds are getting bigger in designed size, but the actual content is not big at all. Most of these games are always big empty worlds that are half baked with so little to do in them, and many of them are masked as big, long games by forcing players to grind and do meaningless bitch work through painstakingly slow progression. But overall, they're empty worlds. Third, she says most people don't finish games. Truth is, people don't finish games because those people give up on the buggy, glithcy, half baked piles of shit devs call games that are full of problems and lacking in content. Most gamers don't want to wait a year for you to fix your game and fill it with actual content that should've been in the game in the first place. At that point, gamers have lost interest and moved on to something else. Fourth, She goes on to say how devs went from creating finite experiences to experiences that never end. Yeah, but guess what... it's those endless games you make that shoves lootboxes and microtransactions on the gamer and it generates a shit ton of money. Stop acting like it's so hard to finance a game when the models you develop generates millions, if not billions in revenue through lootboxes, microtransactions, and season passes. And this can also somewhat tie into why gamers don't always finish games. When publishers over-saturate the market with games that are designed to feel like playing them is practically like a job because they are made to be endless, requiring so much commitment, most people couldn't be bothered with keeping up with every single endless grindy game out there because there's just too many. For gamers, it's about, Why buy game X or Y that does exactly what Game Z does, which I already own? Fifth, Her analogy of how in TV they don't go, "here's 10 hours of television down your throat" is about the dumbest analogy she could ever use. Episodes are 30 or 60 minutes long for a reason. To keep viewers engaged with a low commitment level. This is the equivalent of a gamer popping in a game for an hour or two and then turning off the game. Yes, @2's point is also valid in that a binge culture exists in watching television, but again, that's the equivalent of a gamer binge gaming for four or five hours. Yet, even beyond the whole idea of the binge culture, there's still the point that in the same way no one would ever play a game for 30 hours straight, no viewer is going to watch television for 30 hours straight either, so yeah... Really dumb analogy. It's a bit sad to see how out of touch devs and publishers are with regard to gaming and gamers.
  • 3 Counterpoints to the statement that the price hasn't raised/the cost has increased. 1) The consumer market is far larger now than it was in the PS2 era. - I'm struggling to find numbers, but for just the past 5 years the number has grown from 1.8 Billion to 2.4 Billion gamers. That's an extra 600 Million potential buyers for the games. 2) While the price of the game may seem to be still, that is only the base game, which often has chunks carved out to be sold separately, or made intentionally more boring/grindy to incentivise you to buy DLC or even microtransactions [there are literally games that cost less than their own season pass(s). - Take fighting games as an example. Instead of getting a huge roster of varied characters, you now get a small roster then have to pay far more than that for a seasons worth of characters. It's getting to the point where they should make the base game free and just charge for the extra characters. 3) Who asked you to spend such ludicrous amounts of money on the games in the first place. How much of the dev time and cost goes into mismanagement and/or content that no-one was even asking for? - Anthem was in pre-development since 2012 but only in development for 12-18 months, and red dead 2..... who even asked for shrinking horse balls?
  • I remember games last gen costing about £40. Now we see an average of £50-55. The price is going up. Especially if you pay for digital which is more expensive for the sake of it even though it doesn’t have any physical cost to account for. If you’re going to charge more for games then I’m not sure it’ll really solve the problem. Less people will be willing to shell out £80 or more for a new release for these games people apparently don’t have time for and just wait until it’s cheaper. So you’ll probably end up making the same amount of money anyway
  • If it weren't for the crap some of these devs shovel at $60 a pop, and the fact that there has to be day 1 patches and the games don't get fixed until months down the road, erm, Bethesda, I guess you'd better take what you can get because the majority of players don't want to pay another dime for that kind of treatment. Remember the day when a game shipped, complete, without dlc, without microtransactions, and it worked right out of the box. Ahh, the days...
  • I can sort of see her point, sort of. But that might just be me giving her the benefit of doubt based on my lack of actual personal experience inside the industry. After all you do hear stories of worker putting in crazy hours in the weeks and months running up to and after launch, and most are quick to jump on said companies for making their employees work so, but their employees need to be paid for every one of those hours. If you can admit your ignorance of the industry, even if its just to yourself there's just as much chance she's bang on. Playing games doesnt give you industry knowledge - its like saying you know what the daily grind of a McD or BK worker is like because you've eaten there. My personal beef is that i have the perception that nowadays those who have monetized the gaming industry to the point its currently in are those that have the final say rather than the creatives who have a vision/story to tell. As a result the industry has both boomed and become a little more grey. Sorry for long post. TL:DR - she may have a point, but still screw the fat cats.
  • @12, She's not saying devs aren't getting paid or are working longer hours without pay. You don't need to work in the industry to grasp what she's saying or that what she's saying is bogus. Do a little research... She's saying games cost so much money and yet we never raise the price of games. And for all the cost of a game, no one is buying or finishing these expensive games that we never raise the prices on. That's what she's saying... And yet, Bobby Kotick has a net worth of 7 Billion, Fortnite also has a net worth of 7 billion, Andrew Wilson has a net worth of 87 million, and a multitude of EA's multiplayer only games have generated billions of dollars from microtransactions. But! They can't afford to make a game. The same way you can say just because we play games doesn't mean we get how the gaming industry works, I can flip it and say just because a person works in the gaming industry doesn't mean they know anything about gaming.
  • Maybe if almost every game wasn't open world for no good reason people would finish games more. A more linear experience probably costs less to develop than a giant open world. When there are endless side quests to be distracted by, people are going to do a lot of those and get bored with the game or move on the latest release before finishing a game.
  • Honestly dude, I've always already had a problem with how much games cost. Makes no sense that 5 games cost the same as a console. I bought Sekiro, RE2, and Final Fantasy 7&9 this year. That's all I'm going to buy too. You increase the prices and I really won't be buying it and my subscription to Gamefly will REALLY start to make more sense. I pirate a shit ton of games (like Sekiro AND RE2 until I had the money) and then still gladly go out support what I believe deserves it, but increasing the price of your games isn't going convince me you deserve it when CEOs at EA are making millions of dollars annually and still doing shit we don't want. This just sounds out of touch. Love Naughty Dog to death but I'm not on board for this. Not to mention I don't even prefer open world games anymore. That's why I love Uncharted and The Last of Us... They're linear experiences that focus on character development and the story. I for one AM finishing my games, but as someone who never played video games in high school and only played licensed games and/or Nintendo exclusives, I have a huge backlog of games that I'd rather play than the garbage that comes out lately. There's also the problem that people are so obsessed with still hating Japanese games that they haven't realized that US developers outside of Sony's 1st party line-up are garbage now. They're obsessed with Battle Royale and "RPG elements" in all the wrong ways. I mean look at all the shit the Ryu Ga Gotoku team puts into the Yakuza remakes and then still charge less and prices drop like crazy. Games don't need to get more expensive; game companies need to stop being so greedy. There's no reason for these CEOs to need this much money. I wouldn't know how to live with myself taking all that while my developers were scared about getting laid off.
  • You don't have to agree with her, but if you think the price of games is skyrocketing you guys are nuts. NES games cost $50 new and that was 30+ years ago! For games that you could often finish in a couple of hours. Comparing Deluxe, Gold, or whatever have you editions is not an apples to oranges comparison. Even for the vanilla version of a game you're getting a lot more bang for your buck at $60 than you did 30 years ago for $50. And like she said, most people aren't even finishing games, so why is everyone worried about DLC when the vast majority of people won't even finish what's on the disc? If people keep complaining about "short" games everything's either going to be huge, open world with lots of hidden costs or multiplayer-based games as a service least from the big budget developers. We're already getting to the point where most of the best single player games are coming from smaller devs. It just doesn't make business sense to make a AAA single-player game when you can make money hand over fist with multiplayer instead.
  • She raises some good points but then it all comes down to how the governments across the world are sucking people's will to live by raising costs of simple basic necessities.. Here in Canada, the price of a loaf of bread, carton of milk and such have increase 10x or 15x in price since the 60s while the average salary still remains identical as the 1060s. I understand that it is kind of unfair for them to only charge 80$ for a game and have to rely on it being a sensational blockbuster worldwide hit to make back their money and then some but it all comes down to delivery and production value as well. A lot of studios are going out of their way to create what THEY believe is a AAA title and are going above and beyond to create the next big game and fail miserably because the game is broken, doesn't work a lot or most of the time and ends up constantly changed every few weeks for the foreseeable future (Destiny, Anthem etc..). So imagine is they start charging us what they think is fair for a game of that scale, maybe almost double the price? Gaming in some parts of the world is considered luxurious, so what happens now if prices for games double suddenly? Sure, they'll be compensated fairly but that won't change what's really wrong with the industry and it begins with games that push loot boxes, free-mium models and the overwhelming saturation of BAD games from people who don't give a damn about the quality of their products. This is destroying the new generation's opinion of what games are worth to them.
  • The saturation of the market is a huge problem in the end. People are now reviewing games based on their cost because of how difficult it is to come by a good salary and how difficult it is to support themselves while being able to enjoy their passion for gaming. I for one enjoy RPGs and Adventure games and LOVE to get the most of my money and I for one personally don't want to buy a game that will cost me 100$ for 10 hours or less of gameplay. It's already bad enough that I can't go to a restaurant like McDonalds (which is the lowest quality garbage fast food in my region) without it costing me almost $40 for my girlfriend and myself for two combos. Life is getting just too expensive and I can't be throwing around 40$ for a shitty meal like McDonalds and I certainly won't be throwing my 100$ for a game I can finish in one sitting no matter how outstanding the quality or enriching the experience is. There's always a way to get more hours out of a game without stretching it too thin to the point where it becomes a repetitive mess that ends up frustrating people and that's up to the people making the game to figure it out. I understand they work long hours and go through a lot of suffering physically and mentally to make these games but it doesn't have to be this way but it's the way it is unfortunately because things keep getting more expensive while people have less and less disposable income. I don't even have children yet and I'm not married and my girlfriend of 11 years and I are lucky if we can get 2-3 Day 1 full priced releases per year of we're VERY lucky. If they start jacking up the prices because of how unfairly compensated they are, that'll be the last straw for me and I just simply won't be able to afford it anymore. I won't blame them but I'll have to shop on discount permanently unless I hit the jackpot one day or suddenly double or triple my income while simultaneously having a ton of free time come my way to enjoy the extra money.. unlikely though.
  • One of the things that's honestly keeping you guys from making as much money, though, is putting all your eggs into one big release a year, that's more massive than most people care about. Back up just one or two generations and you saw a lot more smaller releases published by larger companies so if one thing flops the bottom line isn't severely affected.You acquire all these companies, but then everyone makes a game with a 4 year development cycle and you stagger them to come out one per year, what happens if one of them "doesn't meet expectations"? The only reason EA isn't shitting themselves over Anthem right now is because they pushed out Apex. We need more smaller, interesting, possibly more niche games, that can sell for $30 or $40 and don't take as large of an investment. The more Hollow Knights and Undertales we can get the better off everyone will be. And by that I don't mean clones, but games of a similar budget, for a consumer of a smaller budget, made by people with an actual vision. She talks aout massive games that go unfinished, supposedly, and then goes on to name massively successful recent examples, so her argument is completely contradicted by them. Seems a bit ignorant, honestly.
  • @16 that’s a terrible argument. Cartridges are expensive a small fuck to produce.
  • @20- It's not an argument, it's a fact. Yes, cartridges were more expensive to produce, but the end result for the consumer for $50 was still a game to play. Now, we get the same thing for $60, but average game lengths are way longer along with all of the other improvements that have been made over the generations. If you want to argue about formats, fine. PS1 launched in 1994 and games were $50 then and they were on disc. My point is that compared to every other entertainment medium out there - movies, comics, etc., games have seen a very small price increase over the last 25+ years. We can all argue about season passes, DLC, etc., all day long but we can't ignore the fact that base games cost barely more than they did before a lot of you were even born.
  • You need to register before being able to post comments

Game navigation